About two years ago we got in a local beef that was range fed. I wanted to show the class what a grass fed beef looked like and how it tasted. This one was a deep red color and had so little fat I thought it was an old dairy cow. It was a Scottish Highland breed which is supposed to be a great grass feeder, being small and able to eat a lot of forage. Obviously the grower didn't exactly know how to raise beef and was just tapping into the "local" marketing.
Last year I had the opportunity to see Red Devon beef that were raised outside of New Paltz, NY. The pair of stocky steer had been feeding on a lush pasture for most of the summer and looked very healthy. About three weeks later I was at Fleisher's in Kingston and they were cutting the Devons. The exterior fat was thick and the rib eyes were loaded with marbling, to the point of excess. I got to sample a small piece and the flavor was complex and delicious while the tenderness was also very good. ( View the photo below)
Last week I attended a seminar put on by the NY Beef Industry Council. It was hosted by Brookfield Farms near Hartford NY. The farm is owned by Ami Goldstein (a CIA grad!) and is managed by her daughter Jen. The seminar was wide ranging and focused on various aspects of the beef industry. But what I found interesting was the Jen had begun rotationally grazing the cattle and found that they were fattening on grass and only needed a little grain towards the end of their feeding to finish them to a very high quality.
Finally I toured one of the world's finest meat purveyors, Debragga and Spitler in NYC, where my former TA Kevin McCann is a manager. He showed me a bunch of dry aged perfect super prime beef and also some dry aged Wagyu. We were walking through one cooler and he stopped by a really well marbled carcass. "This is pure grass-fed from the Finger Lakes region" he said. It once again proved you can fatten on pure grass. ( view photo of Finger Lakes grass fed)
The preception of grass fed is that it will be very lean, tough and dry tasting with a strong gamey flavor. There have been a lot of articles written on the taste differences with chefs or tasters likes and dislikes. Its always the same, grass fed vs. grain fed but no real info on what sort of grass fed. I find grass fed varies greatly depending on how and where it was raised. You wouldn't simply compare French wine to a US wine. You would be much more specific, region, grape etc. Tasting grass fed beef is similar. You need to know what breed it is and where it came from, how was it pastured. Summertime grass or well fermented haylage can provide the nutrients needed for fattening. Breed figures into it but most of your typical meat breeds will do OK on grass ; Angus and heritage breeds that are not in the mainstream do very well. Breeds such as Red Devon, Belted Galloway, Scottish Highland all can fatten on grass. But the grass is the important part. High energy grass that is not overgrazed will yield fat cattle. With the summer season in full swing and the farmer's markets starting to rev up, look for some quality fatty grass fed. Tell those that are trying to sell the super lean stuff to make some grind.