Archive for the ‘Beef’ Category

‘The Harvest’ w/ Chef Brittany Watt


I met Britt a few months ago, when the proprietor of the restaurant she was then working at introduced us. I promised her some plants, she came to get them and came for dinner, and I still haven’t managed to get her those plants. I think she and I get along because we’re both pretty hardcore when it comes to our values around food, and neither of us care much for beating around the bush. We were able to get out mushroom foraging this summer, and it looks like she’ll be jumping in on helping Allan Suddaby and I butcher elk this weekend. So there you have it: disclosure of bias + an explanation of why I was at her event, all wrapped into one.

Anyway, long story short: she’s started up her own gig, was having an ‘after hours’ harvest dinner geared entirely around farmers’ market vendor ingredients [NOT a normal activity around here], and invited me to attend as her guest. If you want to read a lovely blog post, Liane happened to be there. Read hers. I lack her eloquence. What I can tell you is that those chefs leading the way in their industry towards a real local and seasonal approach to food have my support. I’m unusual, with all my DIY/grow-it-kill-it-make-it-yourself stuff – I get it. I also get that many folks that eat out have similar values around local, seasonal, ethical food, and if I can support the chefs blazing the way in industry that serves the masses, I will.

Because I, quite honestly, hate writing about events [or worse, organizing them, don't ask me to do that], do enjoy the video below. It delivers far more than I could via writing and a few pictures. Last thought: get down to the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market not just to shop, but to eat, as Britt now runs the concession. The menu blew me away, as it actually serves up food sold by the vendors under that very roof. Well done, whoever lined up this long-time-needed change [and I know who you are]. Well done.

Farm-to-Table w/ RGE RD & Riverbend Gardens


The last farm-to-table dinner I attended was a resounding success, and I’m not surprised Blair and his crew have done a few of these since then. By happenstance we ran into each other at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago and I ended up involved with his upcoming dinner at Riverbend Gardens. He ended up buying the last half of the 3 pigs we cut on Pig Day for the event, came over to butcher it, and also wanted to include some rescued fruit in his dessert so I ended up supplying some urban-fruit-rescued apples and evans cherries harvested by myself and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton volunteers. I offered to give Blair a hand, shoot some video and such, cause, well, it’s just a lovely kind of thing to be involved with, really.

It was a 6 course wine-paired menu based on winter-veg from Riverbend Gardens, and pork and beef from Nature’s Green Acres. Plus 3 hors d’oeurvres. Pretty impressive menu, really, and glad it was he and not I in charge of making it happen for the 25 or so guests. It was a well-conceived and well-executed festival of winter squashes, pork, local cheese, kales, cabbages, brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, beef, potatoes, urban fruit, live music, and local and Okanagan wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a spare seat at the huge table, and between shooting video of the courses as they were plated, got to eat the food and be a guest. Thanks to Blair and the RGE RD crew for that, and for becoming such fantastic advocates and supporters of our local food producers, and for cooking with fire. It matters. Enjoy the video.

Farm to Table w/ RGE RD & Nature’s Green Acres


Farm-to-table dining, while commonplace elsewhere, is still an extremely progressive concept in our restaurant scene. When one of the most well-respected chefs in the city, Blair Lebsack, mentioned he was going to tackle serving a multi-course dinner to 30-40 guests out in the cow pasture at Nature’s Green Acres, I wanted to be there.

I find in the food service industry, ‘Local‘ normally equates to an element, maybe two on the plate being local, and it’s usually a protein. ‘Seasonal‘ often really means, ‘seasonal somewhere’. Not here. The beef, pork, and chicken was from the farm, yes, but when the farm didn’t have enough garden to supply the dinner, Blair and Caitlin got out there and built and planted garden months in advance. They foraged nettle for one of the iced teas and the ice cream, and nicked edible flowers from farm yard to include in the menu. They made butter for bread and for the pastries in the desert course. Blair chased the pig into the trailer to haul off to the abattoir, and butchered it himself. They butchered chickens, made stock for the soup, and used the livers in a terrine. He even helped the farmer rip the ancient, neglected, wood burning stove out of one of the farm’s outbuildings so he could cook on it – the entire service being done over wood fire. Essentially, if it wasn’t from the farm or a neighbour, it wasn’t on the menu.

It was an epic evening for everyone involved, I think – certainly the kind of event you don’t soon forget, if ever. Keep an eye out for more from Blair and RGE RD [the name of his new venture], as this wasn’t a one-off. Perhaps farm-to-table has finally truly arrived.

Meat Law


I am not a lawyer. Did I mention I’m not a lawyer? Sadly, I feel apprehensive to discuss law as it implies somebody will misinterpret this, act upon it [ie, do something stupid], and point to me as the source of their lack of awesomeness. Yeah, don’t do that please. I’m addressing this topic to try to share some of what I’ve learned in the past week about butchering at home, and to have an open discussion about it.

I first will refer you to the Acts, as I was: the Meat Inspection Act and Meat Inspection Regulation are the relevant pieces of legislation. These would presumably be the last word on the subject,  but as if often the case with law even after a few reads it was far from clear where the boundaries were for home butchering. I sought interpretations from the investigator at Alberta Ag that is probably sick of hearing from me by now.

The conclusion I reached based on what I was told, was that one can butcher inspected pork, beef, etc at home without permit or license, but that said meat cannot be given or sold, and is only to be used for one’s immediately family. I can’t find the legal verbage in the Act to support some of this [especially the 'give' part], but as aforementioned, I’m not a lawyer, and am relying on guidance from the Regulatory Services Division of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. One needs a Public Health Permit for the premises if one is processing for resale – makes sense. One cannot obtain uninspected meat direct from a local farm. [If I'm later told I'm misinformed about anything in this paragraph, I'll edit this immediately]

There is one clear exemption pertaining to uninspected meat – section 6.2(b) of the Meat Inspection Regulation clearly excludes wildlife as defined under the Wildlife Act. So I read the Wildlife Act. Section 62(1) says ‘a person shall not traffic in wildlife’, and although they go on to define ‘traffic’, it did not mention ‘give’. So I called a Fish and Wildlife officer to get an interpretation of ‘traffic’. First, he was clear that I could give away game meat. Note the difference – can’t give away inspected domestic meat, but can with game meat. I find that odd. Secondly, he was clear that any exchange for cash or other form of consideration could be deemed trafficking. I grew up knowing the sale of wild game meats was illegal – so this was not news to me. Reaching a conclusion on the wild game side was relatively easy – far easier than wading through the domestic meat side.

So at the end of the day, having burned a week of my time reading meat legislation and talking to those charged with enforcing those laws, I’m pleased with where my practices stand relative to the law. Which…I was before hand. Glad everyone’s happy. If you’re left unsure, contact Alberta Ag re: domestic animals and Fish and Wildlife re: wild game – they’ll be able to answer your questions better than I.

Beef Throw-Down: 14 vs 24


This past fall, some friends and I bought 2 head of cattle from Shannon and Danny at Nature’s Green Acres [details of the butchering of my quarter are here]. I picked up my quarter after 14 days of dry aging. My friends had theirs cut at the meat shop after roughly 24 days. A recent discussion with the farmer about our experience with each approach led to a taste-test of the two side-by-side. Today was the day for the throw-down. Was 14 day or 24 day better? That was the question.

We did two preparations: a plain meatball and a rib steak. Although there were significant variations between the two meatballs, they were deemed more attributable to a) the grind and b) the fat content. The 14 day was fattier as I included far more fat, and I ground it coarser. The 24 day was ground finer, far leaner, and yielded an extremely juicy meatball. Neither had a perceptibly different complexity of flavor on the nose or palate.

On to the steak. I figured if there was a difference in texture, it’d show up here. But again, our conclusion was that the thickness, and cut [although both rib steak, no two steaks on an animal are perfectly homogeneous] contributed to the differences in experience rather than the age. Did we find one more tender with a greater concentration of flavor? Not really. Certainly not significantly so.

My conclusion: as with the big game calves I hunt, my choice is for less dry aging for the following reasons. 1] the animal’s already tender as a calf, so further tenderization is not needed; 2] concentration of flavor is not a goal of mine in my meats – delicately flavored calf meats is fine with me, and 3] dry aging creates waste via trim loss, something I can’t get behind with such a marginal benefit on the experience end. I’m certain that older animals or different palates would see this differently, but this is how I currently see it. Another important conclusion: both the 14 day and 24 day were both fantastic.

Many thanks to a good friend who hooked us up with the 24 day, and the 1975 Margaux.

Nouveau Beef-onomics


Pork, then antelope, then pork, then moose, then pork, now beef. I’m at the point now that when finished cleaning down after butchering I lightly dread the next. Until I’m into the next one, that is – at which point it’s fun again. This one was particularly exciting as I’d long wanted to pick up a front quarter of top quality beef to appease my love for braised beef and big red wine – and Nature’s Green Acres nouveau beef, as they call it, is this year’s calf, harvested at the beginning of November – precisely how I prefer my game: largely milk fed, young, mild, and tender throughout.

What I paid. The price I agreed on was $2.50/lb for the hook weight [hook weight = killed, gutted, skinned, ready to cut] of the front quarter – which is cheaper than the hind quarter which carries the bulk of the prime cuts. A whole nouveau beef weighs in at 300lbs or so on the hook [vs 'on the hoof' = live weight], putting a side at 150lbs, and a front quarter at about 75 lbs [I'm awaiting final figures, will update numbers when I get them]. So I owe the farm $187.50 for my quarter. The balance is meat processing cost – namely having the butcher shop kill and chill the animal, which for beef is $150 at Forsetburg Meat Processing Inc. [farmer's choice of butcher] as well as the cost of dry aging the beef. Paying for dry aging is new to me, at a cost of $2.50/day which I’m fine with as cooler space requires significant capital and operating costs. Consuming the space also could limit their capacity to take on game animals at this time of year. Total processing cost: $76.13. All-in total for the quarter = $263.63.

What I got. I weighed out 14 lbs of ground, 37 lbs of roasts [blade and rib primarily], and 10 lbs of loin and rib steaks for a total of 61 lbs of cut and wrapped meat. A bonus to cutting  young beef is that the bones are optimal for stock, and I roasted them immediately and tossed them into a stock pot making 10L or so of stock. I didn’t weigh the bone yield, but will guess 10 lbs. Key to this deal for me is that I got milk and grass fed calf from a farmer whose practices I respect, and had the opportunity to cut it how I want, with me having the final call on quality control in the meat cutting department. I also got a really crappy 2+ hr drive through ice fog in -24C each way to go pick it up, which was not enjoyable. Thankfully the staff at the butcher shop were the best I’ve dealt with anywhere.

The bottom line? $263/61=$4.31/lb of straight meat cuts, not accounting for soup bones. Assuming 10 lbs of bones at their rate of $1.25/lb, I’d adjust the net figure to ($263-12.50)/61=$4.11/lb. Honestly, I was a bit surprised how high this ended up. With pork, a hook weight of $2/lb from the same farm resulted in an all-in cost of $2.39/lb – the net cost being 20% higher than hook weight. With the beef, that increase is 64%. Why the spread? With pork, a kill/chill costs $55 now/animal. That’s it. With beef, the kill chill is $150 [why the spread, I have no idea, as pigs require scald/scraping, and I'd think it be quicker to skin a beef], and the $2.50/day for dry aging for 14 days adds up to $304.50/animal. That’s a big difference. With pigs, my processing cost is 14% of the value of the animal. With beef, that figure’s 33% – quite significant.

So how is $4.11? They charge $14.91/lb for rib steaks, $7.12/lb for blade/chuck roasts, $8/lb for ribs, and $5/lb for ground. Some quick spread-sheeting puts what I got priced at about $525 if I were to buy the same stuff at the market ‘retail’. So my cost at the end of the day is very nearly 50% of market retail cost from the same farm. Not only that, the best bit is that the farmer’s not getting short-changed in the deal – quite the opposite. I’m buying direct and reducing the effort on their end – no middle men, reduced sales hrs per head, reduced transportation costs to markets, reduced freezer capital and operating costs, etc. Good deal.

Oh, and I know – there’s cheaper beef out there. But I’m a QPR guy [quality/price ratio], and in my mind, the quality here for the price is a bargain. Want a look at how my cow was raised? Watch the Nature’s Green Acres ‘From Local Farms‘ episode here.

From Local Farms – Sunworks Farm


My time with Ron Hamilton of Sunworks Farm left me drowning in fascinating content – making this the most challenging edit to date. Ron and Sheila have been at this game longer than all the others I’ve covered so far, and have achieved a level of success in the organics business that places them as leaders in their industry. Being the biggest also makes you a target for criticism, and it seems like one of the emerging local ethics-of-food debates is whether one can get this big without compromising values. Ron addresses scale, growth, ethics, feed, conventional vs. organic practices both outdoors in the summer and in-barn in the winter, among many, many other topics.

I find feed interesting – and specifically the quest for farmers to achieve high-protein diets required to build meat without the use of soy. Ron says the roasted soy they use has 38-40% protein while the next best protein source, peas, has 20-22% if conventional, and  18-20% if organic. Problem is, much more than 15% peas in the ration doesn’t agree with the chickens’ tummies, and makes them sick. Another feed element that helps is alfalfa meal at 18% protein, also offering a greenness to the flavor of the meats. It currently comprises 12% of the ration. But the challenge remains: how to get birds to put on meat fast, with the use of local feed. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that Ron knew all this stuff off the top of his head, you might too if you had to feed 8000 lbs of it a day to your birds.

One of the many new frontiers for Sunworks Farm is a brand new value-add facility where they’ll capture current waste products [chicken livers, wing  tips, etc] into patés, stocks, and other prepared foods on a large scale. I love the idea – more locally produced organic products, they can reduce waste from the animals the already produce, and it creates a new revenue stream for them in the value-add game. They also have a new facility with giant drum composters to handle waste they generate, turning it into healthful-for-the-land compost, and continue to build innovative facilities as practicality requires. It’s an exciting time in the world of Sunworks Farm, and they’ll be a key player to watch as the regional, ethical, and artisan food industry moves forward.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Nature’s Green Acres


Shannon & Danny Ruzicka at Nature’s Green Acres are pretty tough not to like, their kids are cute, their farm is neat, their dog is gentle, their land is gorgeous. But tossing all that bias aside, how they raise their beef, chicken, and pork is truly remarkable. Clearly heavily influenced by Joel Salatin [If you haven't watched Food Inc, you should] and well read and mentored in contemporary sustainable agricultural practices, these two are operating at an incredibly high standard right out of the gates.

For example. I’d arrived early in the morning, and hopped in the truck to tag along while Danny did his morning chores tending to the pigs. First off, their pen looked pretty nice. Their water’s overhead and always clean, the ground was not nuked to bare dirt as pigs tend to do, and the animals looked rather…clean. Didn’t even stink. He proceeded to hook up the truck to the pen and move it onto fresh knee-deep-grass. The shocker: he’d done it the evening before. Every morning. Every evening. Every day. The pigs are on deep, thick, fresh pasture essentially every few hours. I probably looked a little stunned.

The good news is they do the same for their chickens. I had arrived with a question from my wife wanting to know why their chicken was so exceptionally good. It could be their ration of 90% wheat/10% peas [they avoid soy, the standard protein-rich item in feed, to avoid GMOs], could be the grass – I left without a conclusive answer. As for their Nouveau Beef – a brand they’re creating for milk-and-grass-fed 6-7 month-old beef calves slaughtered in the fall – they’re tougher to spot when you visit. They have just under 20 cow-calf pairs on 200 acres of beautiful land. The way I figure it, that’s more than 5 acres per animal. And it sounds like the next step is implementing a rotational grazing program to further improve the health of the soil, grasses, animals, and ultimately us. How nice of them.

The bottom line is I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing already, and where they’re headed. They’re happy to sell sides and whole animals [important to me], are completely transparent, and as best they know how are growing the healthiest food they can in the healthiest way for the land. What more could you ask from the farmer who raises your meats?

From Local Farms Project Update


This project is getting pretty big pretty fast, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Starting in September, I’m going to have a blog-doc-short episode featuring each of the following biggest and brightest talents in local artisan food production – and the list is growing daily: Sunworks Farm, Nature’s Green AcresSmoky Valley Goat Cheese, En Santé Winery, Serben Free Range, Sparrow’s Nest Organics, Mighty Trio Organics, Gold Forest Grains, Green Eggs & Ham, and Peck N Berry Acres. These are busy people and it’s a busy time of year, so I really appreciate their willingness to have me show you more about who they are and what they do.

How cool is that.

4 Wines & A Plate – Cabernet Sauvignon


Texture was the hot topic of conversation – where on the mouth it stripped you of saliva, stuffed your face full of cotton balls, or made your teeth feel like they were dissolving. Loads of fruit, loads of odd-ball descriptors, and overall high average scores. The ringer was a pleaser, offering tremendous QPR. Buy it. Preferences were all over the map, so my scores and preferences didn’t highly correlate with the group rankings and scores. And last but not least: a Canadian wine took the top group rank score award!!!!


A: 2004 Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon

$50 Penedes, Spain

Group Score: 83.3 Rank tied for 2/3

Jammy, nutty, delicious, fruit, and lavender on the nose. Also had a really cool Indian spice character. A tannic mouth stripper with a lemon rind finish that was offputting at first – but with food was a complete non-issue. Good concentration, big bold style that’s yummy. 91+

B: 2005 Mitolo Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon

$63 McLaren Vale, Australia

Group Score: 81.8, Rank 4 [Robert Parker: 94]

Corky, leathery, blue and red fruits, sweet & sour Chinese food, toner, horsebarn-esque odd, and awkward on the nose. Palate showed more odd items like fish and ink. Tart long finish of apple core. Points in my books for cool descriptors, points against for not really enjoying them. 88+

C: 2007 Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

$40 South Okanagan, Canada

Group Score: 88.6, Rank 1

Floral, perfumy, ivory soap, wood, Hawaiian tropics sunblock. I’m a sucker for floral, perfumy wines. Others detest them. This wine was by far the most supple and finesse-y, and also was the lightest wine. 92

D: 2007 The Show

$15 California, USA

Group Score: 89.1, Rank tied for 2/3

It smelled like cleaning a gun – gunmetal and solvent. Also a very present raisin component with a deep bumbleberry fruit bomby-ness. Good concentration, ended up going the direction of a berry juicebox. A superb value. 87


It had long been decided that Cabernet Sauvignon would be paired with fatty beef. 5-6 hr beef shoulder from Ben’s Meats, garden mash potatoes, charred kale, beef gravy, and a touch of soy and horseradish. All of the wines, with the possible exception of the top ranking C, was clearly improved when taken with food. All the texture issues that were keeping scores down faded and some erasing and re-visiting of scoring on the mouthfeel/texture side was going on. A classic and clearly wonderful pairing.