Grass-Fed or Not?

This is a food post, really, because this here wine-lover drinks only in the context of a meal. In this case, it’s a tale of two steaks: one grain-finished, one exclusively pasture-raised and grass-fed.

Before I tell the rest, I should say that I’m a Michael Pollan fanatic. The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed everything about the way I eat; I basically became, overnight, an absolute vegetarian except when it comes to 100 percent natural, sustainably raised meats. I’ve also read and enjoyed his latest book, In Defense of Food, in which he elucidates his basic advice to humans: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

I’ve bought an entire grass-fed steer (with friends) each of the last two years, I still have heaps of it in my freezer, and I eat it so much that my palate has come to experience the grassy/gamy flavor and the leanness as normal; I even felt a little sheepish about serving the Lobel’s Natural Prime Beef, which is basically a vegetarian-fed beef with some pasturing, on the grounds that I was compromising my purist new holistic-meat principles. But the Lobel’s steaks were so gigantic and fabulous-looking—I mean, seriously, like a carnivore’s wildest erotic fantasy of what a steak would look like—that I called my two best surf buddies, guys who almost never eat beef, and invited them over. The result? My friend Matt ate a pound and a half of beef in about 20 minutes and declared, at the meal’s end, “That is the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Personally, I had a different reaction: I thought the meat was delicious, but it seemed intensely rich, verging on buttery, by comparison to the grass-fed stuff I eat all the time.

Two weeks later, I got some very different beef from Long Meadow Ranch, outside St. Helena in the Napa Valley. This stuff is 100 percent grass-fed and pasture-raised, and it got a very different reaction from the same tasting crew. Matt quietly grumbled that he preferred the other stuff, the richer and more marbled meat (“Jeez … I guess I’m an American after all,” he said), and I found myself ecstatic—the Long Meadow Ranch beef was some of the finest-tasting grass-fed beef I’ve ever had, with a pure and subtle flavor and the lean quality I love in grass-fed beef. Kicking it around a little, we decided that if you basically never eat meat, except for a once-in-a-blue-moon splurge on a fabulous steak (or if you’re just a lover of the classic, well-marbled, dry-aged, steakhouse style of beef), the Lobel’s (or its ilk) cannot be beat; if you want a lean-and-clean beef to eat every week, tasting of the hills and the pastures and the grass itself, Long Meadow Ranch (or another first-rate grass-fed) is the obvious choice.

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