"I'm cooking dinner for 50. What do you have a lot of?" asked Keith Sarasin. It was the right question, and not one I get very often. That's a chef who understands how small beef farms work. Keith is a founder of The Farmers Dinner, which serves feasts on farms in New Hampshire.
Most chefs will take the convenient route and order factory-farmed meat from a national distributor where 30 pounds of tenderloin or strip steaks are always available. That's because thousands of cattle are butchered every day, and the meat is trucked across the country to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions. Volume creates abundance. It doesn't work that way for small outfits like Miles Smith Farm.
Did you know that each steer only has two tenderloins that weigh 6 to 8 pounds each? It would take at least two steers to provide 30 pounds of tenderloin. What about the rest of the steer? Selling just the tenderloin leaves about 750 pounds of "other meat," including roasts, ground beef, shanks, stew meat, and kabobs. A small farm like ours has to sell the "whole animal" to survive, and Keith is one of a growing number of chefs who are sympathetic to our situation. He'll ask for that "extra meat," and make it fit with his menu.
Tenderness is not the same as deliciousness. Just because a cut, like a tenderloin, is tender that does not mean it has flavor. The tougher cuts of meat, from the front end of the cow, have the most flavor. That's because 80 percent of a steer's weight is in the front and the same load-bearing exercise that makes the brisket, shoulder and clod roasts muscular and tough, also makes it flavorful. The secret is that when cooked correctly, the toughness is completely tamed and the excellent flavor remains.
Small farms need chefs like Keith and Trish Taylor, the head chef at Grappone Conference Center in Concord, who buy the "extra cuts" and make it work with their menus. A recent Farm-To-Table dinner at Grappone featured a five-course meal, including brisket and veggies all from local farms and paired with an abundance of wine. The meal was divine.
My favorite cuts are the ones with more flavor like chuck steak, clod roasts or cross-cut shanks (which make amazing stews.) Not only are they tastier, they also cost less.
So hats off to all the chefs who work the tough-but-tasty cuts into their menu. And next time you order at a restaurant, try one of their creations and see if I'm right. If the beef is local, you'll have a scrumptious meal and help a farmer make efficient and tasty use of the entire animal.