Local New Zealand Beef??
OK… Let’s get into it! The issue at hand is Victorian Farmstead Meat Company carrying beef raised in New Zealand. Offhand, this seems insane to me. I mean, we built this company on the premise that we would either raise or source the highest quality, locally and humanely raised animals we could get our hands on. So why are we even considering beef from New Zealand???
Well, it starts with Bill Niman. As many of you know, Bill left Niman Ranch when it no longer stood up to his stringent standards to form BN Ranch in Bolinas, CA in 2007. Since then, he has gone back to his roots, raising some of the highest quality meat around. Locally, he has always used a pastoralist strategy in raising beef. That is, moving the animals to the best forage available at a given time of year. That means that beef spend the summer and fall on coastal and delta pastures and winter in the foothills. Even this seems like a lot of movement for locally raised beef. But if you accept the premise-and I do-that the nutritional value of pasture changes with the seasons, then all this is perfectly logical. But Bill has taken this concept MUCH further.
His position is that if you insist on only harvesting animals at their peak condition, then you can only fatten them when the grasses “harden” or become concentrated by drying out. We all love the pictures of cattle grazing on lush green grass but the truth is that pretty green grass has far less energy in it than the brown grasses of the summer. Energy equates to fat and as we all know… FAT IS FLAVOR! So what do you do if you can only harvest a few months out of the year? You turn the pastoralist strategy upside down…literally.
It makes perfect sense that while our California cows are sustaining on lush winter grasses, cattle raised in the Southern Hemisphere are getting fat and happy, as the seasons are opposite. I believe this is a true statement. I believe that cattle harvested during our winter in New Zealand are being harvested in their prime. But is it worth the carbon footprint just to have beef here in California that are harvested in their prime? I guess that’s the million dollar question.
I’ve raised my own, but I really rely on Loren Poncia for the majority of my beef. Year in and year out, he produces the most consistent beef I have found. He moves his beef to different pastures with the seasons, but they stay pretty local. Stemple Creek beef changes flavors with the seasons as well. I’m not sure I prefer one over the other, but I eat enough of it that I can notice some subtle changes as the beef get harvested in the winter. I have never considered an alternative as there really wasn’t one until now. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not looking for a replacement for Stemple Creek beef. I believe it to be the best I have ever had and it will remain our flagship beef as long as Loren keeps allowing us to sell it. But if beef is harvested in its prime after being raised the same way we would do it here (grass fed and finished, no antibiotics, hormones or GMOs) half way around the world by a trusted rancher why wouldn’t we check it out? Oh yeah, and it costs a little less also!
You would think that the shipping costs alone would make this ridiculously expensive. Not so, I’m told. . . it will actually be a little less expensive. This has to do with cost of doing business down under and modern, efficient transportation and packaging. So, what do we do with all this information?
You tell me. I’m certainly going to try it for myself. As with everything we do, it doesn’t much matter how well or where it is raised if it doesn’t taste amazing. But at the end of the day, it will be up to our customers to decide what is most important to them. I have wondered out loud many times what would happen if we couldn’t get enough Stemple Creek beef to satisfy demand. Do we go with the next best beef within our 30 mile radius or do we go with the very best beef we can find and increase our radius to fit it? I never thought the first time I would have to answer that question would be a jump of 6,600 miles!
My initial plan is to trust my rancher, Bill Niman, and roll with the New Zealand beef. It fits 90% of the protocols we have for our meat. If you decide that it is not for you, I will completely respect that. I think there are enough customers out there that will find the minimal cost savings and flavor are worth the compromise in travel time. And if that’s not the case I will, as always, adjust accordingly. Let the discussion begin!