Title: General Manager, Prather Ranch Meat Co.
Hometown: Norwell, Massachusetts, here since 1994
Where does Prather Ranch meat come from?
Prather Ranch is Northeast of Mount Shasta. We have our own USDA inspected slaughterhouse, packaging facility, everything. We only process Prather Ranch cattle, which is certified humane. It's a small facility. The beef is dry aged then cut and packaged and sent to the market. The lamb is raised for us in the Willamette valley, certified humane, 100% grass fed and finished. The buffalo, technically American bison comes from central Oregon, 100% grass fed and finished. Pork is raised in the Capay valley, we raise heritage breeds.
What is certified humane all about?
Certified humane means that animals are raised like people would want them to be raised, that they've had an idyllic farm life.
A non-profit third party called Humane Farm Animal care, has put together stringent standards based on work that they've done with the ASPCA and Phd's in animal science to make sure the animals have had enough room to live in, have eaten a natural diet, and had stress levels that are controlled. From birth to end of life the animals life is looked at to make sure it's been treated humanely. It's the product that is certified humane.
What's meant by terms like dry-aged and grass-fed?
Dry aging is a process where a piece of meat is aged for a minimum of two weeks to develop the flavor and tenderness. Beef is hung in a cold humidity controlled meat locker at around 34 degrees so you lose about 10% water weight. Like a grape turns to a raisin, you're left with a more intensely flavored product.
There is no definition for grass fed--no third party certifying it. Our American bison and lamb is grass fed. Our beef is grass fed for the majority of it's life, then finished on a mixture of barley, rice and alfalfa, which allows for more intramuscular fat and marbling and that gives the beef a "beefier" flavor. One hundred percent grass fed can be a little too lean and can be inconsistent because grass is inconsistent, when it's dry the beef may not be as good.
Which cuts of meat are best, worst and most unusual?
The most overrated cut of meat is the filet mignon, by far. It's the tenderest, and it's expensive because there's not that much of it, but the flavor is lacking. In restaurants it's always sauced because it's relatively flavorless.
Personally I like a rib-eye, it has the best combination of flavor and tenderness. I salt and pepper it and grill it.
As far as more unusual cuts of meat, we've been getting more and more requests for beef cheeks, hangar steaks, and pork shoulder. We'll be selling lard soon and organic beef jerky.
Who have been the most surprising visitors to the market?
Late last year Prince Charles and the Duchess visited the market. We talked about the breeds of animals since they are based on British breeds, Angus, Hereford, and cross breeds. We talked about British pig breeds. The Prince raises animals and wanted to know about what kind of premium we could charge for non-mainstream products, heritage products. He was more down-to-earth than you would expect and he knew what he was talking about when it came to beef and pork. Especially since he's a vegetarian!
For my take on Certified Humane, visit Cooking with Amy.