Great beef is hard to find. I refuse to eat anything from a feedlot, not just for ethical reasons but because the flavor is boring and one dimensional, and the texture is like baby food. Niman Ranch's stuff is decent, especially when it has been aged by the Cafe Rouge or Barron's butchers. All the same, I find the base flavor of NR meat to be uninteresting, and aging can only do so much. Same goes for Western Grasslands, Creekstone, and all of the other large scale "natural" beef distributors - fine ethics, uninteresting flavors. Some of the smaller, local ranches (Marin Sun Farms, Highland Hills) practice great animal husbandry, but have a product that is often too tough texture-wise and lacks a fully ripened flavor profile. I blame this on insufficient aging, due to financial constraints and the fact that they lack the facilities to process their own animals. The meat is often frozen, depleting flavor further and toughening the texture. Grass finishing on top of all of this doesn't help matters. (However, Highland Hills does sell excellent goat).
So, the first day I bought beef from Prather Ranch it was like the clouds parted, and God himself handed me a pound of oxtails. Here, you have meat that is the perfect balance of ethical and hound worthy. Not only am I proud to support this fine rancher, their meat is simply the best beef I have ever eaten.
What makes Prather so special?
-They use heritage steers, from a closed crop of cattle that has been bred for ideal flavor and texture.
-The beef is slow grown on pasture, and finished on organic hay, barley and rice (no corn or soy). The result is marbling that will make a grown man weep. (With all due respect to Michael Pollan, grain finishing to achieve marbling is a centuries old practice that is safe, healthy, environmentally responsible, and completely ethical).
-They age all of their beef at least 21 days, resulting in a well developed flavor and a marvelous texture that is tender and pleasantly firm.
-They slaughter and butcher all of their own animals. By slaughtering in-house they can ensure that the animals are treated humanely, and that the meat is safe and free from contamination. By butchering in-house they can ensure a steady supply of fresh meat, and the cuts are perfect.
-They will take special orders for just about anything; offal, bones, prime rib, just ask. The only thing they can't do is grind to order, but that's why you just need to buy a meat grinder.
-They always have a great selection of both prime cuts, and less expensive cuts.
So far I have tried: ox tails, top sirloin (for crudo), rib eye, chuck, hangar, and a truly magnificent standing rib roast for my birthday. Every bite has been phenomenal. The top sirloin it so good that I've had it three times, and I beg Mrs. Mousse to make it for me every weekend. This is the standard by which I will judge all other beef. Their prices are higher than supermarket beef, but comparable to "natural" beef and a great value considering the quality.
Prather Ranch does most of their sales through farmers' markets, though they also have a permanent butcher shop in the Ferry Building. I buy my beef at the Oakland Lake Merrit market, which is their only location in the East Bay at this time (yes, this means I have to go to two farmers' markets every Saturday, because I must get my produce fix in Berkeley. It's worth it). Tragically, attempts to start selling at the Berkeley Saturday Market were thwarted by the misguided and dogma driven ecology center. Prather is considering a stand at the Sunday Temescal market, which would be very convenient for Berkeley residents.
Prather Ranch is this hound's dream come true; beef that is as delicious at it is ethical. Go there now.