by | May 13, 2015 | 0 comments

If you have spent more than five minutes with me you probably know that I consider the Bone-In Rib Eye to be the Granddaddy of all steaks. The combination of meat that can be rendered incredibly tender and still have “tooth”, as well as proper marbling that leaves the meat juicy and rich, makes the Rib Eye a unique treat to be sure. But man/woman cannot live on rib eye alone. There is a lot more that our revered grass fed beef has to offer. But why is it better than other beef? Why do we only sell grass fed AND finished beef? How do you decide what cuts to buy? And how do you cook it?

One question I get asked a lot is “Is your beef Prime?” It’s a tough question to answer because the issue of grading beef generally doesn’t apply to grass-fed beef. Here’s the dirty little secret that the factory farmed beef corporations don’t want you to know. Grading beef is paid for by the producer. That means that the only time a producer is going to have his beef graded is when he knows what the grade will be. It is a PAID service of the USDA…their “cash cow”, if you will pardon the pun.

And another thing you should know…Grading beef is only a measure of its fat content or marbling. It has nothing at all to do with the quality of the animal, how it was raised or what it was fed. The one thing you can be sure of is that any beef deemed USDA Prime was grain fed during the majority of its life and almost always in a feed lot.

That is not to say that grass fed beef is all the same. Quite the contrary, it has the same range of quality as anything else. So how do you judge grass fed beef? Well, the best way is to look at the marbling. Marbling is the fat that is interwoven in the muscle or meat. For those of you that want to lower your fat intake this is the last place you want to do it. Fat is flavor….period. Rib Eye tends to be the best example of this. We carry a few different ranches in our quiver, all of them live up to our ideals and standards, and we are proud to have them as part of the VF Family. Of them, Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales is as good as we have ever come across. And for good reason…

I will put Stemple Creek Ranch beef up against any other grass fed operation in terms of consistency in flavor and marbling. It has to do with proper genetics, a true commitment to providing the cows with the best possible grass and clover to feed on, and Loren Poncia’s magic voo-doo. It is amazing to me that while I watch other grass fed beef ranchers product change drastically throughout the year, Stemple Creek beef is very steady. This is very difficult to accomplish.

When it comes to meat, “you are what you eat” is not quite it. You are what your meat eats! And since we are talking grass fed beef, the quality of the pasture and the management of the grasslands will always be the most important factor in determining the quality and flavor of grass fed meat. And Stemple Creek and the Poncia clan do as good a job as any we have tasted.

I saw a commercial on TV the other day that made me laugh out loud. Some fast food chain was advertising their new All Natural Grass Fed Burger. Major international chain…no chance. Here is why they can get away with that. Almost every cow in the world has been on grass. The problem is that as soon as the calves are weaned they get shipped to the corporate feed lots. Here they are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics so they can survive long enough to get fat enough to be considered meat. It is like feeding your kids a steady diet of soda and candy.

That is why it is so important to know where your meat comes from. Grass fed/finished beef has had no grain or soy. It has a healthier fat composition.  The cows are raised on pasture, out in the fresh air and sunshine. It’s the way animals should be raised. And it makes a difference in the quality and flavor that ends up on your plate.

I get folks all the time that tell me about how they had grass fed beef and didn’t like it because it was too dry or too tough. The reason is usually one of two things: a lower quality grass-fed beef or (and please don’t do this) they trimmed all the fat off before cooking to make it “healthier”. The first one is an easy fix. Just like anything else in life, buy the best quality you can afford. And that doesn’t mean you have to wait a month to save up for one of our rib eyes to feed a family of four. I would take it a step farther. Buy the best quality beef you can find and get a knowledgeable butcher/purveyor to help you choose the best cut you can afford.

I am pretty well known for being given a budget and a number of folks eating and coming up with at least a few options for making a great meal. Now, that doesn’t mean you can come to the farmers market with $20 and a family of four and want to feed everyone filet mignon. But I could take that $20 and get you a couple marrow steaks that properly braised in red wine and herbs make a killer Osso Buco. “But we really want to grill” you say? Ok, let’s check out some chuck steaks. See, the chuck sits right next to the rib eye.

The front shoulder, or Chuck, does a lot more work and is thus a bit tougher than our favorite steak. However, it has similar texture and marbling, which we now know means great flavor. And it is a lot less expensive! Marinate it fresh salsa or a good Italian dressing and you will have a great steak to throw on the grill and enough volume to keep your whole brood happy.

As too the second reason, just don’t do it. As I said earlier, fat is flavor. And one of the best parts of a great steak dinner is that crispy, rendered fat (I like to save it for last). More importantly, when that fat is rendering it is distributing flavor throughout the steak. So if you insist on cutting the fat off your steak, do it after the steak has cooked and rested. What’s resting you ask? Let’s get into cooking then! Next week….