Cafe Society

Panzano chef Elise Wiggins steers toward a nose-to-tail movement

There was no morning sun on Saturday, the day that Elise Wiggins (above), executive chef of Panzano, had picked for her lunch and cooking class at Bear Mountain Ranch, the 100-acre parcel of land in Genesee that's grazing territory for the Black Angus steers that Wiggins is buying for her Northern Italian restaurant.

And cattle aren't the ranch's only four-legged occupants.The frigid air and frost seemed to piss off the pot-bellied pig that squeaked, shrieked, grunted and snorted whenever anyone got too close. For better or worse, she's one of the family pets, which meant that we weren't having her for lunch, even though there were several of us who wanted to.

But Saturday wasn't about swine; it was all about beef, or as Debbie Medved calls it, "a labor of love." Debbie and her husband, John, started Bear Mountain Ranch in 1997 to raise Angus and Scottish Highlands cattle, and earlier this year they partnered exclusively with Wiggins. The chef takes delivery of the entire steer (including offal), which is delivered to the restaurant after fabrication into major muscle groups and dry aging. "We raise the cows with no growth hormones and there's no chemicals on the grasses, we keep it all natural," explains Debbie. The steers are pasture grass-fed, fattened on Colorado alfalfa hay and, finally, Colorado corn. "Our cows are no stress cows," she continues, adding that there are speakers outside the barns that play music -- "everything from Motown to country."

For her part, Wiggins is using as much of the steer as possible, even the tallow to make soap and candles. "I'm a country girl, and when I was growing up, we'd break down the whole animal," says Wiggins. "We didn't waste much of anything." She's also using several cuts to produce daily specials at Panzano, including bracciole and polpette sliders.

"Elise is one of the few chefs who's really going back to the old style of raising, slaughtering and eating," says Debbie.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson