Beef – Really on the Hoof

By Beacon Staff

As I become more and more of a “locavore,” that is someone who tries to source most of his/her food locally, I’ve continued to discover more and more about where my food comes from.

And as a committed meat-eater, I was thrilled to find a source for beef raised less than two hours from where I live – certified Angus and, as a bonus, American Wagyu – raised on the same ranch. I’ve used this space on previous occasions to explain the difference between genuine Kobe beef and American Wagyu, so I’ll forego a rehash of that lecture.

I’ve actually been friends with this rancher and his wife for a few years, but it wasn’t until they decided they were ready to market their Wagyu that I became more intimately acquainted with their ranch operation. My friends asked me to put on my toque and consult for them, advising commercial restaurant customers different ways to cook the non-premium cuts that come from each steer. Every restaurant would gladly buy the prime rib, the rib-eye steaks, the New York strips and even the ground beef. But what about the chuck or blade roasts? Those cuts rarely make it to the menu. If they want to buy from my rancher-friends, they’re going to have to buy a whole steer, and that’s going to include some of those “less desirable” cuts.

They invited my wife and me to spend part of a weekend on the ranch and we were excited that we were going to see firsthand what raising quality cattle was all about.

We never expected, however, that part of our experience would include helping our rancher friend retrieve an 1,800-pound Black Angus bull that had gotten out of its pen. But there we were, on a sunny Sunday morning, coaxing this animal (that was definitely not Ferdinand) down the road and into a more secure pen.

No, I was not on a horse; I had no lasso; I had no gun or bullwhip. Nope. Just a rancher and I, on foot on a dirt road with our “womenfolk” about 200 yards away, out of harm’s way.

I may have all the lingo down, but have I mentioned that I’m a city boy?

We also got to see a newborn calf – really newborn – less than two hours old newborn. Its mother had cleaned it up and it was already walking on its spindly legs as the four of us gawked at it as if it were one of our own grandchildren.

Our friend raises mostly breeding stock, so the genetics of the animals are carefully catalogued and reams of details are kept. All of their food is natural and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. I like that. I also was astounded to learn that each animal will eat about 3 percent of its body weight every day. As they reach maturity, they’re in the 1,000 to 1,800 pound range, so that’s at least 30 to 50 pounds of food every day for every single animal. Consider that the bulls usually get to be around 1,800 pounds, like our friend “not-Ferdinand,” and that’s quite a lot of chow.

The Wagyu, in addition to grass and hay, also get brewer’s mash, a by-product (actually the waste product) of beer brewing, from a regional brewery. This simulates the diet that Kobe cattle get in Japan. You know that legend about being fed beer and being massaged with saki. This mash is extremely high in nutrients, very rich and very moist. For cows, I would say they’re eating really well and they seemed to enjoy it very much.

There is a certain portion of each herd – the Certified Black Angus and the American Wagyu, however – that do make it to the table, so to speak. So let me tell you about the Wagyu beef we’ve been eating.

There is a richness to this meat and a softness as well – even in the traditionally tougher cuts – that is unmatched by other types of beef. And while it is often compared to Kobe, American Wagyu does not have the massive amounts of fat throughout the meat that makes Kobe so extremely rich that it can be eaten only in small amounts.

Nevertheless, it’s delicious beef – very different from the beef you’re used to – and if you see it on the menu, after you get past your “sticker shock,” because it is expensive, you’ll see what all the fuss is about.

Follow me on Twitter @KitchenGuyMT

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