Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed Beef

I had an opportunity to tour a grass-fed beef operation a couple of days ago. It is a 5 plus year operation based on 80 acres. Their farm is a "Food Alliance Certified" farm. This is a grassroots alternative to the USDA Certified Organic designation. They are getting ready to harvest the first animals that they calved themselves. Vic and Mary Price, along with their daughter Erin (whom I employed 8 years ago as a pastry chef) are doing a great job raising beef with the integrity I wish was commonplace in American beef farming. They practice field rotation, and keep immaculate nutritional management charts. Vic has a past in soil and water conservation, Mary a career in the medical industry. Clearly the animals they are producing are top notch.

After having sampled some of their ground beef last night, I was inclined to write this piece on what it is to taste grass fed vs grain fed beef. It is interesting the way trends and tastes go for food that which was revered in an earlier time, has become unhealthful and just bad for the environment. I remember my late father (who was very much a beef man) raving about "Iowa Corn-Fed Beef". We lived in California, and this of course sounded very exotic, and brings up images of vacuum packed boxes of steak for ridiculous prices in the back pages of culinary magazines. Iowa has since lost it's mystique, and mostly made fun of by those of us who live in Wisconsin, and appropriate enough vise versa. It was always my understanding that beef must be finished on grain (more specifically corn) to have the proper fat marbling to taste good. The stigma of the grass fed cow was the poor farmer that couldn't afford feed lot finishing.

To a certain degree, it makes sense how America became addicted to corn, followed by the "Frankenstein" like modification down to the cellular level that corn has become, bringing us charming beauties like hi-fructose corn syrup. Just go to your local mall and see how that has benefited Americans. Diabetes for all! ConAgra and Monsanto are fattening us up for future "Soylent Green" product lines. Sorry, don't get me started . . . Anyfreak, I digress. According to literature I have read, 100% grass-fed beef has an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 3:1 to 1:1 as opposed to grain fed which the same ratio is 20:1 to 14:1, which is very important for heart health. It is much richer in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) which is a powerful anti-oxidant, higher in Beta Carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, etc. Obviously a much healthier product to consume.

Ok, having gotten out my corn rant, what does the beef taste like? I find that there is a difference in taste. The grass fed beef I ate last night is stronger in taste, almost a mineral like depth to the flavor. It does have some elements of organ meat flavor to it, but I suspect that is a result of what was ground into the 80/20 blend. Commercial grain-fed ground beef in comparison tastes rather bland, generic, cardboard like, almost like it was tailored to taste just like the other millions of pounds of the stuff that is churned out every second. It seems like the dumbing down of taste in America is the order of the day. Use this same model for cheese, produce, milk.

In closing, I heartily support what grass-fed beef growers are doing, and in the case of Vic, Mary & Erin, they are doing a wonderful thing providing our community with healthful beef. The farm is 5 minutes away from the restaurant, so consider the great opportunity for a low-carbon footprint, and the support of local farmers.

References: outtopasturebeef.com

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