Consumer Advice and Cooking Tips

Consumer advice and cooking tips for those looking for grass-fed beef.

| October/November 2005

Consumer Advice and Cooking Tips

Grass-fed beef must be flavorful and tender as well as healthful if it is to become a staple in the kitchen. Sue Moore, meat forager for Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café in Berkeley, Calif., which regularly serves grass-fed beef, describes it as “more robust” than grain-fed beef, with a taste of the place where the cattle are grazed — the grasses and the minerals found in their pastures. “It goes along with the French concept of ‘terroir,’” she says, “or a sense of place. It’s the same reason that wines or olive oils taste differently.”

Moore says grass-fed fans are people who want “character in their beef.” For Chez Panisse, she searches out local sources, talking to producers, visiting their farms and finding out what they’re doing to make their products so appealing. “A lot of these producers are ‘beyond organic’,” she says, referring to the experience established graziers bring to the production of the best tasting and most healthful grass-fed beef today.

During the grass season, Chez Panisse buys two head of cattle every other week from Magruder Ranch in Mendocino County, Calif. The restaurant also buys particular cuts from Marin Sun Farms of Point Reyes, Calif.

The Magruder animals are slaughtered at the only remaining U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected slaughterhouse in the area and dry-aged at another nearby facility for 21 days before being served to customers in the restaurant and café. “In responding to the lack of infrastructure serving the small rancher, mobile abattoirs (slaughterhouses) are a bright spot on the horizon,” Moore says. “The art of butchering the animals is practically lost. Artisan quality [butchering] is needed. We need to resuscitate that.”

Because Chez Panisse is committed to using the whole animals from Magruder (not just the steaks), Moore says the restaurant chefs spend a good deal of time figuring out how to present all the different cuts. “For example, there’s only 4 pounds of skirt steak on any one cow. That makes it very difficult to offer skirt steak to 50 people. A lot of cuts go into hamburger.” Phillip Dedlow, a Chez Panisse chef who works mostly with the grass-fed beef, says the hamburger never goes on the restaurant’s menus even though people love the taste of Magruder Ranch ground beef. “We have orchestrated sales to friends,” he says.

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