Rocky Mountain turkey, Idaho-grown potatoes, locally sourced friends and family. Is there such a thing as Jackson Hole Thanksgiving?
Three former employees of Jackson Whole Grocer — disciples of dearly departed Bob Arndt, a pioneer of the valley’s locavore movement — have all forged paths steeped in authenticity, gastronomy and celebration: Jessa Talermo founded handcrafted Amrita Beverages; Hilary Munro’s aesthetics are the driving force behind Graze Living; and Chris O’Blenness owns Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company. Their products and stylings epitomize not only gratitude, but also what it means to enjoy Jackson haute cuisine with celebration, beauty and nourishment.
With a longtime career in making great libations for celebration or health, Talermo founded Amrita Beverages in 2016. Her take on the beverage biz is to marry a passion for bartending and her background in natural health. What’s manifested is a boutique wellness beverage-focused company that provides bar catering, custom drinks, and “AB mixers.”
Holidays are often confused with “holidaze,” a coy way of saying too many parties and too much of too much. Ironically, that’s the antithesis of what it means to sit at a table with family and friends, said Talermo, who sees her creations as a means for slowing down and enjoying something special.
“The beverage is almost as important as the turkey, if you ask me,” she said. “The ceremony of sharing a beverage is probably older than the sharing of food. It can be so simple, communal and elegant. Children can even play a part — mixing something intentionally with high quality pairs well with the time spent on other dishes.”
Amrita Beverages toasts Thanksgiving in full flavor with a fun collection of mixers with names like Dark Star, Tanager Lands, I Mint to Tell You, Blame it on the Juice and its newest flavor to join the drinkable suite, Yuma, a mix of cranberry, lime, agave, orange, ginger, allspice, sea salt and rose quart essence.
“Everyone should have something celebratory and of quality to sip on during a gathering,” Talermo said. “We look to adult beverages as this pillar of what is offered,” she said. But don’t forget that many people — sober, health conscious, children — don’t drink alcohol but still crave and deserve a healthy, unique offering. That is where Amrita Beverages and imagination can help,” she said.
Munro curates alpine living on and off the table. With our unseasonably long autumn she has been enjoying foraging more than ever and has a few tips about creating seasonal decor.
“Winter foraging is often overlooked,” she said, “but it is a beautiful time to tromp around the snow looking for dried berries that have clung on — juniper branches with plump blueberries, mossy branches and Douglas fir — to incorporate into your winter decor.”
For years Munro owned a gift and lifestyle store called Bet The Ranch. She started Graze Living in 2015. Her love of the Old West is visible in her creations. An abundance of the vintage paired with unique pieces found during her travels keeps her aesthetic uniquely fresh and very Jackson.
“I look to the landscape and the seasons for a color palette and inspiration,” she said. “Common items like rusted horseshoes, antlers, harvested feathers, sagebrush, nests, vintage bells, hides and furs have all found a place at my table.”
While not edible, greenery such as juniper, cedar and pine around dishes, including cakes and meats, can enhance the organic beauty of the dishes, she said.
The most important thing, Munro said, is to make your guests feel comfortable, “and I find that incorporating foraged pieces to any occasion will add whimsy to the aesthetic and sometimes even make for conversation.
“For example, I’ll collect birds’ nests,” she said, “fill them with what fits the season — cinnamon sticks and pine cones or dried orange slices.”
Thanksgiving is about gratitude, Munro said, which can be expressed forward in table design, such as cards encouraging gratitude at each place setting.
“Typically I give a favor, too,” she said, “This year it will be handmade crab apple butter.”
A Thanksgiving table with drinks, a centerpiece of dried hops with lichen-covered branches and a warm palette of seasonal gold and russet hues can be completed only by the main event: the turkey. If you decide to purchase a pastured turkey from Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co., there’s a good chance you’ll understand why all food snobs talk about terroir.
O’Blenness raised 165 birds this summer on his property. He picked up the standard Broad Breasted White and Broad Breasted Bronze poults from Geisler Ranch and Livestock in Idaho Falls, which sources its birds from Dunlap Hatchery, in Caldwell, Idaho. O’Blenness acquired his property just north of Tetonia toward the end of last year to establish a working multispecies ranch operation with bison as the keystone species.
“I learned how to raise turkeys at Stone Barns,” O’Blenness said. “It was in a unique pasture-based rotational system. We were responsible for the entire process, from hatching to slaughter and packaging.”
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and the famed restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in Pocantico Hills, New York, is a unique nonprofit restaurant collaboration widely recognized as a mecca for farm-to-table education, dining and diversified farm management practices. O’Blenness said he could not have done what he wanted to in New York because he had to truck his turkeys to Nampa, Idaho, for slaughter.
“Which isn’t ideal,” he said, “but next year my goal is to do that ourselves at the ranch. I want to have full control over the entire process, to ensure that the end result is held to the highest possible standards.”
O’Blenness hopes that when folks open the oven and pull out their bird, carve and eat it, they will enjoy and appreciate it. For him that will justify all the time and effort.
“In my experience,” he said, “raising animals on pasture, with as little stress and as much natural stimulation as possible makes for the very finest turkeys, both in the quality of their lives and the level of sustenance and joy they bring to the table.”
Unlike many consumers, O’Blenness is acutely aware of the differences between his birds and those sourced through industrial farming.
“I think it is very important to remember that we are talking about 165 turkeys in relation to the 45 million turkeys raised and consumed every Thanksgiving in the U.S.,” he said. “The number of turkeys that live anything close to the quality of life that our birds do is a fraction of a decimal of a sliver of an atom. It’s not cheap to honor these animals and provide them a good life, but I’m going to give it my best shot, and hopefully break even this year and give it another shot next year. Nobody gets rich raising turkeys except Cargill or Tyson.”
O’Blenness made one other discovery raising toms and hens all summer long: Turkeys are in his DNA.
“I had always known that my grandfather on my mother’s side raised turkeys near Pocatello, Idaho, before I was born,” he said, “but what I found out much later was that before that he was raising turkeys in Briarcliff, New York, in the 1930s, where he met my grandmother. All this came to light when I was raising turkeys myself less than 5 miles down the road in 2011, and now here I am raising turkeys in Idaho.”
O’Blenness has been making changes and additions to the offerings of JH Buffalo Meat Company since he purchased the business in 2017, but the turkeys are a special newcomer to the pasture-focused meat roster. They are the first animals the company has raised itself from start to finish in the 75-year history of the company. ￼