The Foodie Farmer

Featured

Dry Aging: Less (H2O) is More

Dry aging (hanging carcass beef in a cool, climate controlled environment) has a long history but the modern beef industry has abandoned it in favor of a poor substitute deemed “wet aging” where all the excess fluids associated with a beef primal cut are supposedly captured with it in vacuum sealed plastic.

Here is what Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall, a British small holder , livestock raiser and food writer ( The River Cottage Meat Book) has to say: “What happens to the meat during hanging (dry aging)is that the natural enzymes begin to act on the fibers of the muscle meat, making them softer and more elastic so that the meat becomes more relaxed and tender.” “The meat will also begin to lose moisture as it hangs. Paradoxically this is a good thing when it comes to cooking. Wet, fresh, underhung meat carries too much water, which expands as the temperature rises during cooking, stretching the fibers of the meat and leaching out between them-especially when the meat contracts again after cooking and during carving. This means that wet meat actually ends up drier after cooking and vice versa.” “In general, another great but rarely discussed benefit of proper hanging… is that dry aged meat will emerge  from the freezer with far greater credit than immature, wet meat. Again, moisture is a key issue. Water expands as it freezes so that ice crystals will tear and push apart the fibers of the meat.Not only will dry aged meat contain less of the damaging moisture but the more elastic fibers will cope better with the expanding ice crystals. So, as the meat defrosts , and again as it cooks , there will be less tendency for water to leach out.”

I tested this idea by comparing moisture loss of pan -fried ground beef patties made from Hay Creek dry aged beef and Australian (AU) grass fed organic ground beef referred to in another post. The AU ground beef is distributed unfrozen with a moisture diaper so is almost certainly NOT dry aged. Both samples were frozen once and thawed fully prior to pan frying under identical conditions to a medium rare done-ness (just past spatula press “squish” point). The AU burger had a ring of “pan boogers” around it while cooking where excess juices were evaporating off and lost an incredible 19.3 % of it’s raw weight. It shrunk in diameter quite noticeably and had a somewhat dry, chewy eating texture. The Hay Creek burger fried w/o forming “pan boogers”, very little diameter shrinkage and only 9.0 % moisture loss. Much more tender and moist upon eating . Way juicier than any of the much-overrated Juicy Lucy contenders in town.

Remember that “dry meat” (dry aged) is “moister” than “wet meat” (fresh or wet aged) every time you discard the costly tray bib/diaper thing saturated with excess moisture from a package of grocery store beef.


 

Featured

Hot Hanging Weight Pricing : the Dark Side

Hot Hanging Weight (HHW) based pricing is common in this business and can seem attractively priced but the freedom to chose (cutting instructions) comes with the twisted consequence of having been “provided enough rope to hang yourself”. Everyone else (farmer and processor) involved in the yield outcome takes 2 giant steps backwards and you are left standing alone.

Beef genetics and quality of finishing (last stages of grazing) along with cutting method , care and skill effect actual yield expectations (net total beef cut weight as percent of HHW).  HHW is the net weight of the  rail-suspended, bare eviscerated carcass sans head, hide and lower legs at the point it enters the chilling cooler. Both payment to farmer and processor are based on this number. It’s use makes sense for small/occasional producers w/o a herd yield performance base. HHW’s continued use by large/experienced direct sellers is at first glance puzzling: how can they ever develop herd yield performance data from myriad potential cutting plans? The not-so -obvious answer is they don’t care: they are sourcing from multiple herds: the Dark Side to which HHW easily provides access.

The very removal of responsibility for yield  creates an opportunistic opening for these “front-men” ; non-farmer brokers who only source and deliver beef under their label and  profit on the spread between their HHW “buy”(from a real farmer/rancher) and “resell” (to you) prices: an essentially risk-free deal for them when yield is your problem. There’s an ol’ braggart around this area who has made himself something of a kingpin in grass fed beef- having found farming/ranching too much work and risk -and now does just that. I once heard him boast -to a cattlemen’s group-how he ( actual quote) was “not above buying  hamburger cows” (old, culled, open, unbred female cattle). Otherwise, of course, his ethical standards are only the highest. HHW pricing encourages this kind of B.S. by making it simple, easy and risk-free to source cattle from multiple herds- w/o a quality and yield data base.

Hay Creek can provide CHOICE w/o the RISK :  I offer choice of steak cut thickness , roast cut target weights, “round ” roast or steak instead of ground- for prepaid HALF size orders at normal half pricing.

A commercial grain fed whole beef carcass weighing 630 pounds can have a bone-in cut yield of anywhere from 44 to 79% depending on yield grade. This does not include dry aging moisture loss -which takes around 5% off the top -since dry aging is no longer used commercially. No such published statistics exist for grass-fed beef . Since grass fed breeds are  typically of British- not heavily muscled , high yield grade Continental breeding- their gross yield most likely tops out around the low 70’s , high 60’s after 14 days dry aging. Variability in individual cattle and grazing quality can reduce this to the low 60’s. This range of yield has a huge effect on net $/pound you take home.

Suppose you purchase a quarter (technically a split-half ) of the 630 pound HHW carcass (157.5 pounds) and pay $3.90/pound to the farmer and $.72/pound (combined butcher, cut, and grind fee spread over HHW) to the processor for a total of $727.65. You assumed an unrealistic 75% yield of 118 pounds ($6.17 per pound net) but only received a 62% yield of 98 pounds ($7.45 per pound net). Not a bad deal but way different from what you bit on.

Complaints to farmer or processor on your orders’ yield result will inevitably be met with the negative effect of your choice of  cutting directions: boneless cuts- including cuts processed into ground- reduce yield.  Deviations from – or lack of- a cutting “standard” leave an “out” for the grower and processor. Remember, there is only one firm number in this game: the one you are billed for: HHW.

Factor these expectations into your purchasing decision and resist unsupported claims of unreasonably high yield. Dry aging is costly in terms of yield. Be sure to have the processor weigh, total , and sign off on your net cuts so you can determine if you got a good deal. Buy only from REAL farmer/ranchers.  Not the posers who look like they’ve spent a lot more time inside a casino than outside moving cattle.  Mystery Meat from unidentified herds with unverifiable practices is way cheaper in the supermarket.


 

Featured

All Hat No Cattle

It takes a decent breeding herd, fertile land, fencing, drinking water delivery works , expertise (luck too) and most of all;  time ( 6-12 months more than grain-fed) to produce a quality true grass- fed beef.

It’s not about just jockeying random maybe-grass-fed cattle between a convenient “sale barn”  and processor. Nor is it waylaying opportunistically-purchased cattle in some greenish chunk of pasture a few weeks.  It takes 2-4 acres of good pasture per finishing head to support that generation of cattle and the upcoming younger generations-for a whole growing season.

Beware of large sellers using Hot Hanging Weight (HHW) based pricing. It’s a likely cover for brokering from multiple unidentified herds with unverifiable practices.

Make sure you are getting what you pay for . Ask questions. Make a farm visit. Mystery Meat of ambiguous origins is way-cheaper in the supermarket. Don’t simply go along with crowd-think.


 

Featured

The (Down) Under Side of Cheap Imported Grass Fed Ground Beef

 

Bos Indicus cattle

There’s a region of the world where large-scale beef production is  relatively new and “grass fed” remains a disparaging term: the equatorial lands of Brazil and Australia where only Bos Indicus cattle breeds like Zebu can endure high heat, humidity, insect pressure and drought cycles to gain some very lean, tough weight over a 3-4 year harvest interval. Australia exported 2.5 million metric tonnes -predominately this type of beef- valued at $8.285 billion in 2015/2016. That works out to $1.19 USD per pound.

Here’s what they have to say about its quality and destined usage: “Australia’s beef exports are globally competitive, but are generally low-value exports (grass fed for ground beef) rather than high-value products (grain-fed for high value sale). According to Meat & Livestock Australia, in 2016, 75% of Australian beef exports to the US were low-value manufacturing or hamburger beef (MLA). The US cattle herd has been near historic lows, fueling increased demand for imported beef.”

With the US as it’s major export destination a whole bunch of this beef most likely makes it’s way into the head of the fast food industry pipeline via Lopez Foods in Oklahoma, distributed as preformed, precooked, frozen patties.

Brazil’s deforested Amazon basin is a much larger producer of this type of beef but is barred from export to the US due to Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks. They also have a long history of being demonized for rainforest destruction so are compromised in the arena of health food marketing.

Some of this ground beef marketed in retail packages is labeled USDA Organic- a label whose meaning is being increasingly challenged such as in this Dec 2017 Washington Post story:  “What was the organic movement has lost control of the National Organic Program (NOP)- the pirates have taken over the ship,” said Dave Chapman, a Vermont farmer who has farmed organically for 37 years.”

At it’s essence Organic is only the certified absence of forbidden synthesized inputs: fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and drugs. Even that basic requirement is somehow overlooked by current administration of the NOP according to audit results. Virtuous, feel-good niceties like holism, species diversity, integrated pest management, etc. are relegated to window dressing by the caveat “where possible”.  Perversely, it is possible to merely deplete a natural environment  with the Organic blessing (UNCTAD p24).  Organic or not, rough, dry-land ranching has always been a brutal business with no lack of adversaries; real (drought) and perceived : kangaroo

 

I bought a couple pound bricks of Australian (AU) grass fed ground beef to try out for eating quality.  Cooked them “sous vide” for 60 minutes (sealed in zip lock plastic bag and immersed in temperature-controlled circulating water bath) in quarter pound segments cut direct from the  brick alongside the same of my own Hay Creek ground beef.  The samples cooked ‘”rare” (126 deg F) had the most pronounced difference with the AU sample have a chewy texture like  rubber bands that slowly disappeared as chewing progressed. The “medium” (142 deg F) and “medium well” (157 deg F) AU samples were also more rubbery-chewy but not so distinctly as the “rare”. Flavor was comparable between my own and the AU samples. Samples of both presented to farm dogs were wolfed down so quickly that the hundredth-second stopwatch differential could easily be attributed to operator reaction time.

This is not a bad quality product but why the completely opaque source labeling with only a whole huge continent  of widely varying climate and environment as the “country of origin”?  No state or territory or farm name. The USDA labeling laws don’t preclude more information but they do help obscure those that desire to remain so.

Don’t be reeled-in by colorful, cheery labels with no real information. Can you tell if you are buying from small farms or mysterious corporate entities or brokers?  Where -as in on the map-is the beef raised?  Practically speaking Organic means different things in different settings and practices, particularly when imported.  In tropical native grassland grazing it can mean next to nothing or even be a force for land clearing or other forms of  environmental degradation.  

Reinforcing this madness; cheap ($38USD/acre), raw, previously un-farmed land is actually favored by the NOP in that it does not require the 3 year transition to Organic of lands with a history of conventional farming.


 

 

Featured

My Foodie Background

 

Disclaimer on “foodie” in that it’s prob’ly been overused to the point of meaninglessness but it seems to still possess instant recognition. Paradoxical in that hardly any modern farmers-those folks closest to the origins of the food supply-would call themselves or be considered foodies.  Most of them I know consider the Sysco-supplied stuff in the local cafe/ roadhouse or the stuff off the Schwanns truck to be good food. Lots of reasons for this “dumbing down” of the traditional farm table: the specialization of modern farms cuts selection of home-grown foods on hand for cooking; tight profit margins mean the farm wife no longer cooks but instead does shift work at a local manufacturer; aging-out of the remaining farmers mean reduced appetites, fewer children, and less energy.

Been in the food business continuously in one way or another since starting at Pillsbury R&D’s fledgling frozen foods group in 1976 as a process technician. Put together and operated a low-budget, skunk-works pilot plant for process experiments on a new Totino’s pizza concept. The engineering came naturally. Learned the basics of cooking , baking and food safety practices from food scientists . Left there in late 80’s- after attaining a mechanical engineering degree and process engineer title- during one of a series of takeovers and downsizing that culminated later in purchase by General Mills.

Went on to Food Engineering , a small fabricator of specialty equipment primarily for the prepared cereal industry. Lots of time spent in vast processing plants starting-up new lines, new products or diagnosing malfunctions. Spent an overnight in a South Korean instant ramen  soup plant  to get the kimchi drying quality they expected out of a new conveyor-type dryer with 3 temperature zones and 5 conveyor levels that required 6 hours retention time.

Quit engineering to take up beef farming/ranching in ’98 while the kids still young enough (10 and 12) to be excited about the prospect.

Stumbled into low-carb nutrition by the back door after a spring and summer of eating old-timey (fat/flavorful) pork out of their 2 Hampshire-ish sows and a stubby, round, spotted gift- boar. The family bought a half pig from them and ate pork a least  4 times a week , believing pork only had a 6 month freezer life. So much pork to eat we hardly had the appetite for carbs beyond that from vegetables. That fall, at my 30th high school re-union, I was lighter in weight (165 pounds) than any point since high school.  Don’t recall exactly how I pieced together cause and effect but I’ve been a low-carb advocate since. Always find reason to regret falling for high glycemic foods.


 

Sirloin Tip Roast Sous Vide

Finally caved to my curiosity on extended time Sous Vide  cooking after a heads-up from long time customer Joe L. during a recent beef delivery.  He extolled the results of 48 cook time on a grass fed Hay Creek sirloin tip roast from my farm. I’d discounted the effect of these long  (over 6 hour) cook times in the erroneous mindset of thinking the internal meat temperature would surely stabilize within that time and why cook longer? The reality is counter- intuitive and miraculous changes take place with extended time at relatively low temperatures: solving the ages-old  problem of creating a moist but tender roast from a relatively lean cut of meat.

I did some quick searching and discovered 2 sources recommending between 17 hours @ 137 deg F and 46 hours @ 134 deg F.  I wanted to test both  “pot roast” and a “leftover” cold cut serving scenarios so applied an herb rub to the roast before bagging ( 1 gallon freezer ziplock) and inserting a half-dozen garlic cloves around the perimeter. Trick for eliminating excess air from bag (prevents floating) is to suck it out with a small-diameter tube like that used for aquarium aeration. Pinch the tube near the corner of the bag while sucking the air out and progressively sealing the zipper.

Some important Sous Vide considerations: Basic Sous Vide is well covered in this video.  Curious to note that cooking in the 134 to 137 degree F  range for hours violates the crude rule-of-thumb advocated by every Dept of Public Health: to minimize food residence time in the 40 deg F to 140 deg F temperature window for avoidance of food safety (microbiological) issues. Consider testing the calibration of your Sous Vide device if you hope to achieve comparable results to others . Despite their tenth degree F resolution, they can easily be inaccurate by 2 whole degree F.  Test by immersing in  boiling water on the stove top and recording  the device’s temp reading.  Boiling point temp must corrected for your local altitude. This is then the “real” temperature which you can then use to offset your device setpoint to compensate for any inaccuracy. The long cook time also pumps a lot of heat and moisture into your house so wrap your vessel with a towel and cover the water surface.

Removed entire bag to refrigerator after 46 hours @134 deg F and cooled 7 hours before draining fluid surrounding roast to a saucepan for finishing as a gravy. Seared exterior of roast in smoking hot frying pan with a couple T-spoons lard to minimize internal temperature increase. Cut and rewarmed slice from the seared exterior and served on boiled potatoes w/ gravy. Amazingly tender, moist and mild flavored. The fluid “juice” in the bag surrounding the cooked roast is loaded with proteins (foams readily on boiling) and quite intensely flavored so does not benefit from much reduction prior to adding thickening agent (flour or starch).

Cold cut slices best served on mild white bread like burger buns accompanied by Dijon mustard. So incredibly tender it isn’t crucial to slice thinly. So delicate in flavor that it gets lost with horseradish and sourdough rye.

Next try will be with roughly half the cook time to regain a little ‘”chew” texture.


 

Organ Meats, Soup Bones, and Oxtail

Recipients of “Quarter”  size beef orders can elect to get 2 packages (meaty) Soup Bones (1-2 pounds each) and 2 packages Liver ( around 1 pound each) with each order for an additional 38 cents per pound Farm Pickup or 50 cents a pound Home Delivery.

“Half” size orders are eligible for double the above quantities, one (1) package oxtail (1-2 pounds) and either a single package of heart (3-4 pounds) or tongue (2-3 pounds).

You must explicitly request which you would like added to your order at least 3 days ahead of delivery date. They are not routinely included. The up-charges are only applied to the weight of the extra items you choose.


 

 

“What the Health” a Mockumentary

Piled -on by real scientists for it’s dubious use of the word “science” the producers have rightly post-labeled this film a mock-umentary. “We was just taken away on a lark”

Dr. (of psychiatry it turns out, NOT medicine, NOT nutrition, NOT genetics, NOT endocrinology, NOTHING which makes him ANY authority) Neal D. Barnard offhandedly negates decades of nutritional advances in this prankster-ish film with the outrageous statement: “Diabetes is not and never was caused by eating a high carbohydrate diet, and it is not caused by eating sugar.” Huh?  What about all the folks on low-carb and keto diets who have lost mountains of weight and “cured” their diabetes?  Sugar is to the  early 21st century as tobacco was to the Mad Men era except we’ve already heard the “It’s Toasted!” line.

Yeah, it would be nice if we could free all the farmed livestock but what would become of them? Sadly, like the “Rabbits: Pets or Meat” segment of Michael Moore’s documentary” Roger and Me” animals/people that have no economic significance to humans/corporations (shut-out Flint, MI workers to G.M.) soon cease to exist. The best way to love cattle is to do your best to support those that provide them a quality life experience and keep eating them to ensure their continuity.


 

Freezer Performance: Seals, Sensors and Alarms

Freezers quietly chug along in a basement or utility area and are easy take for granted – until they unexpectedly fail. This post is about getting a “heads-up” before a major loss.

Most freezes are NOT equipped with an actual internal temperature readout device or alarm. If yours has none then by all means at LEAST get one like this that has a wired sensor run thru the door seal and an external battery powered readout and audio alarm. You can use it both to adjust the freezer temp setting to the zero to 10 below F range best for beef storage and get an alarm should the freezer or power circuit fail.

Freezer “door seals” are a major performance concern. Accordion pleats and magnetic attraction allow the seal to compress and extend to close gaps of varying size. They are by no means a perfect “hermetic” seal and only slow down the leakage of internal cold/heavy/dry air OUT to be replaced by warm/light/wet room air leaking IN. This is why frost forms on the internal walls and coils. Frost represents the condensation and freezing of room air humidity (water vapor) on these cold surfaces. The more leakage the quicker it forms. Make sure your door seals are undamaged without excess crud in the pleats (particularly along the bottom seal of an upright style freezer) and are not age-hardened. Dirt and crud accumulation in the pleats restrict seal compression, slowly making that portion of the seal less compliant.

Chest freezers are less vulnerable to air leakage because the seal is all at a single elevation with a uniform internal air pressure behind it. Their seal pleats are oriented horizontally and don’t collect crud. Upright freezer seals are faced with a pressure differential between top and bottom due to the tall column of warmer-top and colder-bottom air they are holding in. The bottom seal tends to collect crud from inside the freezer box. Uprights are prone to leak OUT at bottom and pull IN at top.


 

Box Intro Price Special $6.95

sirloin works well too
Grilled Steak Salad w/Chile/Brown Sugar Rub: NYT Cooking. I used sirloin instead.

Box size (nominally 33 pounds) grass-fed beef packages specially priced at $6.95 per pound with discounted home delivery for a limited time. That’s  over 50 cents per pound off normal pricing! First-time customers only. See “Beef Packages & Pricing” for” Box” cut makeup. Limit one (1)  box per order/delivery address. Only PayPal (not mailed check) deposits received while this post is active will be eligible. Special flat total delivery charge of $7.00 per order/address. See “How to Order” on menu.  For Mpls/St Paul area home delivery on Nov 22  and Fargo area home delivery on Dec 15.


 

Availability and Delivery

Quarters , halves and  boxes newly available for  fall 2018 farm pick-up or Minneapolis/St Paul or Fargo metro delivery. Check the freezer and see if you need to replenish. Outdoor grilling season still has a few legs and indoor oven roasting and braising aromas in the air. See Osso Buco

Next Fargo delivery  Dec 15

Next Minneapolis & Saint Paul delivery Nov 22


 

Lisbon-Style Vinegar BBQ Sauce for Pork

If you’ve got a quality, slow-BBQ’d  cut with a delicate smoke for making pulled- pork this sauce is the way to go. Forget the gloppy, sugary, branded trash entirely. Doubles as a dressing for slaw! Add sparingly (1/2 to 1 Tablespoon per pound) to shredded pork and also serve on the side  as a dip for the sandwich.


 

Altered Reality of Fasting

I’ve completed two 72 hour fast episodes now- separated by 90 days- due to prompting from my low-30’s daughter Amanda. The idea was daunting for someone accustomed to regular meals but it turns out the normal , healthy human body is remarkably adept at managing energy intake and usage. For me the most difficult part was skipping that first mealtime. After that hunger was really no issue and increased mental acuity and an accelerated sense of the passage of time were remarkable. I spend considerable time cooking so had expected the time normally spent preparing and consuming meals to drag by while fasting. Not so at all!

I used a low-carb electrolyte replacement powder in water and went on with my everyday farm activities with seemingly more than normal intensity.  Sleeping thru the night was improved. Skipping the first meal was easier if another activity was planned to displace it.

Relevant links:    lifestyle.engineeering               healthline


 

Osso Buco Milanese

Thinking ahead a bit to cooler fall weather this trusty recipe comes to mind.  All ingredient except the shanks (use 2″ thick shank sections from your haycreek fractional beef orders) and saffron can be found at the Walmart but the results are world-class. Other than skipping saffron the only modification I use -to accommodate beef rather than veal shanks-is to double braising time to 3 hours in a covered pan in the oven at 325 F. Enlist aroma-motivated guests/family to stir the broth into the Arborio rice -the hardest part of the whole prep.


 

Grilled Steak Salad

This NYT Cooking recipe is actually pretty simple to put together and provides an opportunity to grill-up some rub/marinated steak. Sirloin worked great for me. Note that this recipe incorporates  all the separate flavors that make up common “Chili Powder” (chile, cumin, garlic, oregano, salt) so it may not be worth special-sourcing “Ancho Chile Powder”.

A lighter meal for hot weather. Great flavor combination.