On January 2nd, 2010, a Co-op customer purchased a few cuts of Black Earth Meats beef from our meat department. After cooking it, he noticed a “strong and strange” flavor that he was not able to identify. He discarded the beef and wrote an email to Black Earth Meats inquiring about what might have been the cause. The customer included the production information listed on the package in hopes that Black Earth Meats would be able to give him more information.
Black Earth Meats responded with an in-depth email. They had been able to track the product from the date the cattle arrived at their processing plant to the date it was shipped to the Co-op. It had been harvested on December 17th, dry-aged for 10 days, cut into primal parts on December 28th, stored at 38 degrees until it was cut and vacuum-packed for the Co-op’s order on December 30th.
Not only that, but Black Earth Meats talked with the farmer who raised the animals. That farmer remembered the cattle he had delivered to Black Earth that day. They were a Galloway-Simmental cross that had been on pasture for a year and a half. During the fall of 2009, he had brought them closer to the barn and started supplementing their pasture with silage (semi-fermented hay commonly used in grass-fed operations during the winter months), pea oats, and free choice minerals. The farmer thought that perhaps the strong flavor was a result of the silage, which some people find adds a distinct flavor to meat.
Black Earth Meats didn’t stop there. They still had some ribeye from the animal the beef in question came from. They cooked it up for all their employees to try. Everyone agreed that the flavor was not out of the ordinary for grass-fed beef, although it was quite distinct from the flavor of corn-fed beef. They explained to the Co-op customer that, unlike corn-fed beef, the flavor of the meat from animals on pasture changes throughout the year because their food source changes with the seasons.
Compare this to a recent recall of ground beef researched by The New York Times. On October 5th, 2007, the Minnesota Health Department warned residents not to eat ground beef purchased at Sam’s Club. They suspected that it was the source of an E. coli outbreak that had sickened at least five people in the state. The next day, food giant Cargill announced a recall of 844,812 pounds of hamburger patties and other ground beef products. These patties had been sold to Sam’s Clubs and other retailers nationwide. The outbreak sickened over 940 people across the nation, some with extreme symptoms including seizures and paralysis.
The New York Times (with no help from Cargill) attempted to track down exactly where the meat in those patties came from. They found that the meat in question was a mix of scraps and “mash-like product” from four different locations: large (as in football field-size) slaughterhouses in Texas, Nebraska, and Uruguay, and also a company in North Dakota that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria. Because Cargill did not test the product from each facility before it was ground together, there was no way to know which was the source of the E. coli.
Recalls like the one above are not an isolated occurrence, nor did they end in 2007. A quick search on the USDA website shows that since October 2009 there have been six recalls involving beef products totaling over a million-and-a-half pounds of meat. Getting any information about where this meat came from and how it was handled is considered a trade secret.
I recently asked Bartlett Durand, the Farm Administrator for Black Earth Meats, how many animals end up in one package of their ground beef. His answer was simple: “On average, each one pound package contains the grind made from the solid meat of ONE animal.”
A hamburger from Black Earth Meats and a hamburger from a large supplier like Cargill may look the same, and they may taste similarly, but when you realize what each is actually made of there’s simply no comparison.
Responsibility for our meat section recently moved from the Grocery department to the Deli. As the person now ultimately responsible for meat at the Co-op, I was very heartened to learn how easy it is to trace the meat we sell back to its source. Meat from small producers like Black Earth Meats is a world away from the industrialized meat products that make up the majority of meat sold in this country, and I’m proud to support the small local suppliers who are rejecting that industrial model and embracing a more transparent, humane and healthy way of farming.
Breakfast in the Deli
In early February the Deli started serving breakfast from 7:30am–9:30am. Monday through Friday we offer a delicious selection of savory frittatas (made with organically raised eggs from New Century Farm), Willy Street home fries, and local and organically raised bacon from Black Earth Meats. Please let us know if you would like us to assemble a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast biscuit on a homemade vegan or buttermilk biscuit. For those of you who are vegan, we offer a selection of savory tofu scrambles every day of the week. If you are looking for something a little on the sweet side, try one of our hot apple pie pockets, or oatmeal made with organic thick rolled oats. At the salad bar, you’ll find a variety of condiments to choose from for dressing that oatmeal up: Thai Kitchen organic coconut milk, Organic Valley half and half, Silk soy creamer, organic raisins, organic brown sugar, organic raw agave nectar, demerara sugar, local organic honey from Gentle Breeze, and organic ground cinnamon.
On Saturday from 7:30am–9:30am we offer a special breakfast entrée as well as the home fries, hot apple pie pockets, oatmeal, bacon from Black Earth Meats, and a tofu scramble. On Sunday from 7:30am–10:30am we offer fruit- and cream cheese-stuffed french toast with the option of local maple syrup as well as the home fries, hot apple pie pockets, oatmeal, and local bacon from Black Earth Meats, and a tofu scramble. If you have suggestions of some things you would like to see on our breakfast menu please fill out a customer comment card to let us know. We value your input, especially when we are trying new things.
Last month we told you about a wonderful new addition to the cheese case. We brought in the Holland’s Family Farm six- to nine-month-aged Marieke Gouda from Thorp, Wisconsin. Densely textured; with a rich and complex, slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor—a marvel. It quickly became one of our very favorite locally crafted cheeses. And it has caught on with our customers as well! We were so taken by Rolf and Marieke Penterman’s Goudas, we decided to bring in four more varieties. Not only do we have the delicious aged Gouda, we also now carry a two- to four-month “young” Gouda, a fenugreek-flavored variety, a cumin-flavored variety, and a terrific smoked variety. All the Penterman’s Goudas are made with their own fresh milk, unpasteurized, and rBGH free. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t tried any of these yet, and buy a piece today for a truly luxurious indulgence.