Sunday, December 20, 2009

Get the Lard Out!

Here is a very interesting article about lard and its use in a modern society.

The use of hydrogenated oils has taken over where lard was once king, but this article may change your mind about using it. Fat from hogs that are eating a diet that is higher in Omega 3 will result in fat that is also. Lately I've experienced fat from a Mangalitsa hog that was fed primarily a barley diet with lots of kitchen scraps. It was a creamy fat that is much different than corn fed hog fat. Another example of "healthy" fat was that from the wild Ossabaw hogs found off the coast of Georgia. These hogs actually have the genetic capability to create a lower saturated fat. Both Mangalitsa and Ossabaw pork are niche market and the fat is not available on a large commercial level. Here is where you can find some
There is a producer in Canada that has developed the brand Prarie Orchard Farms that is high in Omega 3 and could help change the lard industry. This company is feeding hogs a plant based high Omega 3 diet consisting of a lot of flax seed.
Some farms are supplementing with fish oil to raise up the Omega 3 acids. Here is an example
The problem with any of these changes is the fact that the cheapest feed available for hog producers is corn and corn creates fat that is not as healthy. Alternative feeds and additives are much more expensive are what you eat and what your food eats.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Big Beef in New York??

Raising high quality beef in NY State is nothing new. There are many small but very high quality cattle producers that raise not just for beef but for genetics. A CIA graduate, Ami Goldstein and her husband Barry operate Brookefield Farm in eastern NY. They raise some of the finest Angus genetics in the country and many of their breeding stock get shipped out of state to rear the next generation of feedlot Angus in the Midwest. But what if they didn't have to travel that far?
There is a proposed large scale beef feedlot and processing plant to be located in Oswego County, NY. The proposed project wouldn't be your standard operation that are found in the mid-west; instead it would be a state of the art facility with the goal of minimizing its environmental impact. Included in this project would be a large ethanol plant, feedlot, processing plant and its location positons it within a market of over 50 million people. The closer proximity to a large population and having a water port further reduces impact by reducing shipping cost and emmissions. The feed operation would handle about 72,000 head of cattle making it the largest feedlot east of the Mississippi. Bion Environmental Technologies is the company that developed the plan and has won preliminary approvals from the local town board near Syracuse. Bion is an innovator in technology that deals with feedlot waste. Bion has proven plans that eliminate waste water runoff and reduce ammonia emmisions while creating ethanol

Like it or not feedlots are part of beef raising today. This project will provide a huge benefit to local dairy farms that can diversify with beef production. It would also supply beef to the northeast at a more regional level and provide about 600 jobs.

Many chefs concerned about the environment are considering alternatives to feedlot beef such as grassfed. They often put on the menus terms like "local" or "sustainably raised". The question is will beef produced in this feedlot be considered local? And with the new technologies this plant could be considered sustainable. These are the terms that each chef must define for themselves. What is local? What is sustainable? In my position as an instructor it is my job not to make those decisions but simply to inform. Personally I can see two sides to this coin. The good part is this project will result in a state of the art facility that will have a reduced environmental impact. The downside is the fact that feedlot beef can require a lot of corn and supplements that might negate the positives. One thing is for sure, whether its grass fed or feedlot finished, upstate New York and its neighboring states, will be producing more beef in the future and we have the genetics and the farmland.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On A Beef Chuck Roll

The beef side is divided into the rib and chuck between the 5th and 6th ribs. The cut is made right through a series of muscles one of which is the longissimus dorsi, otherwise known as the main muscle of the rib eye steak. In the rib it is our popular Delmonico and cowboy steaks, or "prime" rib roasts. In the chuck it becomes the chuck eye roll. This cut is actually a number of layered muscles that vary in toughness somewhat. The chuck roll is the larger section containing the chuck eye roll and is often cut for retail stores as chuck steak. It can be grilled but is not a fine dry cook steak. More typically it would be slow cooked as a pot roast or BBQ.

A few months ago we had Jeanne O'Toole from the NY Beef Council to the school to conduct a demo on the chuck roll and she showed how it can be separated into some palatable steaks. They are being marketed as the Denver Cut, Sierra Cut and the mock Delmonico. These cuts run some risk of being tough and benefit greatly by Jaccarding or marinating them. If considering them for dry cook, choose higher quality beef such as prime or CAB. If the meat is Select, low Choice, or even leaner grass fed, braise/slow cooking is probably best.
The photo here shows the typical chuck roll cross section with all of its many sections and textures. The top part would be the chuck eye which is a continuation of the rib eye and is quite tender. The bottom section is a bit tougher.

The price of the chuck roll remains a little more expensive than beef top round and shoulder clod this time of year due to buying habits. Those cuts rise in the summer when they are sold as London Broil type steaks. The chuck roll is often used for stew or braise so the price of it goes up when it gets cold out. But it remains fairly reasonable at nearly half the cost of the rib eye or striploin.

I remember back to when we used to buy whole arm chucks for our store. Some would age for about a week or so. These would always be better than the fresh beef with more flavor and tenderness. I'm thinking about aging a bone -in chuck to see the result on the chuck roll. I suspect if dry aged for about 3 -4 weeks it would roast like "prime" rib and make a great carving plate presentation. I'll keep you posted with the result once we try it.

Here is a link to the Beef innovations group web site explaining alternatives for the cut. But realize they may need some tenderizing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


When asked what is the typical pathogen associated with poultry most of my students will answer Salmonella but there is another pathogen that is also likely to cause illness in customers, Campylobacter. This bacteria is found primarily in poultry; chicken, duck, turkey and game birds are all effected. It is found in healthy poultry stocks, in some cattle and sheep, dogs and it has even been found on farmyard flies. It does not effect poultry but can cause some reproductive problems for cattle. From 20 - 100% of chicken have it in their systems. Even free ranged poultry and wild birds will have it regularly. It is found more typically in industrialized countries but it may or may not have anything to do with modern farming techniques. It is also easily spread through wild populations.
The bacteria, more specifically Campylobacter jejuni, is a major cause of intestinal distress in humans. Estimates are from 2 - 4,000,000 people are effected each year in the U.S. The disease causes gastroenteridis and includes symtoms such as diarrhea and vomiting and lasts about a week. Typical home diagnosis is "stomache flu". The bacteria takes about two or three days to incubate so tracing its source may be difficult.

So what can be done? Cooking to proper temperature, 165 F according to USDA guidlines, will destroy it. Storing meats appropriately with poultry on the bottom shelves or seperate from other meats, washing all contact surfaces properly, possibly using seperate cutting boards are all ways to prevent contamination.

It is estimated that about a 400 - 500 bacteria count is needed to bring on symtoms in some people. For others it is higher depending on the digestive health of the person. It is not typically lethal with few deaths occuring and only in those who have a compromised immune system.

Now the stinky part, Campylobacter is spread primarly through fecal matter. Animals raised in close quarters may be more likely to have it but free ranged poultry populations are very likely to have it too. Many chefs today like to cook duck to less than 165F, so be sure to rinse the exterior and sear the duck well to reduce risk. Ducks are defeathered and then dipped in parrafin to remove very fine down feathers. This may help to reduce risk but if they are eviscerated poorly there could still be problems. Fresher poultry is less likely to have a high bacteria count and keeping poultry very cold is also important.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Small processors, small restaurants

Running a small slaughter facility is no easy task. Here is an interesting article that describes the trial and tribulations of small niche market producers.

With all of the talk about eating local and chefs looking to buy from specific farms, the link between the farmer and the table has gotten very crowded. Do you realize many farmers must book kill times weeks or even months ahead? The fact that NY state doesn't have any in state slaughter facilities means meat must be processed in a USDA inspected plant. This typically means the animals must be driven far from the farm, sometimes up to an hour or so away. This results in animals that can be stressed and exhausted upon arrival, lowering the quality of the meat. Also if the goal of eating local is to reduce the carbon footprint then driving animals around certainly makes no sense.

Another option might be to bring the slaughter house to the farm. Mobile units might be the answer to a lot of problems in the northeast. No more trailering the animals. The end user could simply show up at the farm to pick up their meat. Small vendors could deliver cut product around the neighborhood or sell at the farmers market or to local small restaurants and caterers.