Column: what about marketing grass-fed and finished beef?

David Zirnhelt on some lessons about the production of grass-fed beef

We know that the Cariboo has lots of inexpensive grass and inexpensive ranchland, much of which is suitable for putting weight on cattle.

Here are some lessons about the production and marketing of grass-fed beef.

These lessons are from Dr. Anibal Pordomingo, who is a grass-fed researcher, renowned worldwide educator and private grass finisher in the Argentine Pampas.

He wrote about his 20 years of experience in the April 2018 Stockman Grassfarmer magazine.

He says: “Fattening cattle without using grains is a difficult task, yet it is the core of pastured beef.”

Many consumers prefer grain-finished beef and that may be because they like the attributes of the grain fats: it is easier for the cook to achieve adequate moisture and pleasant flavour results more consistently.

This is what most people know. Consumer taste has been adapted to the economical finishing of beef in feedlots. Cattle nutrition with grain can be adapted to speed up or slow down finishing of the young herd, which is mostly marketed in the fall.

Grass finishing mostly happens when the grass is fresh, which is plus or minus six months of the year. Some forage (preserved grass and legumes or the stocks of grain grasses before they go to seed, which is grain).

Marketing studies have shown that if someone has less than a desirable taste experience with a grass-finished product, then they are put off, perhaps permanently. Whereas a bad experience with a grain-finished product rarely puts them off that product.

We don’t know why that is. Tastes evolve, perhaps.

Here are Pordomingo’s lessons learned.

1. All cuts with intramuscular fats and outside fat are easier to grill than lean meat.

2. If too lean, it is easy to burn dry pasture-finished beef.

3. Definitely there is seasonality in quality and flavour.

4. Fresh meat is always better than frozen.

5. Dry aging is preferred to avoid odd flavour.

6. Pasture-finished beef is less reliable than grain-fed. Chefs need to know about beefs’ age, pasture and aging technology.

7. Searing the meat is relevant, but too hot and fast can over burn a crust and create undesirable flavours.

8. Some suggest slow cooking initially can help with tenderness as long as the fat is sufficient.

9. Salt and seasoning seems to be a must prior to grilling.

10. Cuts with then natural protection of connective tissue, such as flank, should be cooked slowly to favour tenderness.

11. A visible crust, but moistness is necessary.

12. Slow-chilled meats tend to lose excessive water after thawing. Fast freezing is best.

13. Steak size comes after tenderness, juiciness, flavour and colour.

14. Although people may know about the differences in cuts, tough meat is never appreciated. Chefs recommend tenderization techniques.

15. At a restaurant, the customer expects grass-fed beef to be remarkable. It has to be.

16. A good steak creates the feeling about meat. After a good restaurant experience, people will look to buy product.

17. Hamburger grass-fed meat should not be underestimated regarding quality. Carcasses with too little fat can have fat added to the burger.

18. Outside white fat cover is considered from younger animals and often preferred, as long as it is not too thick.

19. Prolonged shelf display can affect perceptions of an unfamiliar product. Shelf life of extra lean meat is shorter than for marbled meat. Dark red and opaque meat is always rejected.

20. Selling a farm or ranch story and environmental stewardship helps to sell, but does not replace a poor eating experience.

There are a few regions in the world that have a history of a gourmet tradition in beef eating. Argentina is one of them; North American is not. We are working on it!

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

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