Grassfed Primer

Purchasing a meat share from Farm Truck supports small farmers who care about the animals they raise and the land they raise them on.  Grassfed and pastured meat is different and we’re committed to helping you understand what the differences are, why they matter and what you need to do differently in the kitchen. We could easily write a book on the subject, but books have already been written, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  We’ll keep it simple here, and you can scroll down for some recommended books, essays and websites that are excellent resources.

We know that the labeling of food, especially meat and eggs, can be terribly confusing and the last thing we want is for something as minor as a label to deter you from purchasing, or scare you about how to cook, local meats.
Here are a few definitions that should help:
Grassfed refers to ruminant animals (cattle, sheep and goats) that have complex stomachs allowing them to digest grasses, forage, hay, and other plants that we can not.   These animals do not need additional feed, such as corn, and it can actually make them sick.  In order to be labeled “grassfed”, the animal must be fed entirely on grass, forage, hay and baleage.

Pastured refers most often to pigs and chickens.  These animals are omnivores, and while they eat grass and benefit from roaming free on pastures, they also eat bugs, nuts, grains, vegetables, and will even eat meat if available.  This term can also refer to cows that are on pasture and eating grass  but are fed some grain as well. Some farmers will raise a cow primarily on grass and then “finish” the animal on grain.

At Farm Truck, we know that these distinctions matter to you, and we want you to be able to make an informed decisions about the meat you bring home.  We will always tell you how a particular farm raises its animals.  How do we know?  We visit every farm that we source from and only purchase food from farmers we trust.  If you have specifics questions, just ask!

Healthier for You
If you are what you eat, we’d far rather be a cow or pig on one of the local farms that we support than one living it’s life on a factory farm in the midwest.  We support farms that raise their animals on grass and pasture.  The cows, chickens and pigs that end up in your meat share lived healthy lives, and as a result their meat is healthier for you. We’re talking lower in saturated fat and higher in Omega 3s, B-vitamins, Beta Carotene, Vitamin E and the list goes on.  If you’re into specifics (and graphs), you should check out the statistics listed here on the Eat Wild Website:

Healthier for the Land
It’s stands to reason that farmers who raised their animals on pasture need to have healthy pastures.  After all, those pastures provide much of the food that their animals eat. With plenty of room to roam, manure from cows, chickens, pigs and sheep becomes fertilizer for those same pastures, ensuring their continued health.  On factory farms, where there are no such pastures, manure collects as waste, often polluting groundwater and streams – it is, in effect, a wasted resource.

Healthier for the Animals
Those of us who care about the quality of the meat we eat are often just as concerned about the welfare of the farm animals themselves.  Small farmers are much more invested in the health and happiness of their animals than an absentee owner of a factory farm. It’s in their best interest to ensure that their animals remain healthy and happy, after all that’s a part of what we’re paying for. On the farms we support animals are fed appropriately and given plenty of room to roam.  Cows and sheep are pastured, and either entirely grassfed or supplemented with a small amount of grain.  Pigs and chickens are pastured and free range, and because they can’t survive on grass and hay alone they are supplemented with grain and kitchen scraps.

In the Kitchen
Grassfed and pastured meats do require some re-training in the kitchen, but not much and once you’re used to it you probably won’t have to think twice.  The biggest difference is cooking temperature.  Grassfed and and pastured meats should generally be cooked to lower temperatures that what the USDA indicates for most meat.  For example, here is what Shannon Hayes, author of The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, has to say about pork:

“The USDA tells us to cook it to a minimum of 160 degrees. If you choose to follow this recommendation, please don’t invite me to dinner! Trichinae are destroyed at 137 degrees, so as long as you cook above that temperature, you are well within the safety zone. I feel that pork tastes best around 145-150 degrees, where there’s still some lovely pink juice drifting about the meat.”

We’re constantly experimenting with and learning about grassed meat in the kitchen. We’ll continue to post recipes and tips on the blog and you can always ask us for suggestions.  For more in depth information, however, we highly recommend purchasing Shannon’s book The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook.  It’s easy to read and understand, contains countless tips and dozens of delicious recipes. Shannon is a farmer in New York state and her perspective on farming is similar to those of the farmers we support, she just happens to have a book!  In fact, she has two cookbooks – for any of you who love to Barbeque, her book The Farmer & The Grill is excellent.

Here are some articles Shannon has posted on cooking with grassfed & pastured meats:
Kabobs: Full flavored, Juicy, and Righteously NOT TENDER
Super Slow Roasting
Prudent Carnivore: Meat Broth and Demi-Glace (done Shannon-style)
Tender Grassfed Steak, Inside and Out
Prudent Carnivore: Chicken, Inside and Out
Prudent Carnivore III: A Ham For All Seasons

And here are a few more resources we recommend:
Eat Wild (website)
The Amazing Benefits of Grassfed Meat (article)
Achieving Culinary Success with Grassfed Meat (article)
Splendor from the Grass (article)

For more specifics on the hows and whys of grassfed meat, check out Animal Welfare Approved’s new Grassfed Primer – download the pdf HERE


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