Mythbusters: Seasonal, Grass-Fed Beef?

You’d never consider buying an out-of-season peach, and you’d be wary of fresh strawberries in December. Why should beef be any different?

Grass-fed beef is supplied by numerous producers, like American Grass-Fed Beef. The health benefits of grass-fed beef are numerous, including lower fat, calories and bad cholesterol, and a higher concentration of healthy omega 3s. In addition, grazing animals have a lower “hoof print,” which makes this style of farming sustainable. All in all, grass-fed beef is not only healthier for the consumer, but for the cow itself and for the planet.

The newest term on organic foodies’ lips is “seasonal, grass-fed beef,” a product that is slowly becoming available in California. But what does that extra “seasonal” really mean? Perhaps the best way to find out is to take a look at two of the only current producers: Hearst Ranch and BN Ranch.

Hearst Ranch

San Simeon-based Hearst Ranch began working with Whole Foods two years ago to market and sell their entirely seasonal, grass-fed beef. Hearst Ranch is concentrated on the quality of both their beef and the lives of their cattle; it may be of interest, then, that Hearst Ranch does not carry organic certification. According to a representative of the ranch, this certification doesn’t scale well to the size of the ranch. Hearst Ranch has instead targeted other certifications of the quality of their beef: a “humane” certification through Humane Animal Care and a “sustainable” certification from Food Alliance – amongst others – allow them to call their beef “Natural Beef, Minimally Processed; No Artificial Ingredients; No Added Hormones or Antibiotics Ever; never fed Animal By-Products; 100% Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Not Confined.”

The cattle itself are all born at the same time — one part of the seasonality of it — and are allowed to live naturally, grazing on the two ranches that, together, make up over 150,000 acres of natural grass. The 800 heads of cattle roam free on this land, selecting their food themselves from the seasonal grasses that change naturally throughout the year — the second element of its seasonality.

In this way, year-long grass-feeding becomes both seasonal and sustainable, the cattle and land helping one another continue in a mutually beneficial farming relationship. According to Hearst Ranch, “it is natural for cattle to be fed grass all year. Cattle, if given the ability to roam freely in a diverse rangeland, will select exactly what they need, [including] grasses (annual and perennial), forbs, legumes and browse, leaves and woody species.” A permanent irrigation system guarantees the presence of these foodstuffs all year long for Hearst Ranch’s cattle.

Hearst Ranch’s cattle are harvested between 18 and 24 months of age. The beef will be available at Whole Foods from Memorial Day to August, while supplies last. For more information about the cattle and the ranch’s process, this video supplied by Whole Foods may be of help.

BN Ranch 

Bill Niman – formerly of Niman Ranch, Inc. – and Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental lawyer and author of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms, are the pair behind BN Ranch, beef that is farmed and raised with the past in mind.

According to the Nimans – both known advocates of humane animal treatment – seasonal, grass-fed beef was the norm before WWII, when chemicals and drugs entered the market of beef production. They began developing their methods nine years ago, marketing first solely to Chez Panisse before offering their product on a retail level.

BN Ranch is located in Bolinas, where all of the cattle are born, live and graze. Their lives are spent grazing on true pasture; they are never fed drugs or animal by-products, creating a truly healthy cow, and therefore a truly healthy product.

One major difference between the two operations is scale. BN Ranch offers about 75 heads of cattle, in contrast to Hearst’s 800. In addition, the Nimans have decided – in continuing with their classic view of cattle raising – to slaughter at 3 years of age, a decision that, according to them, gives the meat more flavor and texture.

The cattle are taken to slaughter off-site in Petaluma, a slaughter that Bill Niman supervises himself. The cattle are slaughtered over a period of ten weeks, as soon as they reach their peak point – much like in the case of other seasonal products. BN Beef is available at a different time each year… and this year, that time is now. BN Ranch beef is currently available at Lindy and Grundy’s (Los Angeles), Rocker Bros. (Inglewood), Canyon Market (San Francisco), Woodlands (Marin), Baron’s Meats (Alameda) and Briar Patch Co-op (Grass Valley).

Whichever producer you choose, the time to act is now! Use your healthy, seasonal, grass-fed beef for Grass-Fed Beef Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions, Horseradish Cream and Arugula or Sautéed Organic Rib-Eye Steak with Cab Balsamic Reduction Pan Sauce.

Image: kimberly kuhn

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco