Cowboy is a verb in this neck of the woods,” said Karen Landis of the Double O Ranch near Seligman. She and husband Mike “cowboy” for a living. “There’s more beef raised here [per section] than elsewhere in Arizona,” said the rancher, who is allowed to run eight cows per section (640 acres) of land. Like many Northern Arizona ranches, much of Double O’s grazing land is leased from public agencies such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forest Service or Arizona State Land Department.
While Arizona built its economy on the “Five C’s”: copper, cattle, climate, citrus and cotton, the cattle industry has taken a back seat to manufacturing and technology in past decades. But recent interest in sustainably-grown foods has brought a demand for grass-fed, local beef. Open-range ranchers like the Landises, part of Arizona’s $753,300,000 beef industry, are help- ing bring grass-fed beef to the table.
Derrick Widmark of Diablo Burger, Flagstaff said, “Serving local, open-range raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef from right here in Northern Arizona is as ‘eco-friendly’ as it gets.” He buys all beef from the Flying M Ranch and the Bar T Bar Ranch of the Diablo Trust, located east of Flagstaff.
“We have personal connections with ranchers and farmers who take obvious pride in the food they produce, and that connection — between community and landscape, through healthy, tasty food — is an essential part of what Diablo Burger offers up to our customers,” Widmark said.
Matthew Fuller of New Frontiers Marketplace’s meat department in Flagstaff collabo- rates with local beef supplier Black Mountain Beef Company. “It’s the only local beef that we carry. It’s a fabulous product because it’s all grass-fed, and flavor-wise, it is excellent.”
One reason for the great taste is the extra care ranchers Topper and Barbara McReynolds give their cattle. On what some might call a “bou- tique farm,” the couple runs 490 head on 190 BLM- and state-leased sections. “We don’t run a full permit most of the time. The one reason is my age,” laughed Topper, 66. “I can only take care of so many. That’s enough work for me.
“After the winter rains, there’s more feed than they can eat,” said Topper, who has been in the cattle and hog business all his life. “We’re pulling the steers off now before the feed goes away.” The feed is the natural grasses on his ranchland west of Wickenburg.
“True grass-fed beef comes with a yellow tinge to the fat,” he explained. “So therefore, I bring them in and they’re fed dairy-quality alfalfa hay for 30-60 days. That helps turn fat back into white.” The alfalfa also takes away some of the gamey taste known to be characteristic of grass-fed beef. The cattle spend the 30-60 days on the private acreage that surrounds McReynolds’s solar-powered ranch house, not in a feedlot.
Paul Moir, of Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar and Criollo Latin Kitchen in Flagstaff, said, “Grass-fed beef definitely possesses a different taste and texture than corn- or grain-fed beef. The corn and grain fatten up the animal and are responsible for most of the “marbling” many of us associate with tender beef. These cattle also do not have to graze for their food and therefore don’t work their muscles as much. A muscle that is worked more is less tender, and vice versa.
“Grass-fed animals have an entirely different diet and have to walk and graze for their food. The meat has a somewhat gamey flavor as well. We have found that proper aging of grass- fed beef eliminates many of the tenderness issues; marinades work as well, depending on the cut,” said Moir.
When consumers began requesting grass- fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, the McReynoldses researched government regulations on such claims. “We got an education in the process. I didn’t realize that feedlot time changes the makeup of the beef as much as it does,” said Barbara, pointing to two negative factors of the feedlot: grain feed and stress from overcrowding. “We’re so small that we have just a few at one time so they’re not in a crowding condition.”
Topper disclosed that his beef exceeds U.S. Standards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims, which state that to be labeled grass fed, 80 percent or more of the primary energy source throughout the animal’s life must be grass, green or range pasture, or forage.
Explaining why antibiotics are not neces- sary for his herd of cross-bred cows and white Charolais bulls, Topper said, “It’s just like with people. If you have a big crowd of people, like kids in school, one gets sick and they all get sick. The same with cattle. Problems arise in a crowded situation.
“We’ve learned a lot. We have a client that wants that product and so that’s what we’re producing for them,” said Topper, who uses Sterling Institutional Food to distribute to commercial outlets.
Moir explained, “Sourcing local ingredients for a restaurant is much different than pur- chasing from a farmers market for your family — quantity and consistency are very important. Large suppliers draw from huge regional warehouses fed by large commercial producers from all over the world. Local farmers are subjected to all the variables and have no real second option. This presents big challenges when trying to offer consistency on a restaurant menu.
“In addition, the number of local food producers, while growing, is still small by comparison, and distribution is often left up to the farmer/ rancher or the chef, both of whom are often quite busy,” added Moir, who buys Criollo beef from Arizona Legacy Beef near Chino Valley.
Criollo (pronounced kree-OH-yo) is a Spanish breed brought to the new world in the 1400s and is well-suited to the climate in Arizona.
Restaurateur Widmark added, “Support- ing the producers of [local] beef sustains the stewardship of almost half a million acres in our very own backyard, and perpetuates the long-term health of nature’s services like healthy watersheds and wildlife habitats that are critical to the quality of life we enjoy here in the greater Flagstaff area.” FBN
M Mo More information is available through Black Mountain Beef Company. http://bmbeef.com.
Restaurants featured in this article can be located on the Web at http://brixflagstaff.com http://criollolatinkitchen.com www.diabloburger.com