A Farm-to-Table Feast
Montana's White Deer Ranch
Photos: Audrey Hall
On a late summer afternoon, a stream of cars kicks up dust along the winding dirt lane leading to White Deer Ranch. Situated about 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park as the crow flies, the 450-acre working farm in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains is usually a quiet place. But for a few evenings each summer, when farmer-owners Roxanne and Lee Dunn invite the community to join them for a farm-to-table dinner, the property hums with activity.
Guests enjoy a tour of the farm's bee house, home to some 125,000 honeybees.
As guests tour the bee house and visit the pastured pigs, local husband-and-wife chef-restaurateurs Gena Burghoff and Chris Lockhart bustle about the small kitchen in the farm’s historic Cobblestone House, prepping and plating the feast. Designed to showcase the Dunns’ organic meat and produce, their creations are homegrown and hand-raised—from Berkshire pork shoulder with cider-and-sage gravy to a dessert showcasing sweet cheese courtesy of the farm’s Dwarf Nigerian goats. “We want the source of these ingredients to be close enough that you can actually see them growing or walking about,” Roxanne says.
The communal dinner is served family-style by local chef Gena Burghoff.
The Dunns’ passion for growing and eating their own food has evolved over the 25 years they’ve been farming this land. “First it was a typical cattle ranch,” Roxanne says. “Then we started to diversify the things we grew here.
Chef Chris Lockhart gathers garnishes for the feast.
“We do a lot of things the old-fashioned way—preserving, canning, gardening, putting up our own meats and such—and we just really enjoyed all the fresh foods and flavors we were eating. We thought we’d share this with our vacationing guests, and it evolved into hosting some tours and dinners.”
Roxanne Dunn's Dwarf Nigerian goats earn their keep by providing fresh milk.
As the sun sinks lower in the sky, guests stroll over to a rustic shed, where the farm’s baler and tractor have been replaced by a 40-foot-long dining table adorned with silk linens, brightly colored blooms and glittering glassware. For the next three hours, as Burghoff and Lockhart present a parade of vibrant flavors and colors, diners enjoy not just a delicious meal, but the opportunity to understand how each ingredient grew and came to be on their plates. “It’s a sharing of our lifestyle and all the good that comes from it,” Roxanne says. “And that feels like we’re really reaping the benefits of all this bounty.”
Each of the meal's courses is paired with wine.
LaGreca commissioned her brother, metal artist and owner of MT Forge Brice LaGreca, to build the three working chandeliers—made from new and old plumbing components—that illuminate the table. She unleashed her own creativity, too, transforming galvanized-metal buckets into lampshades, and antlers and copper pipe fittings into custom candlesticks.
Tasked with giving a rustic old tractor shed a stylish, contemporary and “farm fresh” vibe, event stylist Cassie LaGreca, owner of Better To Gather Events in Billings (and Roxanne’s daughter), decided to skip the burlap and lace, opting instead for a palette of metal, marble, and crystal-clear Lucite and glass. Shantung-silk tablecloths in a sophisticated gunmetal hue highlight place settings LaGreca composed by mixing a variety of dollar-store and vintage finds: modern square ceramic plates, “old-world-style” round cut-glass plates, retro amber goblets and copper-rimmed glasses. Simple dishtowels stand in for formal napkins, “signaling to guests that they can still wipe the sauce from their chins and relax,” LaGreca says, while rustic wooden crates and salvaged marble slabs provide pedestals for family-style food platters.
Sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes are the stars of a salad featuring fresh raw ingredients.
ON THE MENU
“What says summer more than an outdoor meal with friends and wine?” asks Gena Burghoff, who collaborated with her husband Chris Lockhart to create a menu that would capture the essence of the season. “At White Deer Ranch, they have so many fun, wild ingredients that we are always challenged to make them pop and sing.” The duo—chefs and co-owners of Ox Pasture Café in Red Lodge—and their sous chef Danny Mowatt did just that, transforming meat, dairy, produce and honey sourced from the farm and the region into six dishes that let the fresh flavors shine. They dressed meaty heirloom tomato slices with wild watercress, lemon cucumbers and an onion vinaigrette; tossed buttery new potatoes with raw carrot-and-fennel-top pesto; seasoned homey Berkshire pork shoulder with savory cider-and-sage gravy; slathered corn on the cob with crème fraiche; flavored roasted baby carrots and zucchini with honey, ground beef and chili; and dished up a dessert of beet macaroons filled with a sweet homemade goat cheese.
LaGreca (left) and Bennett deliver the dinner table's centerpieces that showcase colorful ranunculus and hydrangeas.
”When I think of summer, I think of brightly colored blooms that pop against a neutral background,” says floral designer Katie Bennett, owner of Billings-based Mac’s Floral. To create that subdued backdrop, Bennett and LaGreca set the rustic dinner table with slate-blue linens, cut-glass and white china, copper candlesticks and antler candelabra. Next, Bennett stuffed cheerful bunches of ranunculus and white and deep-purple hydrangeas into an eclectic mix of vessels: ceramic jars, vases, and clear Mason jars placed inside cuffed and copper-painted paper bags for a rustic “farmer” feel.
Before dinner, guests get to know each other over drinks and a variety of hors d'oeuvres, like these roasted stuffed peppers.
Before sitting down to dinner, the guests gather, drinks in hand, for a tour of the working farm.
As the evening winds down, a few folks linger around a two-barrel fire pit that's mounted atop an old plow.
VISIT THE RANCH:
This little farm stand on the Dunns’ front porch features fresh eggs, microgreens, dried herbs, mushrooms and Roxanne’s natural beauty potions.
Overnight guests can rent one or both of the farm’s vacation homes, and are encouraged to help around the property as much (or as little) as they’d like.
TOURS & DINNERS
Demonstrations on topics ranging from foraging to beekeeping are available for individuals or groups of all ages and levels of interest. Communal summertime dinners are $75 per person.
104 Davidson Creek Road
Fishtail, MT 59028