Marbling

The farm's website is less than one year old and is still a work in progress. Somehow getting it just the way we want it hasn't made it to the top of the to-do list. Ever since it went live I've been mildly chagrined that all the photos of beef on the site do not portray the meat we actually sell. The pictures Normandy used came from one shoot she did last year, but the only beef we had available at that moment was from a cull heifer that was only one year old. The cuts were lean, too lean to sell, and they look it in the photos. I culled that particular heifer because she was a runt and we needed meat for the farmers here to eat, as we'd sold all the really prime stuff.

I can't possibly count how many times I've heard and/or read that "grass-fed beef is leaner than feed-lot beef". In my humble opinion marketing it on its leanness is a mistake. It's a mistake because while it is often true, it is certainly not true across the board. Many grass-fed steaks are plenty marbled, and I prefer mine to be that way. I don't buy the low-fat diet for health dogma of past decades and all things being equal a slightly fattier steak tastes better in my opinion.

One major, compelling reason feed-lots get their cattle really fat leading up to slaughter is that meat tastes better when the animal it comes from is "on the gain". For cattle that means gaining at least 2 pounds per day. The 2lb/day bar is really easy for a steer to clear on a grain based ration but it is more difficult on forages and at some times of year it is downright impossible to do cost so effectively on pasture/hay.

In New York on perennial pastures grass-fed beef should go to slaughter in June, July, August, or perhaps September depending on the year. During those four or so months it's relatively straightforward to get cattle of the right breed fat enough to marble. Intramuscular fat (marbling) is the final resting place for extra calories - all the other physiological needs of the animal - growth, backfat, health, etc - must be met before it will lay down much fat between muscle fibers. It isn't a foolproof indicator that the steer in question was "on the gain" at slaughter, but it is as good as one can get just by looking at the cut. As a purveyor of meat I also like to see marbling because it's insurance against overcooking. Some people like to incinerate their meat and a bit of extra fat dispersed through the steak prevents it from totally drying out.

The big exception to this whole blog post thus far is that some breeds of cattle don't marble much. Their genes just don't express themselves that way, and the meat therefrom never is particularly well marbled. Steaks and roasts from those steers can still provide for a great eating experience if the animal in question was managed and fed appropriately leading up to slaughter... but since I have "English" breeds of cattle in my herd and they excel at putting on intramuscular fat, that is what I like to see in the steak I produce. It indicates to me that I'm meeting the necessary feeding checkpoints for my cattle.

-Edmund

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