I’m sure I’ve blogged about it before, but grassfed beef is the best in terms of healthfulness. “Organic” beef is still normally grainfed, which is hard on cattle (whose digestive systems don’t deal well with grain) and on people (because of the low levels of omega-3 fats). An article in the NY Times gives good information. Also included below is a list of sources for grassfed beef.
Ranchers of grass-fed beef say they have made great strides in the last few years by relearning what came naturally before the era of the feedlot, then building on it. They use heritage breeds that thrive on grass rather than on grain, as well as crossbreeds developed with advanced genetics.
They have relearned the science of rotating pastures and determined which grasses provide better nutrition in a region like the Northeast, where pastures are not endless, as they are in the West.
Humane, nonstressful slaughter is considered even more important than in the conventional cattle industry, where the practice is being slowly adopted.
And, finally, they are aging the beef longer to tenderize it more.
“The meat people got from us this year is better than what they got from us last year and not as good as what they will get from us next year,” said Tom German, owner of Thankful Harvest in Holstein, Iowa.
But producers are still on a learning curve, and grass-fed beef is not always consistent.
Some producers improve tenderness by feeding the animals grain for several weeks before they are slaughtered; some restaurateurs say it is easier to please customers with this grain-finished meat. …
Finishing animals on grain for 15 to 30 days is still a far cry from agribusiness cattle, which start out on grass but are fed corn for their last four to six months.
Research suggests grass-fed beef is likely to be lower in total fat, contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids useful in reducing the risk of heart disease and have a higher level of C.L.A., conjugated linoleic acid, which, in animal studies, reduces the risk of cancer.
But the loose definition of grass-fed beef makes it difficult for people looking for alternatives to figure out just what they are buying. There is no regulation defining the term, and the Department of Agriculture has proposed letting cattle be called grass-fed even if they were raised on hay in a feedlot and never set hoof in a pasture.
The American Grassfed Association, which represents producers of 100 percent grass-fed animals, says a true grass-fed animal is put on pasture as soon as it is weaned and eats grass as long as it is available. When there is no more fresh grass the animal is fed hay and silage. Hormones and antibiotics are forbidden.
Jo Robinson, a writer who has spread the word about the benefits of pasture-raised animals, recognizes the quandary. At her Web site eatwild.com, Ms. Robinson writes: “Meat from an animal that has been able to graze in its last few months of life is still nutritionally superior to feedlot beef, even if the animal has also been given some grain. It’s a matter of degree.”
But my tasting showed that with 100 percent grass-fed beef you can have it all: sustainable, more nutritious beef with clean, juicy, beefy flavor. (Because the beef has less fat, though, it must be cooked at lower temperatures and for less time.)
A sidebar includes this useful information:
Following are suppliers of the best grass-fed steaks that were sampled. Supplies are limited and shipping is not included. Prices are per pound.
LAUREL RIDGE Nice beef taste, juicy, slightly chewy. Rib-eye, $23; ground beef, $6. No mail order, farm stand opens Saturday. 66 Wigwam Road, Litchfield, Conn., (860) 567-8122, lrgfb.com.
TALLGRASS BEEF Superb flavor, juicy, tender. Four 14-ounce rib-eyes, $69.99; four pounds ground beef, $22.99. Sedan, Kan., (877) 822-8283, tallgrassbeef.com.
U.S. WELLNESS MEATS Very tender. Average 15-ounce rib-eye, $18.99; ground beef, $4.79 to $5.79. Monticello, Mo., (877) 383-0051, uswellnessmeats.com.
WHIPPOORWILL FARM Complex flavor, beefy, tender. Rib-eye, $16; ground beef, $5. 189 Salmon Kill Road, Lakeville, Conn., open Saturday and by appointment; (860) 435-2089, allenandrobin.com.
AMERICAN GRASS FED BEEF Pleasingly chewy. Four 8-ounce rib-eyes, $58.95; 10 pounds ground beef, $81.95; includes shipping. Doniphan, Mo., (866) 255-5002, americangrassfedbeef.com.
BURGUNDY PASTURE BEEF Tender, medium beef flavor. Rib-eye, $14.99; ground beef, $3.69. Grandview, Tex., (817) 866-2247, burgundypasturebeef.com.
CABBAGE HILL FARM GRASS FED BEEF Nicely chewy, pleasing flavor. Rib-eye, $10.99; ground beef, $6.50. At Flying Pig, Mount Kisco, N.Y., train station; (914) 666-7445.
LASATER GRASSLANDS BEEF Tender, juicy, medium beef flavor. Rib-eye, $20.80; ground beef, $5. Matheson, Colo., (866) 454-2333, lgbeef.com.
LA CENSE BEEF Nicely chewy. Eight-ounce rib-eye, $18.75; ground beef, $6. Dillon, Mont., (866) 442-2333, lacensebeef.com.
LEWIS WAITE FARM Herb and grass notes, tender. Rib-eye, $9.50; ground beef, $4.50. Jackson, N.Y., (518) 692-9208, lewiswaitefarm.com.
PANORAMA GRASS-FED MEATS Tender, juicy, some organic. Widely available in grocery stores and restaurants in the West. Vina, Calif., (530) 668-8920, panoramameats.com.
THANKFUL HARVEST Pleasant taste, organic. Rib-eye, $14; ground beef, $4.50. Holstein, Iowa, (712) 830-3281; e-mail: email@example.com.
WHEEL-VIEW FARM Tender. Rib-eye, $10.95; ground beef, $4.50. Shelburne, Mass., (413) 625-2900, wheelviewfarm.com.