Ever since I started getting our Dietzler Farms beef and offering it as an upgrade option for the burgers, folks have been mistakenly referring to it as "grass-fed".
Of course, when someone tries to order it and says "I'd like to upgrade to the grass-fed beef", I feel compelled to point out the fact that the Dietzler Farms stuff isn't a grass-fed product.
There's a lot of confusion about what's out there and how to best refer to it.
The Dietzler beef, for instance, is local (they're about an hour and a half away), sustainable, humane, and natural (meaning they don't use antibiotics or growth hormones on the animals), but it's not grass-fed, and it's not organic.
In fact, the term "grass fed" is itself a misnomer. We should actually be referring to this type of beef as "grass finished". The difference is important.
All beef is grass-fed for most of its life, meaning that the cows either graze on grass or are given hay or straw as feed. Conventionally-raised cows, though, are "finished" on grain (usually corn and/or soybeans) for the last few months of their lives. This fattens them up quickly, allowing them to be brought to market faster, and results in the type of flavor and fat content that Americans generally associate with beef.
The downside of this grain-finishing, though, is that it makes the meat far less healthy for us to eat. The fat from beef that's grain-finished is saturated. Look at it at room temp and you can see this clearly--it's white, thick, hard, and dense. Eating too much of this type of fat regularly, habitually isn't healthy.
If you've seen Food, Inc. you know the scoop. Grass fed (finished) beef is not finished with grain. The fat in grass-finished beef is considerably softer, more yellow than white, and it's nearly liquid at room temperature. Clear visible evidence of the fact that beef from grass-finished cattle is unsaturated.
Even better, it's jammed full of beneficial Omega 3 and Omega 6 acids. These are the "good fats" that people seek out, often taking fish oil capsules to get them into their systems. They are thought to lower cholesterol and decrease cancer rates. They're the same amino acids that are often associated with wild salmon, except that grass-finished beef has TEN TIMES the amount of them per ounce.
Now, don't get me wrong, the Dietzler Farms beef, even though it's grain finished, is a fantastic product. It's locally raised and only fed with food that's grown right there on the farm, so it's got a low impact on the environment. They raise the cows humanely and do not treat them with antibiotics or utilize growth hormones like rGBH, and the Dietzler beef is also dry aged, so the finished product is just jam-packed with big, beefy, minerally flavor. Grain-finished beef also carries the flavors that Americans have come to expect from beef.
But I wanted to also offer a grass-fed (finished) option, for those who want to eat it for health reasons.
It's not been easy. I tried to set up something with a number of small farms here in Illinois or Indiana, but most of them couldn't commit to getting me what I needed on a consistent basis, and quite a few of them only deal with beef that's been frozen, which rules them out for me.
I tried a number of products, whatever I could get my hands on, but my standards made it difficult--I wanted only beef that had never been frozen, I wanted only whole muscle, not already-ground beef, and I wanted great flavor, which is sometimes not associated with grass-fed.
After exploring the limited options (the stuff I bought at the Whole Foods butcher counter was terrific, but at $7.99/lb., not economically viable) I went with the big player in the grass-finished market; Tallgrass Beef. It took me a while to set up the distribution channel, but we did eventually manage to get it done, and now I believe I've got a steady enough supply to be able to commit to carrying the grass-finished beef as an everyday upgrade option.
Today was the first day we used it. Butchered and ground it early this morning, and then we got to work cooking and tasting. It cooks a bit more slowly, due to the difference in the fat, and the color isn't quite that ruby red you expect in a medium or mid-rare burger, but I've got no complaints; the meat is very flavorful, quite juicy, and not at all a noticeable drop-off from the ultra-premium Dietzler stuff. I tried both a griddled and a char burger and was very pleased with both.
It's not cheap, though. I'm charging $3 extra per four ounces for the upgrade to the grass-finished beef, and that's kind of a stretch, even. I should really be charging closer to four. So that means that if you buy an 8oz. char burger for $5.19, the upgrade will cost you six bucks--more than the price of the burger in the first place.
So it's not for everybody. But for those that want to eat burgers and feel like they're not totally indulging and clogging their arteries, it's probably worth it, especially considering that the quality and flavor of this beef is so good.
Get in here and check it out!