Meat Picks | 3.28.13

Easter Feast

The “sacrificial” lamb dinner is traditional to Jewish Passover and Christian Easter. Ham also became popular in North America when pigs were slaughtered in the fall when there was no refrigeration. Leftover pork was cured (a long process at the time) throughout the winter months until it was ready in Spring – just in time for Easter dinner.

There are many fine varieties of Lamb you can choose to make this Easter from domestic American Lamb, to New Zealand and Australian imports. Buedel Managing Partner & Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, suggests cooking Lamb Racks, Leg of Lamb or Lamb Shoulder and Shanks.

“French cut lamb racks make a beautiful plate presentation and are easy to roast,” Chef Russ recommends. “If you opt for Leg of Lamb, you can select a boneless lamb leg B-R-T, which stands for boned, rolled and tied, or, a French Carving Leg of Lamb, where the leg is boneless except for a small partial part of the bone that is exposed. Boneless Lamb Shoulder or Bone-In Lamb shanks, slowly braised, also make for a tender and delicious meal.”

Chef Russ’ favorite Easter recipe calls for a roasted Leg of Lamb studded with either, a fresh garlic and parsley, or shallot and herb smear. “Simply chop up shallots and herbs, blend with white wine and ‘smear’ it on the lamb before cooking. For something truly unique, try smoking the lamb instead of roasting it.”

Egg-cetera

Bon Appétit says the “grown-up solution” to dyed eggs is deviled eggs, but did you know that decorating eggs dates back all the way to the 1300’s? Or, that the largest Easter egg ever made was 25 feet high and weighed 8,000 pounds? It was built out of chocolate and marshmallow and supported by an internal steel frame. Find more fun facts at History.com.

Happy Easter!

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Helping Change the Way We Eat at the Good Food Festival & Conference

I was honored to participate at the Good Food Festival & Conference (GFFC) in Chicago late last week. The annual event is organized by Family Farmed.org under the leadership of Jim Slama, the organization’s president and local food movement passionate.

The Family Farmed mission is to expand the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food to enhance the social, economic and environmental health of our communities. Having healthy good food produced as close to home as possible by family farmers and producers that use sustainable, humane and fair practices is a core objective.

The GFFC provides a platform to link local farmers and family-owned producers of food and farm products with the public, trade buyers and industry leaders to foster relationships and facilitate growth of local food systems. Unlike traditional food shows, Good Food is geared to connect the often disparate functions of food finance, policy, education and farming.

Good Food Finance

Day One of the GFFC is dedicated to the business side of food production at the Financing Conference. National and regional leaders in farming, food production and finance provide education and help create channels for small farms and local businesses to access capital for financing growth.

One of the educational presentations given this year was by Erin Guyer of Whole Foods Market. Guyer talked about the company’s $8 million social investment program providing low interest loans to small-scale and start-up food producers for expansion. Local businesses also learned about financing options such as Crowd Funding, the Chicago Community Loan Fund and First Farm Credit Services. Many attendees would not normally have the opportunity to learn about such things if not for the conference.

The second part of Day One is spent at the Good Food Financing Fair. Designed in a walk-around format, the fair provides a dynamic environment where farms and food businesses can meet one-on-one with investors, economic development specialists and other experts to develop relationships. Companies may also set up tables to showcase their products for investors to learn more. Contacts are made, and knowledge is shared in one convenient setting.

Good Food Symposium & Policy Summit

Day Two brings together national and local business leaders to share their experiences in taking the Good Food Movement to a higher level.

Major announcements were made last week by foodservice directors from the Chicago Public Schools, McCormick Place and Midway Airport on new commitments to purchase local food and anti-biotic free meat and poultry.

Recognition was also made for Good Food Business Leadership to Bob Scaman from Goodness Greeness for supporting local farmers and organic food. Farmer of the Year awards were given to farmers, Alex Needham and Alison Parker of Radical Rood Farm, and farm mentors, Matt and Peg Sheaffer of Sandhill Family Farms.

The quest to improve access for Chicago residents to culturally appropriate nutritionally sound and affordable food grown through environmentally sustainable ways is led by the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council.

Food policy focus was made on building urban farms and community food systems to use local food as an economic tool. Keynote speakers discussed methods to engage the community to improve healthy neighborhood food options. Ideally, if a local community can connect to the local Good Food Movement in an organized manner everyone benefits from the symbiotic relationship. The Policy Summit facilitates these connections and provides the tools to leverage them.

Good Food Trade Show

More than 300 local farmers, distributors and artisanal food producers exhibited at the Trade Show on the last two days of the festival. Sponsor support from Organic Valley, Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition  and others, helped promote the Good Food Community and provide a platform for food producers to present their products to trade buyers and other stakeholders.

Buedel Fine Meats partnered with sponsor/exhibitor Red Meat Market, an online/offline social marketplace where meat buyers easily source and order local sustainable meat in one place from multiple local providers. Red Meat showcases all natural, organic and grass-fed beef, pork and lamb products raised in SW Wisconsin and Northern Illinois from over 100 family farms.

We featured live butcher and cooking demos in our booth geared to show people how they can easily butcher and cook local meats for tasty and economical meals at home. Our line-up was extensive: Ben Harrison of Whole Foods Market showed how to breakdown a leg of lamb provided by local Slagel Family Farm, Chef Ryan Hutmacher of the Centered Chef  showed how to make delicious lamb kabob gyros on whole wheat pita, Buedel’s own “Pete the Butcher” (Peter Heflin) demonstrated how to breakdown grass fed beef tenderloin and roll & tie a grass fed beef rib roast provided by Red Meat Market, Chef Alex Lee showed how to cook a simple pan fry with a unique salsa verde and Joe Parajecki, head butcher at  Standard Market and award winning sausage maker, prepared a special St. Patrick’s Day sausage recipe.  (To say that we had a fun, and eventful food experience at our booth would be an understatement.)

Good Food Events & Workshops

The last day of the GFFC is traditionally filled with a plethora of knowledge workshops and events geared to public awareness. This year attendees could choose from adventures such as the, Urban & Vertical Farm Tours, Home Cheese Making and the Kimchi Challenge which pitted Chicago Chefs against one other in the art of fermentation. (Elizabeth David of Green Zebra is now the new champion.) Other local Chefs, such as, Rick Bayless (Xoxo, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo), Carrie Nahabedian (Naha) and Paul Virant (Perennial Virant, Vie) conducted cooking demonstrations pairing local farmers’ products with their own uniquely creative culinary skills.

The Good Food Festival & Conference started in 2004. Each year it grows larger as more of us take the time to understand where our food comes from and interest in supporting local communities.

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From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Picks | 3.14.13

All Things Irish

According to the History Channel, Irish families celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by going to church in the morning and partying in the afternoon (Lenten restrictions were ignored for the day). People danced, drank and feasted on “the traditional” meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. In modern Ireland, the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin is a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows.

Anyone acquainted with Ireland knows that the morning of St. Patrick’s Day consists of the night of the seventeenth of March flavored strongly with the morning of the eighteenth.  ~Author Unknown

If you’re looking for some culinary inspiration, Bonappetit put a great spread out in honor of St. Patrick’s Day – lots of menu ideas and recipes for a Modern St. Patty’s Day, having an Irish Cooking Party, and even a recipe for stout floats with chocolate syrup.

May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.
~Irish Blessing

The Chicago River will turn green again at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. Due to construction, it is recommended the best sight lines will be from the East side of the bridge at Columbus Drive or upper and lower Wacker Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drive. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade will kick off at noon on Columbus and Balboa.

An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold one blade of grass to keep from falling off the earth.  ~Irish Saying

Irish pubs were included in Chicago Zagat’s most “down-to-earth-bars” showcase earlier this week. O’Malley’s Liquor Kitchen in Wrigleyville, D4 Irish Pub & Café on Ohio, Kasey’s Tavern on Dearborn and Declan’s Irish Pub in Old Town all made the list.

For more libation, eats and event ideas try these links: Suburban Pub Events, Metromix picks this weekend and TOC’s St. Patty Day guide, music line ups and other ideas.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Picks | 3.8.13

Beat Bust

One of the most trying things about a content driven society is keeping clarity. Such is the case in a recent Bloomberg post entitled, “Cattle Disappearing Amid Drought Signals”.

There’s no denying the fact the cattle industry has been challenged by drought and low cattle supply for over two years now, yet use per capita consumption of beef has declined keeping prices in check.

The sky isn’t falling yet. Consider several other facts: 1) commodity beef is being produced today with less cattle and 2) there are other protein choices in the marketplace.

Domestic and export consumer demand will ultimately dictate the impact the drought has on the price of beef.

Meat is Good Food

Red Meat Market is one of the local sponsors at this year’s Good Food Festival scheduled at the UIC Forum beginning March 14th. The annual festival, which takes the concept of “localicious” to a whole new level, is dedicated to promoting good food to schools, industry and families.

Buedel’s own Master Butcher, Peter Heflin, will be on hand at Red Meat’s booth on Friday, March 15th at 2 p.m. and then on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. to teach festival goers how to cut, trim and tie tenderloins and roasts. Purchase admission and event tickets here.

Social Savvy Sale

When Tuesday’s snow storm struck the city, Carnivale quickly crafted a deal for the “blizzard special”. Using their social media newsfeeds, the restaurant offered to pay the cab fare [restrictions applied] for patrons willing to brave the storm to come in for dinner that night.

Most commonly used for live events (think, Oscars, Idol, etc.) and to navigate customer service requests/complaints, real time social media marketing is a hot topic. Current schools of thought suggest adding it to your social tool box as one strategy among many.

Chicago Chef Week 

Chicago Chef Week, not to be confused with Restaurant Week which ran last month, will begin on Sunday March, 17th and run through the 22nd. (According to the Chicagoist, there are some establishments who only participate in Chef Week.)

Three and four course lunch and dinner deals are being offered at over 70 restaurants in the city. You can find the complete list of restaurants online and make reservations at Open Table.

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Beta Agonists: The Dummying Down of Commodity Beef?

Our nation’s cattle supply is at a 60 year low, yet we are producing more edible beef today than sixty years ago. U.S. cattle numbers in 1980 were 111 million head producing 21 billion pounds of beef. In 2011, U.S. cattle numbers were 92 million head producing over 26 billion pounds of beef.

How do you get 19% more beef with 18% less cattle?  

Advances in genetics for breeding animals with higher carcass weights can be attributed in part to this issue. However, most of the responsibility of the more beef from less cattle debate points toward the use of growth promoters, such as growth hormones or steroids used on cattle.

While consumer demand for “all natural” animal proteins (without added hormones or antibiotics) has dramatically increased over the last five years, over 30 FDA approved growth-promoting products are currently being used in livestock production. Of these, there is increasing use of a class of growth promoting agents called “beta agonists” that are neither growth hormones nor antibiotics.

Beta Agonists in Cattle Production

Originally developed for the treatment of asthma in humans (think about that a moment), beta agonists were first approved by the FDA for use in cattle ten years ago. They are a growth promoter which mimics the effect of naturally occurring hormones at the cellular level but do not affect the hormone status of the animal.

Beta agonists act as a repartitioning agent in livestock changing the metabolism of the animal by converting feed energy into muscle versus fat. Animals pack on the pounds in result – as much as 25-30% more lean mass than fat. The two most common beta agonists used on beef cattle are:

Optaflexx™ (ractopamine hyperchloride) and Zilmax™ (zilpaterol hydrochloride).

Cattle nearing maturity naturally begin to deposit additional fat and less muscle during the final days of the feeding period.

Cattle who are fed Zilmax™ or Optaflexx™ during the last 20-40 days of their finishing period, demonstrate a feed-to-gain ratio increase of 10-25%; their muscle gain increases while their fat deposition reduces at the same time.

In other words, these animals swell up fast with muscle versus fat. Their weight goes up, but the quality of the meat arguably goes down.

Good Beef Economics vs. Lower Beef Quality

Feedlot operators who use beta agonists in feed are able to produce more meat without more feed in less time. On average, 30+ extra pounds of meat per animal which translates to as much as $30 more per head when sold to beef packers. Higher production output in less time and at less expense drives the economy of scale.

Today’s major beef packers, Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, all accept cattle that are fed beta agonists. These companies supply about 85% of the commodity beef in the marketplace. They determine how much to pay for cattle based on factors such as cattle weight and fattiness. The more lean muscle versus fat, the more they will pay for an animal because that is where they can make the most money.

While beta agonists may be good for the economics of beef, many believe they are bad for the quality and flavor of beef. The most notable affects to quality being, marbling and loin size.

Marbling Cattle fed beta agonists generally produce more lean muscle but with less marbling, taste and juiciness. When there is more intramuscular marbling, the USDA grade is higher; the higher the USDA grade, the better the flavor, tenderness and eating experience.

Common use of beta agonists may result in the marginalization of beef into higher percentages of lower choice and select grades. This in turn, may drive up prices for desirable higher choice and prime grades that are preferred by fine restaurants and steak lovers.

Loin Size Most chefs and restaurateurs want to serve a nice thick juicy steak while at the same time using portion control to manage food costs. Bigger cattle have bigger muscles; bigger muscles give you thinner steaks with portion control cuts.

The average weights of middle meats, such as rib eyes, strip loins and short loins, have been increasing over the years. (You can get a thicker 16 oz. steak from lighter loin than from heavier loin.) When cattle are heavier, it becomes harder to find lighter sized loins in the commodity beef market. In this scenario consumers will pay more for smaller sized loins because they will be in less supply.

Are Beta Agonists Here to Stay?

The FDA approved the use of beta agonists in swine back in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and for turkeys in 2008. Unlike swine or poultry whose litters have short maturation periods, cows are only able to have one calf at a time over a nine month gestation time frame. It takes another two years then for that calf to reach maturity. Consequently, it takes a long time to build a herd of cattle.  The use of beta agonists accelerates beef production somewhat compensating for the natural slow growth time.

To date, there are over 160 countries including Russia, China and the European Union, which have banned ractopamine the active ingredient in Optaflexx™. There are 20+ other countries, such as Japan, South Korea and the United States, which continue the approved use of beta agonists.

Whether beta agonists are a better way to feed the masses or simply a vehicle for making more money with blander beef remains debatable. Consumer demand will ultimately decide the fate of the use of beta agonists in livestock. If demand for commodity beef remains constant or increases, the use of beta agonists are likely here to stay.

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From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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