Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yak ?!!

 Recently we added a lesson on game meats, devoting and entire class day to game and unique meat products. The popularity of alternative red meats is growing so we now teach about venison, elk, buffalo and now also yak. Yak is not really a game animal. It has been a domesticated cattle in the Himalayas for thousands of years. Bos Grunniens  is the species name for the domestic breeds and the Yak looks to be a genetic close relative of the American Bison. It originates from the high mountain regions of the Himalayan Mountains to the Tibetan Plateau. Yak are a very gentle breed and are only aggressive when it is protecting its young. They have very long hair that protects them from the extreme weather and they thrive in high elevations but do not do well in hot, low elevation climates. Unlike a beef or Bison, Yak can be trained and ridden like a horse and are often used as pack animals.
 Yak, as a meat product, is very nutritious. Like Bison, it is a very lean meat but maintains its juiciness if not overcooked. Yak is high in iron and low in cholesterol and is a little smaller than beef resulting in a finer muscle fiber structure. In the US it is fabricated and processed like beef using the same basic carcass separation points and names for cuts. All of the valuable middle meat cuts such as rib eye and striploin are available but most of the inexpensive chuck cuts are being ground for burger. Some of these cuts may be available if you contact the producer directly.
 Yak is also known for its milk and it has a quality butterfat content making it good for butter and cheese making. Yak yogurt is tangy and delicious.
 The animals also possess a long hair that can be woven, similar to long haired goats. The springtime release of winter hair is collected and used for woolen fabrics and contrary to some lore, yak hair has no strong odor.
 Farming Yak is confined to areas that stay somewhat cool year round. Canada, Alaska, high  mountain regions or plateaus in western states and the northern New England states all have yak ranches. is a good source to find farms. The Vermont Yak Company in Waitsfield VT., sells meat on line, at local farm markets and now has a foodtruck that sells cooked Yak dishes. In Colorado the Grunniens Yak ranch sells meat and breeding stock  There are many other sources out there and some commercially available for chefs at locations like Fossil Farms which sells all sorts of exotic meat items.
 Some restaurants are starting to feature Yak on their menus. Here is an example of a trendy tap room on Beacon Hill serving Yak  and another Canadian example...
  Yak, like Bison, does not require USDA inspection but most processors are using either the USDA or state inspection services. The voluntary USDA stamp is different than the typical symbol.