In the last post we asked if grass fed was worth all the hype. I’ll let the article answer this one.
Anya Fernald of Belcampo in California raises grass-fed beef prized for its deep color and flavor and its buttery fat with a yellow hue said to indicate a high vitamin content. “I wasn’t fully committed to grass-fed and -finished when I started Belcampo,” she said. “Most of it tastes terrible.” But as Ms. Fernald and her partners tested different types of feed, including barley and other grains, they found pure grass-fed cattle had a denser “knitting”—the beautiful, lacy lines of fat distributed throughout a superior cut of meat. “The driver for us is that it tastes great,” she said.
It should say “well done” grass fed is the way. When a cow has ample forage, good genetics, a quality job done at the butcher, and is allowed to live well past normal industry finishing times (18 months), the meat is FAR superior to bland, tasteless, conventional meat. Better than “Grade A Prime” beef. There is a flavor and a richness that you cannot get from grain fed cows, period. Not a different flavor, and actual flavor. Grain fed beef is like eating packing peanuts instead of popcorn with butter and salt. The crunch is there, but not the flavor.
The best way to make sure you’re getting genuine—and tasty—grass-fed beef is to buy from a reputable butcher who can provide all the information you want on how the cattle was raised and recommend a cut that’s right for you. (See “Here’s the Beef,” below.) After talking to experts and cooking many pounds of meat, I learned that the tastiest grass-fed beef comes from cattle allowed to graze for 28 months or longer. The beef should have a good marbling of fat, a rich color and a slight smell of the grass on which it’s grazed.
Here is one place where I break away from this article. But in their context, it is correct. This author is talking about being in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. It’s not like you’ll be in Brooklynn and hit your local grass fed farm down the street. But for those of us blessed to be in NC or anywhere that rural farms still exist, it’s better to know your farmer than it is to know your butcher. Go to the source, see how the animals are treated, and buy your products there (yes I am biased.) I also know that butchers will eschew a farmer because they are too small, too far away, or won’t discount enough. Or maybe the butcher is conventional too and doesn’t really care about grass fed. Going to the butcher is no guarantee of what you are getting.
I’d like to come back to the 28 months thing in the previous quote. When I went to grazers school (yes there is such a thing) a lot of the conversation revolved around how to finish cows in as little time as possible. If your farm can only carry 100 cows, and it takes 24 months to finish a cow, then you can produce 50 cows per year. However if you can finish your cows at 18 months, you’ve increased your production dramatically. What about 16 months? What about 15 months. Folks, this is what beef farmers talk about. How quickly can I go from calf to cash. It lessens the time spent managing, lessens chance of predation, chance for disease or injury, everything. We are ALL about production and efficiency in this country and we are good at it.
So what does all this production cost us? That’s the next post.