Stop reading if you’re an ethical vegetarian.

February 20, 2009

Just trying to protect you; no disrespect intended. Although, I have a feeling that if you were offended by the consumption of animals, I would have lost you long ago. With my guttural desires to shout devotion to a well-cooked pork shoulder from the tabletop of a fine restaurant, and all.

My news: we have our grass-fed cow. And although the purpose of the cow’s demise was our consumption, I feel good about it for a few reasons: 1) “Bessie” didn’t have to break a leg; her voyage ended quickly, without her even knowing what happened; 2) we have supported local agriculture by purchasing the cow and having it processed locally; and 3) we split said cow about 10 ways, involving that many households in a process that has given us an opportunity to be physically involved with each other’s food and sustenance (albeit a bit loosely).

I’m really not intending disrespect to vegetarians by the title of this post. I have (briefly) considered the practice of vegetarianism at various points in my life, and while I’ve never been fully convicted of any ethical reasons to make that leap, it has been a thought that simmered in my mind more than once. In short, I don’t take lightly the subject of eating animals (although — if you visit my house — you will walk into a living room that is covered by a cowhide rug that I purchased at Ikea; this rug has induced surprise in more than one of my guests — maybe I look like an ethical vegetarian?). I like the chapter in Omnivore’s Dilemma that addresses this debate; while I don’t agree with all of Pollan’s reasoning, I land where he lands. That, and the fact that I don’t know if I could live the rest of my life without eating bacon.

I have to say, though: I’ve loved it. The cow. The one that ate all that grass, and now partially fills a borrowed deep-freezer in our basement. Some surprises:

  • The cow was smaller than we anticipated. The “hanging weight” (I learned this and another new phrase: “on the hoof,” which refers to the total weight of the cow before, well, you know) was 614 pounds, which is a smaller steer. This just meant that all of us ended up with less meat than we anticipated, which is fine, since we can get another cow whenever we desire.
  • The percentage of ground beef to other cuts was much higher than we thought. We were expecting about 60% of the meat to be in the form of ground beef, and the rest to be roasts, stew meat, and steaks. What we ended up with was more like 80% ground beef, and very few steaks and roasts. We had so few steaks, we couldn’t split them, and are planning a grilling party for everyone to partake together (again, physically involved in each other’s food). Anyway, that’s a lot of ground beef. I’ve had to try a few new recipes to utilize, but it’s been good to stretch the ol’ menu imagination.
  • The meat (especially ground) is much fattier than anticipated. You always hear the words “grassfed” and “lean” in the same sentence, it seems. We were warned about just how lean it could be. But apparently, when processing, they added fat back into the ground beef, and our estimates put it at around 75-80% leanness. That’s pretty fatty on the ground beef scale.
  • It was a bit pricier than we thought, around $3.30/pound. That’s still cheaper than grassfed beef at the grocery, but about 50% more than we were expecting to spend.

But I have to say: so far I’ve loved the experience. The beef tastes great; we’ve only been less-than-wowed by some burgers we grilled (they are easy to burn because the high fat content causes the fire to leap up and scorch the burgers). I made a pot roast that was the best I’ve ever made, and it was from the most basic recipe in the Joy of Cooking (sear the roast, sauté a mirepoix, add some red wine to the pot, and let it cook slowly for a few hours). I’ve used the ground beef to make meat spaghetti sauce, skillet lasagna, and Pakistani Kima (a curried beef dish from the More With Less cookbook). It’s been better than comparable cuts from the grocery so far — but, I think we all think the real test will come with the steaks. I’ll keep you updated.

I encourage you to look for a similar setup in your locale, if you’ve not already. Even if you can find a local (think, within 100 miles) farm that raises grass-fed beef and sells the cuts, you can usually get a good price on a whole cow. It was work, organizing all the families and splitting it up; but you certainly don’t have find 10 families (and we won’t, next time) — and the work was worth it. You can also arrange to have a smaller ground beef ratio, which we will also do next time; for this one, we had given the instruction to get “as much meat as possible” from the cow, which is why we ended up with that high ground ratio. In the future, we’ll ask for more steaks and roasts. If you live around Athens and are interested in doing this, contact me and I can get you the info on where we got ours, and even set you up with some people that might be interested in splitting another one. Also, if you’re concerned about space, keep in mind that a regular-sized top-freezer will hold about 100 pounds of meat. Of course, that’s without anything else. But it gives you a frame of reference.

In other news, I’m taking the wee one with me to Asheville this weekend, for a somewhat-annual “girl’s weekend.” As always for this event, much discussion has centered around where and what we’re going to eat. I’m experimenting, for the first time, with freezing scone dough — I’ll bake them tomorrow morning without having to give too much pre-coffee thought to pea-sized clumps of butter. We’re planning dinner out one night, and haven’t decided if we’ll hit one of our old faves, such as Tupelo Honey or Early Girl, or try something new (to us), like Limones. And — before you ask — no, I don’t like Salsa’s, or Laughing Seed, but that explanation deserves a post all it’s own; it’s sort of like admitting that I don’t like Cecilia’s cakes.

Details to follow!

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