For those who include meat in their diet, sourcing your beef/pork/chicken/lamb from local ranchers who graze their stock using nature-based, sustainable farming methods is the best way to do this short of raising the animals yourself. Our past interviews with Joel Salatin offer deep detail on what these nature-based (and much more humane) methods are.
But what specifically should you look for when choosing a provider to buy your meat from?
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Additionally, most folks don’t realize how important the butchering process is to how well meat tastes. What qualities are important to look for in a butcher?
Former rancher and current meat-repreneur, Adam Parks, joins us for this week’s podcast to give practical guidance on these questions, as well as recipe and cooking tips for how to get the most out of the meats we eat. After all, if you go to the trouble to select the healthiest product and get the best butchering, you want to ensure the meals you make from it are prepared well, too.
Parks runs Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, a meat CSA, which sources from the plethora of small-scale sustainable ranches and farms throughout Sonoma County, California. (Full disclosure: I’ve served as an advisor to his company, as well co-run a much larger CSA with him in the past)
We understand if dedicated vegetarians prefer to skip this podcast. But anyone who includes meat in their diet really should listen all the way through — out of care and respect for your own health & palate, as well as for the animals you eat.
Click the play button below to listen to Adam’s interview with Adam Parks (56m:28s).
Adam Taggart: Hello and welcome to the Resilient Life broadcast. Resilient Life is part of peakprosperity.com. It’s where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I’m your host, Adam Taggart. If you enjoy eating meat, you’re going to really like today’s podcast. With me is Adam Parks, founder of Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, which sources, butchers and sells cuts from sustainably raised grass fed animals throughout northern California. Today’s podcast should be both educational and fun. Adam’s a friend of mine and we’ve done business together. He and I have helped grow Victorian Farmstead over the past few years and for much of last year, we ran a much larger meat CSA that operated off of 250 acres. In a future podcast, Adam and I will do our best attempt to share the best practices we’ve learned from our forays into local investing. But today, we’re here to talk about meat. Why does how an animal is raised matter so much to the quality of the meat? What’s the difference between organic, pasture raised, and grass fed? Does the way meat is butchered matter? What are some of the best ways to prepare and preserve meats? Adam and I will kick back and spend the next 45 minutes or so doing our best to answer these questions and more. Adam, thanks for joining us today. You ready to get started?
Adam Parks: Yeah. You bet. Thanks for having me.
Adam Taggart: Aww, it’s going to be fun. Well first off, why don’t you provide a little background on your own expertise with meat. You grew up on a ranch in Tomales, California, right?
Adam Parks: That’s right. We had about 1,000 acres on the south end of Tomales. Tomales is a little teeny town right on the coast about an hour and a half from San Francisco. And we had at any given time, 1,200 to 1,500 head of sheep and a variety of other animals on the property. And that’s where I got my start through 4-H and working the ranch with my parents in terms of learning how to raise animals for meat.
Adam Taggart: Great. And then what got you into doing what you’re doing at Victorian these days?
Adam Parks: You know, my family and I went through a pretty rough time in 2008 when the housing crisis hit Central California. I’d love to tell you that it was all of the banks and corporations fault, but I made plenty of bad decisions of my own. And we basically lost everything. And we lost our house. We lost our cars. We lost our business in the central valley and really had nowhere to go. And we were very fortunate that my grandfather in 1972 had bought this little farm in Sebastopol, and the house was made available to us. And the first thing that I realized when we got there was we had all of these mouths to feed. I didn’t have a job and we had to fix that first. And so, I went back to my roots and started raising animals for meat just to fill our family freezers. And at that point, thought I had come up with a pretty good idea as far as how to get the beautiful locally raised meats that we have here in Sonoma County to the general consumer. And so, we started doing Farmer’s Markets. And our business model went through a couple of different iterations before we got to where we are today. But that’s how Victorian Farmstead got started was simply having to feed my family.
Adam Taggart: Great. And it was funny, when I was looking to relocate up here to Sebastopol, I came across your business during one of my first tours of the town. And had never heard of a meat CSA before. I just thought that was the coolest idea. Maybe just take two seconds and explain to people what a meat CSA does. I know Victorian does a bit more than that, but . . .
Adam Parks: Sure. The meat CSA, so a CSA in general goes back a couple hundred years and the idea behind is basically, to provide capital to the farmer, or in this case, the rancher to be able to absorb his costs over time before the big harvest with fruits and vegetables, and whatnot is typically in the summer and fall months. For us it was designed to give us a cash influx, so that we could plan our harvest and be able to provide meat year round. Where in the past, the ranchers that I work with would seasonally raise their meat, so that all of the animals went to slaughter at one time, and they were used to getting one big check a year that would carry them throughout the year. So by designing a CSA specific for meat, it provided a steep discount to our customers and we were able to know that we would need X number of animals each month to satisfy those orders. And over time, we were able to get our ranchers converted to a system where they would provide animals to us throughout the year instead of all at once. It allows us to provide fresh meat as opposed to frozen on a pretty consistent basis.
Adam Taggart: Great. And what it looks like to the customer, right, is they get a box every couple of weeks, or a week, or whatever, where it’s got a little mixture of a variety of all different types of cuts, right. Maybe a steak, some bacon, and some eggs, chicken breast, etc., right.
Adam Parks: Yeah. There’s a couple of different ways that we offer it. We offer premium box, that isindividually cut smaller portions, and a couple of different sizes on that. And all of our boxes, you can get weekly, biweekly, or monthly. And then we have a family box we call it where it’s bigger cuts that are meant to be a large meal or a meal with leftovers even for singles that just like to cook a big chuck roast. And eat it over the course of a week. That’s a good fit. And then we do offer a custom box where you pick what goes into it, because we know that you’re going to be shopping on a consistent basis. You still enjoy a pretty good discount with that as well.
Adam Taggart: Yeah. And I just love the concept of kind of like the milkman leaving a bottle of milk on your doorstep. You wake up and there’s some great cuts of farm raised, ranch raised meats. All right. Well, let’s really start at the beginning of the chain here. So it all starts with a well raised animal. So let’s talk about how you source for Victorian. When you’re looking to source the best kind of meat you can find, what you looking for in the ranches out there that raise animals?
Adam Parks: I think there’s a couple of factors and I don’t really think about it a whole lot anymore, because we’re so selective in the ranches that we use. We don’t change very often. I think the things that I look for are two-fold. One is that they have to quote on quote live up to our standards. And that’s not really a big challenge for the guys that we work with. Most of the ranchers that we use are guys that I grew up that are now running the family ranch out here in west Moran and west Sonoma county. And they’ve been doing it the right way for generations. The difference is, is that in the past, they would raise meat animals to a certain stage and then they would move off to feed lots or to more commercial operations. And now, we’ve kind of—with the, I guess, renewed enthusiasm for 100% grass fed and grass finished beef, and lamb, and pasture raised chicken and pork. The prices are giving them the opportunity to really provide that level of quality to the day-to-day consumer. So I think one is access and consistency is the other big one. And that’s why we don’t change producers very often, or ranchers very often, is because I look at the way our business has grown. And at the stage it is now, I need to have animals that are delivered to us on a consistent basis. For instance, our pig ranch, D.G. Langley in Petaluma, Pete Langley does an amazing job of making sure that we get consistent pork every single week. And I know that two hogs are going to show up at my butcher shop every week. They’re going to be relatively uniform, relatively consistent, and I already know that they’re raised well. So I don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Adam Taggart: Got it. You mentioned a couple of things in there I want to just unpack a little bit further. So a big focus on grass raised and grass finished where it sounds like—I know this is still pretty common in the industry, where even if you pasture cattle in particular. Often times in their last months, they’re finished on grain, right, which really bulks them up at the end. And, yeah, there’s lots of issues around that. We’ve had folks like Joel Salatin come on podcasts in the past, and you and I had the pleasure of walking around the ranch that we worked on last year with Joel when he came out. And I know that’s a big part of what you look at in terms of the ranches that you work with, that it’s that sort of pasture rotation model. And all grass fed the entire life cycle of the animal. But first off, so kind of blanket no grain fed animals, right. Is that pretty much . . .
Adam Parks: As far as the ruminants go, yeah. As far as the beef and the lamb goes, there may be some organic alfalfa thrown in depending on the quality of the pasture. I think that’s a big issue too is the ranchers that we use. Knowing how they treat their pasture. It’s almost as important as how they treat their animals. The higher quality pasture you have, the higher quality meat you’re going to get. And so, that’s a big consideration as well. But it’s funny, I mean, with the—as I said earlier—the renewed enthusiasm for pasture raised meat. If you go so far as to look at Carl’s Junior commercial, and they’ll advertise 100% grass fed, or the first ever all natural grass fed bird. All beef is fed grass at some point in their life, because our cow calf operation, which is where the animal starts out, is done on pasture. There’s no such thing as far as I know, as far as a feed lot cow calf operation. And then those cows, when they’re weened, they’re sent off to a feed lot where they’re pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and grains. And it’s like feeding a kid cotton candy on the couch. And so, it’s easy to say, yes, we have grass fed beef. Now you’ve got to figure out what it, A, at the latter stages of its life, when it goes through its biggest growth spurt.
Adam Taggart: Great. So what I’m getting from you is that you would tell the average person, hey, if you’re looking for really good healthy quality meats, look for grass fed entire life cycle of the animal.
Adam Parks: Grass fed and finished, that’s the big buzz word.
Adam Taggart: Buzz word, finished, great. And then you mentioned a couple of other terms, which I know people have sometimes a hard time differentiating amongst all of them. Grass fed, grass finished, we just talked about that. Pasture raised, and organic, and I know sometimes those mean different things with different animals, but can you impact that a little bit just to help people understand what’s meant by those terms?
Adam Parks: Yeah. So when you’re talking about ruminants or beef and lamb in our case, you’re looking for 100% grass fed and finished meat. And so, that pretty much takes care of beef. If they’re fed some alfalfa in the wintertime when the grass is lean, no problem there. Pasture raised and unfortunately, it sounds just like pasteurized. And so, a lot of people will confuse that. It’s a totally different thing. Pasture raised means the animals—to me—and there is no government designation for what this means. So you have to get to know your provider, your purveyor, and know that they know what they’re talking about. For us, it’s access to pasture in the sense that it’s as good for the animal. So our pigs are all raised by Langley farms out on pasture depending on the season. It’s not good for pigs to be out in a cold snap. And here we’re really blessed in northern California to have pretty consistent weather, so our cold snaps, it’s not like we’re in Minnesota or anything. But there are times when the pigs need to be inside, because it’s too cold outside for them. With the poultry, our chickens are raised outside year round. There are soup [?] houses for them to go in when it’s inclement weather. But from the time when they’re six, seven days old, they have access to being outside. It’s great to think about chickens being out in lush green pasture. But really, the pasture is best for them when either the grass is dried out and the seeds are coming out of the grass ends. Because that is a grain source for them, and you can’t raise chickens on pasture alone. They do get a non-GMO certified feed supplement that goes with the pasture. But letting them outside and actually having them outside, not just access to outside, but actually being outside, is huge. That’s where they develop their muscles. That’s where they get the sunshine, which is so important for all of us for our health, that it’s not enough to say they have access to pasture, or they have access to the outdoors. They actually have to use it. And if you give chickens the choice between being inside in a nice warm comfy barn, and that’s where all of their feed and water is. They’re just not going to go outside.
Adam Taggart: Great. And then with organic, that’s trickier, right, because as I understand it, it has something to do with how the mother was actually fed before the calf was even born, or the animal was even born. Elaborate on that.
Adam Parks: There’s two components to organic meat. With vegetables, it’s pretty straight forward. I mean, if your ranch or farm is certified organic, whatever you pull out of the ground is going to be certified organic. With meat, it’s much more complex. There is regulations as to the generations that have to be organic in order for the animal to be certified organic. I believe it’s two generations. While the mother and father would have to be certified organic for the animals to be certified organic. Then the land has to be certified organic. The biggest one is the slaughter facility and the butcher shop both have to be certified organic. So in our case at Victorian Farmstead, almost all of our animals—well not almost—all of our animals are raised organically. They’re fed feed that would qualify as organic feed. They’re raised on properties that would qualify as organic properties. We’re just not certified. And the reason is, is because we don’t have access to an organic slaughter facility or an organic butcher shop. And quite honestly, I’m not sure I would pay the extra money to have it certified organic even if we did, because it is so costly. I know that the animals are being raised the right way. I know that they’re being fed the right way and I think if you asked my customers, they will tell you that after coming out to our farm and visiting us, and seeing the animals. And have taken tours of the various ranches that we use, they trust that those animals are being well raised, well cared for and well fed. And they don’t need to pay the extra four the organic stamp on the package.
Adam Taggart: Great. A few really interesting points raised there, so for organic, if I heard you correctly, not only does the land have to be organic that the animals are raised on. But the animal itself has to be fed organic inputs the entire time. And the animal’s parents have to have been fed organic inputs the entire time they were alive before the calf or animal was conceived to be declared an organic animal. And then it has to go to an organic slaughterhouse and butchering facility that are both designated organic for it to be truly organic beef, if you will. You also mentioned too that some of those inputs are not fully in the hands of the ranchers. In other words, they can control how they raise the cows, but their area just might not have a slaughter facility that’s designated organic nor butchers. And I know here in our area, we’re very blessed with having a USDA approved facility quite nearby. But that facility is not designated organic and the next nearest facility of any type is I think, like, a three hour drive away. So for a lot of ranchers, a lot of small ranchers, you don’t really have much control over fulfilling that part of the organic process if you don’t actually have the infrastructure within an economical drive of your ranch. So that’s a good Segway [?] going from, okay, what do you look for in the farms and the animals to the next part in the chain here, which is slaughtering. We don’t need to spend a ton of time on this, but it is important how the animals are slaughtered. What are the types of things that you think folks need to know about or should look for in the way that the meat they’re eating has been slaughtered.
Adam Parks: It’s a pretty short topic, because we don’t have a lot of options. Anytime you are selling meat to the general public, it has to be slaughtered USDA. And that means it’s done under the inspection of a USDA inspector. And so, you’re limited to what’s available in your area in terms of a slaughter. We’re really fortunate our local slaughter facility did take the time and money to work with Temple Grandin and adjust their slaughtering practices to make it as pain—not as painless, but as humane as possible is the word I’m looking for, for all of the animals. And that facility handles all of our beef, all of our pigs, and our lands. So we have real good confidence that those animals are being treated as well as possible up until the time that they’re all the way through the slaughter process. And then with poultry, for me, I want to make sure that the chickens in our case, and turkeys when we have turkeys, are believe it or not, upside down. That’s when they’re at their calmest. There’s also the old joke about the farmer whacking off the chicken’s head with an ax, and the chicken running around without its head. And we all have heard countless jokes about that. The reality of it is, it’s the worst way to kill a chicken for a couple of reasons. The first is that in terms of the quality of the product, when you take the head away, you remove the brain obviously and the heart stops pumping. So now you’re leaving a carcass full of blood, which is going to ultimately taint the meat. So the most humane way to harvest a chicken is for them to be upside down. When we used to do it on the ranch, we’d have columns that they were in, which kept them kind of confined and from flapping around. And that was when they kind of calmed them down. And we just nick either side of their neck, and they bleed out. And that is the—in my opinion, the most humane way to do it. There’s all kinds of other ways that people do it with I call them gas chambers. But they’re taking away the oxygen and—
Adam Taggart: You suffocate the bird.
Adam Parks: Yeah. And there’s arguments to be made for all of these different ways, but from what I’ve seen in my experience and from slaughtering several thousand chickens in my lifetime, that is the best way to do it.
Adam Taggart: Well, I think guys like Joel Salatin would agree with you and he’s certainly got plenty of videos up on YouTube showing people how to do it. So you mentioned a couple of things there that I just wanted to explore into just a little bit more too. So in areas like ours where there’s lots of small farms and there’s a big focus on sustainable farming, you have to take your animals in bulk to the slaughterhouse, which you just talked about. But there is a lot of activism at the local level to allow small ranchers to do slaughter on their own properties. And lots of back and forth at the county level in terms of permits and people who don’t want animals slaughtered in their backyards. And certainly, the animal rights people have had a very strong voice there as they should. But it’s certainly an economical and I think probably the most humane way to slaughter the animal where it’s actually being slaughtered where it lives. It’s not being shoved into some car and taken to some foreign place. And I know just recently, the county next to ours just approved a mobile slaughter facility where you can basically have somebody come to your property. And set up, and for a certain number of animals, they can process them on your ranch that day. I just bring this up, because I think it’s something that increases local resiliency. It’s better for the animals. It’s better for the farmer. It’s sort of something that most everybody wants. It’s just not necessarily approved in many counties around the country. And it’s something that people listening could become advocates for in their own areas if it’s something that they value having there. Certainly, I’m sure, that some local farmers would love to.
Adam Parks: Yeah. It’s a tough one to crack at the county level, because there’s so much misinformation about it. And nimbyism tends to rule the day. And I think what people don’t understand about it is nobody is interested in setting up a slaughter facility as a tourist attraction. What we’re looking for is the ability to process animals on the farm that they’re raised on or nearby, because it’s so much better for the animal. The less time they spend in the back of a truck, the better. It reduces their stress level. It reduces the endorphins. And adrenaline is pumped through the meat. And then ultimately, affects the end product of the consumer. And you won’t find any ranchers that are looking to put it right on their neighbor’s property line. That’s just not a—nobody wants to see this, but it is an important part of the process. And the less stressful we can make it for the animals, the less costly we can make it for the rancher, the more people will have access to this type of meat, which is what we all should be eating.
Adam Taggart: So, again, for folks listening, source animals from the types of farms and ranches that Adam’s described, secondly, make sure that the meat’s been slaughtered at a USDA facility, or in an approved local ranch, perhaps through one of these mobile units. And I’ll be really transparent too. I raised a couple of pigs, a couple of lambs on my property. I generally don’t send them off to a big processing facility. I bring a local slaughter expert in the county here just because we’re doing this for our own food. And I always make myself be present and participate in the whole process. And as Adam said, it’s not something you’re going to sell all of the tickets for, or would ever want to. But it’s part of the circle of life. If you’re going to be eating your own food, it’s kind of owning that from beginning to end. And it for sure, my belief after having watched this is it’s the best for the animals. So if you could do right where they’re living, it’s very quick. It actually is unbelievable how fast a qualified slaughter expert can take a live animal to something that’s hanging in his truck on the way to go to the butcher shop that looks like you’d see in a butcher shop. That’s minutes per animal. From breeding an animal to hanging carcass, it’s a real expertise that both impresses me and makes me really nervous of ever making that guy angry at me, because I would be disappeared in a heartbeat. And nobody would ever find my body. Okay. Enough about slaughtering, so let’s move onto butchering, which is the next step in the process here. And I was really surprised when I started working with you and began learning more about this, that in many ways the way in which the meat is cut is about as important, or as important as the way in which the animal was raised. And I kind of liken it to giving one of the master artists a box of Crayola crayons. He’s a great artist, but he only can do so much with the medium in which he’s given. And I feel like that’s probably the same way as it is with meat. Meaning, you can have a great piece of meat, but you can destroy it by cutting it poorly and vice versa. A good butcher can probably save some lesser cuts of meat, but the important thing is, is that the cutting is just as important as the quality of the meat itself. What do folks need to know about butchering?
Adam Parks: Butchering is an artisanal skill going back hundreds of years if not thousands of years. And it’s really getting a resurgence as people are more in touch with what they’re eating, which is fantastic. I consider myself a meat cutter, not a butcher. I train myself to be a butcher out of necessity. We couldn’t afford to hire a proper butcher when we opened our shop. And so for me, it was something that I did because I had to. And I was really fortunate to have some real experts as really good friends that were willing to come down and help train me, and make me functional. I’ve since passed that on to my wife Laura, my wife and my business partner. And she runs the butcher shop now. I think when you’re looking for a butcher, there’s a couple of things to keep in mind. Certainly, you’ve got to know what he’s cutting. What are the animals he’s cutting and where are they coming from? I mean, that’s first and foremost. You’re absolutely right that a good butcher can take a—if they’re working with CAFO raised meat, you still get CAFO raised meat no matter how pretty they cut it. The other thing that we look for and that we’re becoming well known for is everybody talks these days about nose to tail eating. And so, a good butcher is going to be super concerned with using the entire animal. Now, if you’re talking with your local butcher and they’re buying their meat in boxes. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. But if you can find a whole animal butcher, you’re pretty likely to be finding somebody that has the same values that you do about how you eat. And when you buy animals whole, which is generally what we do, you have to use the whole thing. You have to use every part of it to make it economical. If I could design a cow that was all rib eye, I’d be retired in a very short period of time. But the reality of it is, every time we slaughter a beef, I’ve got to figure out what to do with 400 pounds of ground beef, beef stew, roast, that kind of thing. And if we don’t move those, we get stacked up. And the death of any butcher shop is a really big freezer. And so I’ve learned over the years how to make use of all of these cuts seasonally, and all of these pieces of animals seasonally. So that they’re interesting to people that come into the shop. A great example is short ribs. In the winter time, I don’t know that there’s any better dish than a slow braised short rib super fatty, super scrumptious, great flavor, relatively inexpensive compared to some other cuts. But nobody wants to fire up the stove in the oven when it’s 100 degrees outside, so what do you do with those? Well, you can do a couple of things with them and one thing that we really love do is cut them about a quarter inch thick and make kobe ribs, or Korean short ribs out of them. And it’s the exact same cut of meat. They can be marinated for a couple of hours, or overnight, and thrown straight onto the grill 90 seconds aside, and they’re just fantastic.
Adam Taggart: Wow. Now, you were saying before we started recording that if you were to go to your butcher and he was just kind of directing you to the fillets that would be a warning sign.
Adam Parks: Yeah. If you go in and talk to your butcher and ask him, what’s good today? And you’re constantly directed to the most expensive cut he’s got available, that would be a huge red flag for me. Any butcher worth their salt, if you ask them their favorite cuts, you’re generally going to get an answer in the shoulder region, the shanks, the short ribs—those are where all of the flavor is. Anytime you have a cut that is well muscled but well marbled, and a lot of connective tissue, most butchers are going to prefer a slow braise to a grill every time, because you get so much more flavor out of it. The good news is, those are also the less expensive cuts of meat. A great example is the other thing, we were sitting around and I had realized that I never cooked a pork cheek before. And we’ve got them. And we sell them. And I figured it was high time someone grabbed a half dozen pork cheeks out. And with five minutes of trimming, I made this killer pork cheek ragu [?] that my family went nuts over. And I had never made it before. It wasn’t any great feed or anything like that. It was just, I decided it was time I learn to cook it and see what I had. And so we went ahead and did it, and it had a ton of flavor. It’s a cut that you won’t find in a normal butcher shop. You’d probably have to ask for.
Adam Taggart: Yeah. And it’s interesting, you talk about the whole animal snout to tail, or whatever they call the movement. Certainly, better on a whole variety of dimensions for us if we can be efficient and eat the entire animal. And it does require us getting familiar with lots of cuts, and parts of the animal that we don’t normally see in the traditional grocery store. And part of that requires some effort on our part as consumers to stick that out and to actually be excited to experiment. So just like you and your family did with the pork cheek, some of the best for you parts of the animal are the organ meats, right.
Adam Parks: Sure.
Adam Taggart: But I remember working with you, offal is—it’s often called ‘offal,’ O-F-F-A-L and it’s one of the least desired parts of the animal by the average American, because they’re just squeamish, right. Oh, my gosh, that’s the organs of the animal, forget it. And I remember you and I going to a dinner here local support local agriculture and kind of this whole use the entire part of the vegetable or use the entire part of the animal. And it was at a really nice local restaurant here. And I think I remember correctly, right. It was a pig spleen mousse.
Adam Parks: Yeah, pork spleen mousse.
Adam Taggart: Pork spleen mousse, and I remember it really took me a minute to compose myself and screw up my courage to put that first spoonful in my mouth. But it was amazing. And I think for me, that really is my best personal experience of how being a little bit open minded here can expose yourself to some marvelous parts of the animal that most of us are completely ignorant of, ’cause we just know the hero cuts, which we see at the Safeway grocery store aisle.
Adam Parks: Yeah. That was a truly remarkable dish. So it just goes to prove that if you add cream and brandy to anything, it’s going to be super palatable. It’s more involved in that and the chef that cooked that particular meal is renowned for that kind of cooking. But you’re absolutely right. I mean, we take for granted the availability of, as you called them, the hero cuts, which I’m going to steal, ’cause that’s a great line. But using some of those nutrient dense organ meats can do so much for your health. It’s the equivalent of taking a commercially made multi-vitamin. We do a thing in our shop now. It was actually named by one of our customers that asked for it, called Boost. And it’s 90% ground beef, 10% ground beef liver. And it’s a great product, because you can’t taste the liver in it. So it’s a great way to get—I don’t like liver—never have. I can eat a chicken liver pate and what not again with the cream and brandy in anything. But I think if you’re squeamish about eating organ meats, there’s a lot of ways to get it into your diet without having to deal with what it actually is.
Adam Taggart: Right, start with 100% of the organ.
Adam Parks: Yeah, exactly. Everybody’s got horror stories about gramma or mom cooking the shoe leather liver with tons of bacon and onions, and it still sucked. So it doesn’t have to be that way. And I think nowadays, recipes are so easy to come by with the internet, and Google, and whatnot that you’re almost doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try some new things.
Adam Taggart: Great. All right, so let’s—we’re kind of already getting in there, but let’s Segway into the cuts themselves. And let’s mostly focus on the big three—beef, pork, and chicken. And if we can squeeze in anything about lamb, feel free. Extra credit for that one.
Adam Parks: Sure.
Adam Taggart: So, yes, there’s a big animal there. There’s lots of parts to it, but very generally, what are some of the things with beef, I guess, that you think folks should know about. Yes, everybody knows what a fillet is. And we’ve mentioned there’s some of these lesser known ones. What are some of the things that you like to focus people on who maybe came in for something very common, but you’re encouraging them to look at something else.
Adam Parks: Sure. I think first we can probably talk about the big elephant in the room that everybody’s sitting at home going, why haven’t we addressed it yet. And that is the cost. I think people get real big sick or shocked when they think about grass, and they assume it’s going to be super expensive. It is more expensive to raise animals properly, and to raise them the way that our ranchers do. And that has to do mostly with the land costs. Everybody says, well, you’re just feeding them grass. Why isn’t cheaper than grain fed? You’re not paying for any inputs. Well, it’s a lot more land. I mean, exponentially more land than a feed lot.
Adam Taggart: It requires a lot more land too.
Adam Parks: Yeah. It requires a lot more land to feed the animals. And it requires a lot more labor. There’s not a lot of mechanization to moving cows from pasture to pasture, or pigs from paddock to paddock. And so, the expense is wholly justified. And I never ever apologize for it.
Adam Taggart: And not to mention that the grain industry is heavily subsidized by the government, so it’s actually more expensive than it seems.
Adam Parks: Yeah. If anybody wants to subsidize our ranchers, they’ll be happy to come pick up a check. But I think that, yes, it can be more expensive. A lot of it depends on paying attention to your budget. I’ve talked to people at the Farmer’s Markets for years now about, yeah, don’t worry about what it costs. Give me a budget. How many people are you feeding and how much do you have to spend? And I can put together a great meal for you as long as you don’t tell me that I’m trying to feed six on $20 and you want fillet mignon. One of my best friends is a tremendously talented butcher in San Francisco. And his favorite line. We’d do these dog and pony shows where he’ll butcher and I’ll MC for lack of a better term. And one of the favorite topics that we bring up is people think of fillet as the elite piece of meat. And the fillet, the tenderloin which is where the fillet mignon comes from. Its job in the animal is to push the excrement out. So when you’re eating that really fancy piece of meat, keep in mind that every piece has a function. So—
Adam Taggart: I think you’ve just maybe made a few people no longer fillet mignon—
Adam Parks: I’m trying to talk them off fillet. It’s not hard to sell fillet. Well, the other piece of that too is—and when you ask me about cuts of beef, and what makes a good cut of beef. I think that you’ve got to keep in mind one thing and one thing only. And that is that fat is flavor. Fat from pasture raised grass fed and finished ruminants or pasture raised pork and chicken. Not only is the fat flavored, but it’s a healthy fat for you. And I’m not a food scientist. I can’t tell you all of the different amino acids. And B this, and C that, and whatnot.
Adam Taggart: That’s all right. We have had Robb Wolf talk to that.
Adam Parks: Yeah. Rob can tell you all about that stuff. But what I can tell you is that it is a healthier fat for you to eat. And the more of it that you get into the meat, the more flavor that you’re going to get. And then once you have it, it’s a matter of how you cook it to maximize that flavor. And, again, that’s why I always go to the slow braised. It is my favorite way. I don’t care what time of year it is. That’s always my favorite way to cook meat, because the lower and slower that you cook a good piece of meat, you’re going to slowly break down those connective tissues and the fat. And get something that is super tender, and super scrumptious.
Adam Taggart: Great. And I mean, I presume anybody can do that with a slow cooker that you can pick up at a flea market for five bucks even, right.
Adam Parks: Yeah. A crockpot, slow cookers are awesome. I will tell you that I could spend the rest of my life with a Dutch oven as my only cooking vessel and be perfectly happy. Cast iron—if you don’t have cast iron, go get some. I think the two most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen are a cast iron cooker and a meat thermometer. Those two pieces of equipment are where you should spend your money, because the cast iron will last you a lifetime. And I have a fairly high end instant read meat thermometer that I use. And it is worth every penny to make sure that as good as I think I am at cooking, or whatever from my experience. It changes day to day. It changes on the outside temperature. And the temperature of my grill will change. And the temperature of my oven fluctuates. And it’s nice to know exactly what the meat’s at when I’m taking out of whatever I’m cooking it in.
Adam Taggart: All right. So before we hop off beef, are there one or two kind of interesting things that you like to do with beef that you think folks would enjoy. And I’m not going to ask you to go through recipes in excruciating detail here. But what we’ll do is we’ll link to anyone’s that you’re sharing from the write up at a company that’s podcasting [?].
Adam Parks: Sure. As far as beef goes, I think the two that I’ll give you are in my opinion, the granddaddy of all steaks, is the rib eye. I know there’s people that like porter houses and T-bones, and all of that, and fillet, and whatnot. But the rib eye has the most fat, which again is most flavor. It is super easy to cook and again, I would prefer to do my steaks in a cast iron than on the grill. And the reason for that is because as you do them on the grill, all of those juices that don’t get seared in are hitting the coals—
Adam Taggart: Are lost, yeah.
Adam Parks: —or not in the pan. And cooking a steak in my opinion is super easy. It’s a superhot cast iron or a flat top grill. Sear it really hard on both sides after a liberal seasoning with salt and pepper. If you’ve got a good piece of meat, you do not need to add a bunch of flavor to it. If you do, you probably don’t have a really great piece of meat. And then I’ll finish it. Depending on the thickness, I’ll end to finish it in the oven at 350 or so until the steak is. If it’s a rib eye that I’m cooking, I want to pull it out at about 125. And I like mine on the medium rare side. And that’ll get you—once its rested for seven minutes on the counter, tented with foil you should be good to go with the perfect medium rare. Other than that as I said, I love the shanks. We call them marrow steaks. That’s another thing about butchers is we all make up our names for everything. What I call a market steak is a boneless rib eye. And what we do is we cut our beef shanks into inch and a quarter, inch and a half steaks with the marrow bone in it. And don’t mistake that for an actual steak that you’re going to throw on the grill. It’s tough as nails. But, again, with a Dutch oven, get a nice hard sear on both sides of that meat. And then a slow braise, and here you can be as creative as you want. I braised them in beer and onions. I’ve braised them in stock and red wine—onions and garlic. Put it in there with celery, carrots, and onions is key to bring out the flavor. And I do like to use tomato paste in there. It really brings a nice richness to it. But then you’re just slow braising it in the oven, 250-275. The more time you have, the better. And you’ll find that you get two things out of it. One is the meat and the tendons, and everything involved around the bone—the shank bone, or the marrow bone is falling apart. But the other thing is, the marrow comes out of those bones, because we’ve cut them into inch and a half inch steaks. The marrow comes out and that becomes this incredibly rich thick gravy. And you put that over the top of polenta, mashed potatoes, pasta, whatever you’re starch of choice is. It’s fantastic and that is—if you put a link up there for—ive got a recipe on our website called ‘Adam’s Easy Osso Bucco.’ Osso Bucco by the way, it just means hollow bone in Italian. So you’ll find it made in fancy restaurants typically with lamb shanks, or veal shanks. Any shank will work because what you’re looking for is the marrow out of that bone.
Adam Taggart: Great. Awesome. Let’s move onto pork—the tastiest animal in my opinion.
Adam Parks: Yeah. Pork is similar to beef in terms of—all of our four legged animals are structured pretty much the same way. If you think about the old adage of eating high on the hog or being high on the hog, that is a literal description of how the hog is built. And the higher up on the animal you are from the ground, you’ll find that’s where the more expensive cuts are. So when you get into the high back of the animal, that’s where your baby backs are, or your loin, and your tenderloin. And all of those are great. But, again, you’re going to find that people that are cooking whole animals or know how to break a whole animal are going to go to the front shoulder. There’s great stories that I tell at the Farmer’s Markets. My favorite cut of pork is the pork butt. And everybody assumes that I’m talking about the backend of the animal and that’s not the case at all. The pork butt actually comes from the front shoulder.
Adam Taggart: Front shoulder, yeah.
Adam Parks: Yeah. And the reason for that is back in pilgrim days when they were storing meat in these wooden casks, what we call today salt pork where they layer salt and meat, salt and meat. And that was the way that they preserved it back then. Those wooden casks were called butts. And so that’s where the phrase pork butt comes from, or Boston butt. Again, that’s where the pilgrims were so that’s where the name came from. The backend or butt of the animal is actually the ham. The rear leg of the animal. And so again, you’ve got a lot of connective tissue in there. You’ve got a lot of flavor in there. And that’s why you get a really nice juicy ham. It came off of a really nice juicy hog. I love cooking whole hogs. We do them for events over the summer and spring months quite a bit. And the best pieces of that are always going to be the front shoulder and the belly. And the belly doesn’t have to go to bacon. It does a lot of times, but braised pork belly is one of the most delicious things you can pull off a pig for sure.
Adam Taggart: And one of the least expensive, right.
Adam Parks: Yeah. It is, although with the popularity of bacon, especially good bacon that is cured without nitrates or with no added nitrates. That’s a whole other misnomer we can talk about if you want. But I have a hard time getting fresh—or saving fresh pork belly for my customers that want it, because the value added from a business standpoint of making bacon is more profitable than selling fresh pork belly.
Adam Taggart: Yeah. Actually, why don’t you take a moment just to clear up the nitrate thing, ’cause that comes up a lot.
Adam Parks: Sure. Again, super clear that I am not a food scientist, but I was really pleased a few years ago when the Weston A. Price Foundation flipped their script on how they feel about products that are made with or without nitrates. And I like to say they agreed with me finally after several years. So when you go shopping for any product that is cured, whether it’s ham, or salami, or bacon, or whatever. You’ll find that the label will say ‘no nitrates added,’ or ‘nitrate free,’ or whatever. And that’s simply not true. If you look at the ingredients list, you will find that products that are listed as no nitrates or no nitrate added, generally have a couple of different things in them, or one of several different things in them. And it’s going to be CJP, which is celery juice powder, celery juice solids, or celery salt. That simply becomes sort of nitrate in the curing process. The problem is, is that when you use a naturally occurring sodium nitrate like celery juice powder, the people that are making the cure have to put a ton of it in the product in order to make sure they meet the minimum requirements once the cure is finished. You can’t know what you’re going to get at the end of the cure until it’s over. So they put a ton of it in there in the interest of making sure they hit the meat minimums, otherwise the whole batch gets tossed.
Adam Taggart: Makes total sense, yeah.
Adam Parks: When you use pink salt or a commercially made sodium nitrate in the curing process, what you put in is what you get out. So when our bacon is made using sodium nitrate, we know that we use the minimum required by the USDA to get the batch approved. And we know that that is what we’re going to get out of it. So if I’m picking between—and we sell both, because people want both. But when I’m feeding my family, if I have a choice between traditionally cured bacon, or our no nitrate added, I go with the traditionally cured bacon. Because I know it has less sodium nitrate in it.
Adam Taggart: Got it. Interesting. And real quick, I know that around here for the farms that you source from and the same as the pigs that we raise on my property, that we’re raising what are called heritage breeds, which are breeds that have been around for a long time. I mean, hundreds of years. Does that matter? What would you recommend to somebody if they actually have a choice of what to look for in the type of pig they’re getting.
Adam Parks: Pork, of all the animals, is the most susceptible to the flavors of both the meat and what they eat. You can dramatically change the flavor of pork based on what the animal is eating in the last month, month and a half before it’s harvested. Heritage breeds are great and they can be very specific in terms of what the genetic properties are of that meat once it’s harvested and hung. So my favorite pork is a berkshire duroc cross. Both are heritage breeds and the guy that raises our pork for us, that’s his preferred combination. And you get a very nice quality of fat with pork. We always joke that you pay for the fat. We give you the meat for free. The fat is really, again, where the flavor’s at. And so I want a nice balance of fat to meat, but I want the fat to be super flavorful. And so, the berkduoc cross to me, does a great job of that. There is all kinds of farms out there that are specializing in different breeds. Mangalitsas, Gloucestershire old spots, and they all have their great qualities. So if you have the time and the ability, and the availability of trying all of these different very heritage specific breeds. That’s awesome. For me from a business standpoint, I need consistency and so that’s why we go with a crossbred pig that gives us the best of both worlds.
Adam Taggart: Great. Got it. Totally got it. That’s really helpful. Thanks. Real quick here, you mentioned the pork cheek to me earlier. Any other one or two stand out, pork recipes, that you want to flag for folks here?
Adam Parks: Yeah. I think you had brought up the crockpot or the slow cooker earlier. And I think that the simplest thing you can do is if you get your hands on a nice two and a half three pound pork butt roast boneless. If you throw that in a bed of onions in your slow cooker, and put in half a bottle of red wine and the same amount of barbecue sauce, whether you make it yourself or buy a store bought brand. And turn that on to high and come back six hours later, it makes a killer pulled pork. There’s no thought to it. You can make it before you leave for work in the morning and come back, and you’ve got a killer meal at home. Also, it is better the next day, in my opinion. The flavor’s married overnight and you get that fat mixed in. And when you heat it up the next day, it’s just even better than the first day.
Adam Taggart: All right. Great. All right, so our last couple of minutes, let’s try to do chicken suggestions. So chickens, again, what to look for?
Adam Parks: Yeah. It’s funny, because we recently lowered prices on our chicken with the exception of two cuts. And that was the boneless skinless breasts and the bone and thighs. Those are the most popular cuts of chicken. And boneless skinless breasts are, I get it, they’re super convenient. You can do a million different things with it. It’s also in my humble opinion, the worst way to eat chicken, because you’ve just taken all of the good parts of chicken away from this piece of meat. I think that pasteurized chicken is going to have more texture, more tooth, what we call it, to the meat. And I had a journalist write an article about us a few years back. And she said she couldn’t put her finger on it. It just tasted more chickenier. Chicken is my favorite thing we do. I think it’s the biggest difference between what you can buy in your local mega mart and what we do is chicken. And I have a friend that used to joke with me all the time, because when I lived in the city and the country club lifestyle, and all of that kind of stuff. And I used to wait for chicken quarters, leg and drumstick and thigh to go on sale at 99 cents a pound. And I’d fill my freezer with this CAFO raised crap and now we’re selling chicken quarters for 8.50 a pound and can’t keep them in. Cooking-wise, man there’s nothing better than just a whole roasted chicken, salt and pepper—if you want to add a little garlic salt to it. Don’t stuff it and this goes for your Thanksgiving turkeys to, I hate the idea of stuffing it with any kind of a bread, or rice stuffing, because basically you’re just putting a giant sponge into the cavity of something you’re desperately trying to keep super juicy. If you want to throw whatever herbs are dying in the bottom of your fridge, half an onion, half a lemon, or something into the cavity to add a little flavor. That’s a great idea. If you want to do it quick, butterflying a chicken will cook really quickly, about half the time, and that’s as simple as taking that heavy pair of kitchen shears that you’ve got in the bottom of your junk drawer that you never knew what to do with. And snipping up each side of the back bone. And then the other critical piece to it is when you lay that open, you’ll see kind of a purple T shaped bone right in the center on either side of the breast. And right above that is the wish bone. And if you just snip that wish bone, the bird will lay perfectly flat. And now you can season it up. When we do it if we’re doing it in the oven, we put it on a cake cooling rack and lipped cookie sheet. And throw it in there. You can also do it over a bed of root vegetables. And that’s a great way to cook it, ’cause you’re letting those juices drip down on your vegetables. It’s going to make the vegetables taste incredible. And it’s a great rack to use as opposed to a metal rack in your oven. Throw a little wine, a little garlic, a little onions on there, and those root vegetables. And you’ve got your side dish and your protein all done all at once.
Adam Taggart: All right. Amazing. And I am starving after hearing about that. So I think we’re going to have lamb—wait for next time when we have you back on. But thank you so much, Adam, for—I think it was a really great education in what to look for in meats, locally raised meats. And hopefully people listening to this are inspired to go out there, have a much more informed discussion with their butcher the next time they’re at the grocery store. And hopefully take home some new cuts to them, and maybe use some of the recipes that we’re going to put up along with this podcast. But thank you. And one thing I just wanted to sort of editorialize on as we’re closing here. You mentioned earlier, it takes a lot more pasture land to raise a grass fed animal. And it does. And that’s one of the reasons why the prices are higher. But you and I have done a lot of talking and education to folks about it over the past couple of years.
The price differential is not what it was. In other words, it’s becoming more competitive and the reason it’s becoming more competitive is largely because of consumer demand, right. And that consumers are willing to pay a bit more, which then provides the economic ability for these ranchers to go out there and raise the animals the way that consumers are interested in eating them. So basically what I’m saying is by supporting the models you want to see with your consumer dollars, you’re increasing the odds of actually bringing to fruition the type of future that you want to see happen in your own food shed. The other thing that I think people don’t really quite realize is when you go visit a factory farm, there’s not a lot of people there. There’s a ton of animals. But there’s not a lot of people there. And one of the reasons why it’s cheaper is, yes, the grain is subsidized and what not. But another reason why it’s cheaper is you mentioned mechanization. And it just requires a lot fewer people when you have the animals densely packed into these areas. And of course, there’s all sorts of health issues for the animals and quality of life issues. And all sorts of reasons why you can make an argument that it’s not a very good thing. But I want to talk about the employees required for a moment, because when you are supporting animals raised in the way that you’ve been discussing through this podcast.
Those ranchers, you’re not just supporting the rancher himself, you’re supporting the ranch hands that are moving these animals out. Often times on a daily or a couple of times a week basis to new paddocks and whatnot. You’re supporting the slaughter house, the slaughter facility—we talked about that. You’re supporting the local butcher. You’re supporting the packers, and the drivers. You’re supporting the people who are selling these things at Famer’s Markets. You’re really supporting a local ecosystem and your local economy. And I just want to make sure that people’s eyes are open to that, that when you’re spending those dollars to feed yourself and your family the higher quality meat that you want. It’s not only just a good thing for you. But it’s a really good thing for your community. Both you’re providing jobs for people and keeping the local economy strong, but again you’re supporting the economic model for sustainable food production. And the more dollars that go that way, the more that part of the industry can begin to recognize economies of scale. And those prices will come down. And they may never reach parity [?], certainly not with the mechanization and subsidies in place. But it’s going to get an awful lot closer. And, again, that whole—I know something that’s really important to Adam and myself as well, is food access, is being able to provide anybody who wants with access to high quality food. In closing Adam, anything else you want to say.
Adam Parks: I think the two biggest things to keep in mind when you’re looking to change or improve how you purchase meat is two-fold. One is, if you cannot visit the farm the animal was raised on, you probably shouldn’t buy it. And that probably goes—I mean, look, I love the two tacos for 99 cents at Jack in the Box. Fair, you know, let’s just get the cards on the table. It’s just not food. You want to be able to see the farms and how the animals are raised. And so if you can do that, you can probably feel pretty confident in the meat that you’re buying. I think the other thing is if you’re not in our area, whether you choose our meat CSA or another meat CSA, it’s a really great way to be introduced to other cuts of meat. And almost every part of the country has meat CSAs popping up or something similar to it. We call ours a subscription box. But when you sign up, you will—the deepest discounts you’re going to get are when you let the rancher pick, or the butcher pick what goes in your box. It’s a great way to be introduced to other cuts of meat that you might not be familiar with that you fall in love with.
Adam Taggart: Great. So as I mentioned, we’re going to put links to some of the recipes that Adam mentioned up on the site. So if you’re interested to try them out, you’ll be able to go see them in their full glory for yourself. Adam, for folks that were inspired about what you had to talk about today, we’d like to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing at Victorian Farmstead. Where can they go to learn more?
Adam Parks: So our website is vic, V as in Victor, I-C farm, F as in Frank A-R-M meats, M as in Mary, E-A-T-S dot come. And you are welcome to email me at Adam at that website, Adam at vicfarmeats.com with any specific questions. And the website is brand new. It’s our second version of our website, so it’s a little bit of a work in progress, but I’m pretty proud of what we’ve put together there. It’s hopefully informative and there is a web store there if you want to try stuff out. And it is a work in progress, so a lot bigger things to come from there too.
Adam Taggart: Great. Well, Adam, thanks. It’s been a fun hour and I look forward to having you on again. And we’ll get into the nitty gritty of what it’s like to actually run a small local business like this for folks that are interested in local investing, which we know is a topic that folks have been asking for, for a long time. So thanks again. It was a lot of fun.
Adam Parks: Thanks for having me.