Tom Meredith has forced the cattle at his family's ranch to go green, mainly because their new diet benefits his customers.
Meredith, the owner of The Pantry Restaurant in downtown McKinney and Amato's Italian Restaurant in Stonebridge Ranch, recently brought to his establishments a growing trend: grass-finished beef.
"Ten years ago, people didn't even know what grass-fed beef was," Meredith said. "There are so many consumers now aware of the health benefits of grass-fed or grass-finished beef. As more people become health-conscious, it's one thing they're latching onto."
Chris Beattie/Staff Photo - The Pantry Restaurant in McKinney now features grass-finished beef sausage and other menu items with grass-finished beef, which comes from grass-fed cattle at owner Tom Meredith's El Dorado Ranch in Navarro County.
Meredith began selling grass-finished beef in the restaurants about two months ago, but the transition from large-scale processed meat was a long time coming. Many of the family members on his father's side were cotton farmers in Navarro County, an area south of Dallas that's home to the Merediths' El Dorado Ranch.
His father, in corporate sales for much of his career, bought part of the ranch land and inherited the rest. When he neared retirement, Meredith's father started raising livestock on what is now 800 acres. Meredith invested in the livestock and formed a partnership with his dad by the late-1990s.
That's also when Meredith began following leaders of the grass-fed beef movement. He received newsletters from Allan Nation, author of "Grassfed to Finish: A Production Guide to Gourmet Grass-Finished Beef," and frequently attended conferences that taught people the ranching style's benefits.
"For us, it's new as far as getting into the production phase," he said, "but we've actually been involved with the people driving this wave going back 15 years. Because of that, I think we know the whole science of it better."
While his father daily manages El Dorado Ranch, Meredith travels there at least once a week to help with the upkeep of meat now served in the McKinney restaurants. The livestock feed completely on grass at the ranch, which includes a 32-acre lake and 10 ponds. They are slaughtered, and the meat is packaged for delivery at a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected plant about 10 miles from the ranch.
The plant already delivered beef to restaurants in Plano when Meredith joined the cycle, so the same trucks drop off the meat from his ranch in McKinney every month.
"Most of the ground beef we're using at The Pantry and at Amato's is grass-finished from our ranch," he said. "We're really fortunate to have control of basically the whole production chain -- from the land to the plant to delivering it to our restaurants. More and more people are catching onto sourcing their meat so they know where it's coming from and really know the story behind it."
The trendy tale of grass-finished beef includes a shorter life-cycle and inherent health benefits. Jennifer Wood, a wholesale program worker for U.S. Wellness Meats, a grass-fed meat company based in Monticello, Mo., said that grass-fed beef is more than just a slightly healthier alternative to processed, feed-lot beef.
Grass-finished beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids, which are actually good for the heart, unlike the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids of typical beef that can sometimes cause heart disease and diabetes. Whereas the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be around five-to-one, Wood said in processed beef, that ratio is often as high as 20-to-one.
Wellness Meats joined the grass-fed trend 11 years ago and now ships out grass-fed beef, lamb and poultry to all 50 states.
"More people are aware of what they're eating and where it's coming from," Wood said. "It used to be the demand didn't keep up with the supply, but now it's the opposite."
More common, processed beef is taken from cattle that move from ranches to massive feed lots, where they feed on corn and grain. They're also sometimes fed antibiotics and growth hormones that can fatten them up quickly before they're slaughtered.
Beef can be grass-fed yet still come from cattle that are fed grain right before slaughter, and thus the beef is not grass-finished. Meredith produces grass-finished beef through his family's control of the entire production cycle, which he said fosters a fresher, more specific product.
"Producing grass-finished beef is like producing fine wine," he said. "There are a lot of factors that go into producing a great product -- the grasses and forages the cattle eat, the quality of the water they're drinking, the breed -- and all of them affect the tenderness and taste of the meat."
Meredith sells the new beef mainly in the meatloaf and beef sausage at The Pantry, and in the meat sauces and meatballs at Amato's. He orders in each delivery two-pound packages of the grass-finished beef to sell to individual customers who want a home supply.
Meredith is in the process of perfecting the grass-finished steak products and plans to feature the beef next month at Farmers Markets in McKinney. Knowledge of a tastier, healthier product is spreading fast, but another perk of producing grass-finished beef, particularly in Meredith's case, is taking one's time.
"We're going to be real patient with it," he said. "End consumers now know that they're getting a much fresher product and know where it's been. We still want to make sure we do it the right way."
By Chris Beattie,
Published: Friday, August 26, 2011 11:25 AM CDT
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