New Letters> Spring 2008
BREAKING THE SILENCE
The Natural Beef Update emerges from hibernation to assure you that the folks from Hanova Hills Farm are still here and busily doing what is necessary to produce our Lake Country Premium artisanal beef. We have been in touch with some of you over the winter through our home delivery service. For the rest of you, we are now back at farmers markets on Saturday mornings at Elmwood and Bidwell and East Aurora, and this year we have added the Williamsville and Clarence Hollow Markets. We are happy to see old friends again and to meet new friends who enjoy our beef.
PROBLEMS IN THE BEEF INDUSTRY
Frequent reports of meat recalls due to contam-inated products from large meat processing companies and continuing critiques of the health and environmental risk posed by the large scale feed lots and factory production operations typical of the meat industry have led to widespread public concern.
Now the Buffalo News Editorial Page joins the call for change, citing a new report from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health: “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” (Available from local book stores or on-line sources). In a May editorial, the News decries the dominance of the meat industry by a few large processors, the environmental effects of concentrated animal feeding operations, and the resultant overuse of antibiotics to suppress animal disease. They comment that “independent livestock operations are practically a thing of the past.”
We are pleased to be going against the grain. Though our costs are high, Lake Country Premium Natural Beef avoids every problematic feature of the prevailing beef production model. Our pasture raised beef is not only free of antibiotics and steroids, we achieve confirmable quality by select angus genetics, grazing and finishing on our own farm, timely harvest, dry aging, and hand processing to our specifications in a small local USDA inspected packing plant. These are the keys to food safety as well as superior taste and tenderness in beef. It is not easy, but we are happily not a thing of the past.
UMAMI: THE TASTE OF PROTEIN
For the last 150 years we have been taught there are only four tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Though Japanese have been talking about umami, or umai, meaning delicious, for the last hundred years as a property of some favorite foods, western food scientists were skeptical until the late 1900s when researchers at the University of Miami Medical School isolated separate taste receptors in the tongue for detecting umami.
Umami is a linked with proteins and is particularly noticeable in beef cuts like steak, pot roasts, and short ribs as well as in pork and chicken. Chef David Kasabian, who with his wife Anna recently wrote the book, The Fifth Taste, has said “The foods you love – the foods that you think of as comfort foods – more often than not they are loaded with umami.”
Chef Dave Zino explains that some combinations of umami rich foods have a multiplier effect, leading to as much as eight times as much flavor as either one of the foods alone. He suggests that aged cheeses, bacon, barbeque sauce, mushrooms, red wine, sour cream, soy sauce, tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce are among the top flavors to pair with beef and they are all rich in umami.
Researchers at Foodwatch reviewed more than 1700 beef recipes and categorized the most frequently used ingredients. They found that umami rich ingredients were most often favored. Zino says knowing the right ingredients to pair with beef is pivotal. For example, sweet and sour sauce and some perfumey herbs that work well with chicken and pork actually compete against beef. Matching the cooking method to the cut also helps maximize umami. Kasabian points out that beef cuts that have gotten more exercise tend to have more umami. Chuck and briskets, for example tend to have more umami, but they require slow cooking because they are not as tender. So, for example, braising a pot roast at 200 degrees for about three hours creates gravy and a tender portion of meat that are both loaded with umami.
Chef Zino also points out that postmortem aging also increases umami. Dry aging both increases tenderness by enzymatic action and concentrates flavors as the moisture evaporates. A positive eating experience, he adds, depends upon not only upon the rancher and the packer, but the consumer: “If the consumer overcooks the beef, the beef eating experience suffers.”
Finally, both Zino and Kasabian agree that umami has dietary implications in addition to taste values. They point out that umami enables one to control food portions because it creates satiety – the feeling that you have eaten enough. Further, food with umami in it can reduce salt consumption because it makes the salt that is already in the food taste saltier. Fat can be reduced as well because umami from protein has its own taste value.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AT HANOVA HILLS FARM
Things are really humming at this season of the year. The Spring crop of calves has been coming since April 20 and so we have almost all of our 75 plus newborns on the ground. All the cows have calved without help so far, but Dan Egan has been checking several times a day to be sure the babies are nursing, tagging the new calves, and giving them their first shot of Vitamin E with Selenium. They look great in the freshly green pastures. The ample rain has the grass growing, but we still have to rotate them to new fields every few days, so that keeps Dan busy too. The cow herd is divided into several groups for grazing, and each group of about 25 cows with calves has its own rotation of pastures. The fall calving cows and replacement heifers are also divided into smaller groups for grazing. We had a group of about 35 heifers break through a fence last week when something scared them, and it took Dan and neighbors four days to round up the cussedly independent stragglers.
Field work has begun in earnest. Two pastures were reseeded early and the new grass has come up nicely. Now planting new hay ground is competing with the first cutting and baling of hay from existing fields. Corn planting must be squeezed into the schedule too. May and June are busy times and when the weather is too wet, available days are scarce.
A new Angus bull was delivered this week to add to our four other breeding bulls. Each will be put in with a group of spring calving cows in July, and then will rest until November when they begin to breed the fall calving cows.
The only other new development is a barn restoration project that an Amish crew will begin soon.
This is a good time of year to visit. Just give us a call and someone will be here to show you around.