All in the Family
A cattle farmer and his wife build upon a familial legacy, delivering fresh meat to New York’s Schoharie Valley
When you picture a scenescape of cattle grazing, you’ll most likely imagine the big cerulean skies of the Rocky Mountains or the dusty fields of the Texas ranch lands. But now that a significant portion of the grasslands in New York State are being devoted to raising cattle for beef, New York’s Schoharie Valley, once considered the breadbasket of the East Coast, is on the rise to become a top source of heritage-breed cattle, meticulously tended to by family farmers.
Leading this trend is the team behind Highland Hollow, a family-owned farm 50 miles north of Scribner’s, and the source of all of the beef and pork served at Prospect, the hotel’s restaurant. Though Dave Raylinsky, a third-generation butcher and fourth-generation farmer, began butchering cows years before he was old enough to drive, he bucked family tradition for much of his early adult life, starting his career as a pro golfer followed by a stint in landscaping. It wasn’t until he met his future wife, Benaye, while living out West more than a decade ago, that the siren call of farming beckoned once again.
Today, their operation spans 519 picturesque acres in the Schoharie Valley. Ninety percent of the main pasture is occupied by cows. Sheep, Berkshire pigs, and chickens dot the rest of the land between streams that snake their way throughout the vast landscape.
The Raylinskys live on the property with their two children and they’ve repurposed a three-bedroom cottage to use as a butcher shop. “We’re solely a team—he’s offense and I’m defense,” says Benaye of her partnership with Dave. “Dave is a master and genius out there making the relationships.”
Benaye manages the farm operations and animal midwifery. And, despite having no agricultural background, she’s had extensive experience in a labor-intensive male-dominated field as one of the first employees at a major national stone fabricator. This experience, combined with Dave’s butchery know-how and marketing savvy, make their partnership as idyllic as their land.
And still, overseeing every step of meat production from birth to butchery in New York’s harsh climate can be quite difficult, particularly when you control your own packaging and distribution as Highland Hollow does. “It’s hard for operations to afford what were doing and what it takes to raise beef due to the high costs and taxes in the state,” notes Benaye. Indeed, few farms have the resources or mettle to raise cattle year-round due to New York’s short growing season (East Coast cattle raised on grass are often shipped to the Midwest to finish on corn). Highland Hollow opts to finish its grass-fed cows on a proprietary grain made in Oneonta.
A scaled-down operation means that, yes, your dry-aged NY strip steak probably had a name when it was alive and mooing. “Because we’re smaller, we have more of a one-on-one relationship with our animals,” says Benaye. But this approach also means that your meat won’t be antibiotic-ridden like Western beef that comes from crowded commercial feedlots, which are often breeding grounds for illness.
Always eager to evangelize New York-raised meats, the Raylinskys offer tips for becoming a more conscientious meat consumer: Know the provenance of your meal and don’t be fooled by pricey cuts. “They [expensive cuts] don’t always mean it’s a better choice,” says Benaye. Some of the couple’s favorite affordable cuts? A flat iron, ideally braised in red wine and oxtail, which is perfect for stew. Their six-year-old son is partial to pork steaks, taking a shoulder cut and treating it like a traditional beef steak by cooking it on the grill or in a cast iron skillet. “We live in an economically depressed area, so we’ll give our Schoharie residents a discount on a weekly basis so a firefighter can have the luxury of having some of the best food in the area.”
Should you find yourself with a free afternoon, take a drive from Scribner’s to the butcher shop at Highland Hollow and peruse their beef cuts, dry-aged locally for a minimum of 21 days to draw out the marbling (making them extra succulent and flavorful). Be sure to ask about their homemade roast beef, pastrami, and sausage, seasoned with heirloom herbs and spices from Dave’s parents’ farm.
“Dave and I love sharing farm stories, our magnificent animals, and our meat with customers,” says Benaye. “It gives us momentum to keep going.”
By Holly Eagleson