Valley Bounty, November 3: Buying and using bulk beef
Hamburgers may shine in the summer, but soups and roasts are cozy fare for darker, shorter days. Grazing animals are a good fit for the rolling hillsides of western Massachusetts, and local beef is available by the cut at farmers’ markets, retailers, and through both vegetable and meat CSAs. If you have the freezer space, consider buying a whole (or half or quarter) animal from the farmer. You’ll save some money per pound, and your freezer will be stocked for the winter.
Find CISA’s list of beef producers here. Remember that you can change the zip code setting at the bottom to find sources closest to you.
We also have a list of meat CSAs, available here (scroll down for meat). Membership in a meat CSA is a great way to get high quality, local meat, including beef, chicken, pork, and lamb. Many meat CSAs offer delivery to various points in the Valley or offer flexible pick-up options, and membership can often be started anytime.
Ben James at Northampton’s Tuesday Market has been singing the praises of Pho, Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. Here’s the recipe he recommends.
Farmer and author Shannon Hayes has published three cookbooks on grassfed meat. The newest, Long Way on a Little, provides tips and recipes for eating good meat without breaking your budget, but also wrestles with the bigger questions about paying farmers a living wage for growing well-raised meat in a nation where income inequality continues to grow. You can find recipes, tips, and good thinking at grassfedcooking.com.
Buying a whole, half, or quarter animal
Buying a whole, half, or quarter animal requires that you know (or learn) a little bit more about your meat than is needed for buying specific cuts. Talk to the farmer and make sure that you understand the cost, what you are getting, and when and where you’ll receive it. Below, we’ve listed a few things to consider.
Quantity and storage: You’ll need freezer space for the meat you are getting! A half a lamb does not take up much space and can fit in the freezer above your refrigerator, but a half a cow requires a chest or upright freezer. In most cases, lamb and pork are available by the whole or half, and beef by the whole, half, or quarter. Sometimes the farmer sells the whole animal, but you can split it up with friends.
Price: The price per pound is sometimes listed by hanging weight (before cutting) and sometimes by cut weight. If the farmer sells by hanging weight, they can tell you approximately how many pounds of cut weight (“dressed out” meat) you’ll receive. For example, Foxbard Farm notes “Typically a quarter from a 1000 lb steer will hang at 140 lbs and dress out at 95 – 105 lbs.” Sometimes, you’ll pay a price to the farmer and also pay for slaughter and cutting at the slaughterhouse.
Cuts: Often, the farmer will ask you to make some choices about how you want the animal cut up. If you aren’t sure, ask for recommendations! Sometimes there is more than one name for a particular cut of meat. Tell your farmer what you are used to eating, and they can help you understand the terms they use and figure out what you want. You may be asked to fill out a “cut sheet” specifying your choices. You can certainly choose not to include some cuts—for example, organ meats—but one of the benefits of buying meat in bulk is the opportunity to try new things and to eat the entire animal.
There are lots of resources for learning to cook things you haven’t tried before, and you will probably find some new favorites. Ask your farmer what they do with a cut you’re not sure of. Here are a couple of useful books, as well.
- The Grass-fed Gourmet Cookbook, by Shannon Hayes, includes profiles of several farms and a recipe from Local Hero farmer Diane Roeder.
- The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall
- The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson
If you jot down a few notes about what cuts you selected and what you did with them, you’ll be ahead when it’s time to place your order next year.
Here is a list of local farms that sell beef in bulk: