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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Today, our Weekend Picnic series takes us to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It's well-known for its pastoral landscape, Amish community and agricultural heritage. Despite this reputation, though, few local chefs have embraced the farm-to-table concept until recently. John J. Jeffries in Lancaster City was among the first. Although the menu changes seasonally, customers can order the restaurant's version of steak tartare year-round.
As Marie Cusick of member station WITF reports, the raw ground beef spread is the kind of dish you would only want to make from meat you trust.
MARIE CUSICK, BYLINE: As the chef and co-owner of John J. Jeffries, Sean Cavanaugh likes to escape the kitchen and visit the local farms he relies on.
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SEAN CAVANAUGH: It keeps it real, you know, to know where it's coming from. And I think we value that meat more because we're out, we know the dedication, the work and the love that goes into it.
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CUSICK: There are about 450 head of cattle here at Thistle Creek Farm in rural central Pennsylvania. George Lake is the third-generation farmer who manages their movements carefully around the pastures, with the help of his three border collies.
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GEORGE LAKE: Walk on. Walk on.
CUSICK: Lake says the best grass-fed beef starts with good grass. He sources it from five different countries.
LAKE: Romania, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and the Czech Republic.
CUSICK: This is not the way a lot of beef is produced in the United States. At factory farms, cattle are often fed corn. It fattens them quickly but Lake says it's not the best way.
LAKE: I don't like to point fingers at anybody but this is a much more natural way of growing things.
CUSICK: That's why Cavanaugh says he feels good about serving it.
CAVANAUGH: You know, it's not industrial farmed meat. They're not on feed lots. They're not, you know, standing knee-deep in their own mess.
CUSICK: Thistle Creek is one of just two farms where he gets all the beef for his restaurant. He uses it in one of his signature dishes called The Truth, steak tartare. Its raw beef, ground fresh every night, then mixed with egg yolk and a little seasoning. And in a nod to the famous scene from "A Few Good Men," the menu jokingly asks: Can you handle The Truth?
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JACK NICHOLSON: (as Col. Nathan R. Jessup) You want answers?
TOM CRUISE: (as Lt. Daniel Kaffee) I think I'm entitled to them.
NICHOLSON: You want answers.
CRUISE: I want the truth.
NICHOLSON: You can't handle the truth.
CUSICK: It turns out plenty of customers here handle it quite well. On a busy Friday night, Cavanaugh checks every plate before it leaves the kitchen.
CAVANAUGH: On our plates. All right, The Truth is Seat 1 on 41.
CUSICK: The restaurant is inside a hotel that's frequented by business travelers and tourists. But locals, like Michael McKoin, also swear by The Truth.
MICHAEL MCKOIN: There seems to be a lot of acceptance for raw fish. I mean, people eat sushi all the time and think nothing of it. And yet somehow raw beef is a problem? And when you think about it, raw fish actually seems a little sketchier than raw beef.
CUSICK: Dale McMichael agrees. He says he only has The Truth here.
DALE MCMICHAEL: You definitely want to know where tartare is coming from. You don't want anything that's not fresh.
CUSICK: Making a good meal is also matter of trust and respect for Chef Cavanaugh.
CAVANAUGH: It's really a labor of love. And we're not going to just take any meat and put it on our menu and even serve it as a steak, or raw, that doesn't have all that thought behind it.
CUSICK: The Truth is on the menu year round, and this summer it's paired with local goat mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes.
For NPR News, I'm Marie Cusick.
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