By Blaine Davis, Contributing Editor
In early by today’s standards, have returned to normal with some ventures beyond the “ranch gate” to the office, construction sites, farm and family gatherings and only submitting to that infernal face mask when I enter the rehabilitation center for my rotator cuff therapy, aka torture. One such venture took me on U.S. Highway 81 in northern Kansas to my wife, Tammy’s, hometown. As the asphalt miles flew by, I passed a pickup truck emblazoned with Lone Creek Cattle Company decals and promoting Certified Piedmontese cattle. As the truck became nothing more than a speck in my rearview mirror, a déjà vu moment came over me.
Nearly every morning that I leave the early morning coffee shop, my local radio station airs, Loos Tales, a conservative commentary dedicated to bridging the gap between rural and urban America by sixth-generation farmer Trent Loos from Hazard, Neb. Mr. Loos is sponsored by none other than Nebraska’s Lone Creek Cattle Company (LCCC) and their Certified Piedmontese Beef program. With Mr. Loos’ premise of, “Freedom, liberty and ability to not only feed ourselves but the entire world,” combined with his sponsor’s premise of an exceptional breed of genetically superior cattle, I became intrigued.
Hailing from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy often most known for great vineyards and outstanding wines ranging from reds like Nebbiolo to white Moscato d’ Asati, the original cattle migrated there about 25,000 years ago. Unlike traditional breeds of beef cattle that have the myostatin gene, which works to inhibit the overall muscle mass by reducing the frequency of fibers within each muscle, the Piedmontese breed is unique in having an inactive myostatin gene. This trait produces double-muscled beef that’s rich in protein and nutrients, thus a unique predilection for developing extra muscle mass with very little fat. Relatively new to North America, the first cattle came in the mid-1970s with an original five head with an additional 10 coming in the 1980s. From this small beginning, Piedmontese still only represents less than one percent of all cattle in North America. LCCC touts their program is designed to merge Piedmontese cattle with the finest ranching practices to produce a generous supply of gourmet beef.
As many of us who have been sequestered over the last year or more have spent more time with our backyard grills, we have questioned, “Where does our food come from and what are its health benefits?” Piedmontese beef and its various cuts of steak are now on my bucket list or actually on my next grilling list. Having been gifted a box of filet mignon and ribeye steaks by some close friends, another slot on our grilling list was filled.
This box from HeartBrand Beef features another of America’s uncommon breeds, Akaushi (Japanese Red Cattle) originated and evolved in Kumamoto, Japan, to withstand the challenging climate and terrain of this southern area of Japan. Akaushi cattle’s red color and muscled appearance produces meat that has a higher concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) relative to saturated fat. The American Heart Association notes this can lead to lower cholesterol, the prevention of coronary heart disease and weight loss. This beef is also a significant source of oleic acid, the compound in olive oil that U.S. Department of Agriculture touts as “good for the heart.” Akaushi beef naturally contains intense marbling with a higher percentage of MUFAs that is responsible for the rich buttery flavor as well as juiciness and tenderness.
Located in Flatonia, Texas, with its primary ranch in Harwood, Texas, Ronald and Jordan Beeman of HeartBrand Beef are committed to preserving pure Akaushi bloodlines and, with careful management, have increased their herd to more than 14,000 cattle, the largest in the United States.
In 1994, impressed by the extraordinary characteristics of the breed, a group of Texas ranchers uncovered a loophole in the Trade Act of 1992 between the United States and Japan that allowed a small group of Akaushi cattle – eight cows and three bulls – into the United States aboard a specially equipped Boeing 747. Shortly after this flight, the loophole was closed, but a new beginning in the American beef industry was born.
At the backyard grill, I was anxious with anticipation to taste this Akaushi beef. Prepared as I always do, I seasoned each steak with my “knock-off” rub akin to that of Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap, Texas, and carefully reverse-seared each to medium-rare for me and medium for my wife. With the first bite it was evident this was a culinary treat with a rich and buttery flavor. Tammy claimed with her discriminatory taste, “This might be the best steak I have ever had.”
While both Piedmontese and Akaushi breeds amount to less than one percent of the cattle in the United States, the most common breed, Angus has taken a cue from these and has developed branded beef for the retail sector. One such is Cameron, Texas’s, 44 Farms and their 44 Farms Angus Steaks. With its roots dating back to 1909 with the first cattle branded with “44,” the McClaren family has become the largest registered Angus operation in Texas and the fourth largest in the U.S. Their Angus genetics are sold into nearly every state and to many ranches around the world.
In 2012, 44 Farms launched an online source for their Prime and Choice steaks and is now featured in more than 100 restaurants across Texas. “We want people to know where their food comes from. We call it the 44 Farms ‘Know Your Rancher’ program,” says CEO Bob McClaren. “We invite people to come to the ranch to see how the cattle are cared for. The more people know about us, the more confident they will be in the quality and wholesomeness of our beef, and they will see firsthand our commitment to being responsible stewards of the land and cattle that God created.”
Their program is one of integration – “from conception to the table.” Being able to control their cattle genetics, nutrition, healthcare, the water they drink and every step of the process to the table, 44 Farms is able to ensure that quality and compassion are at the core of everything that is done.
Considering responsible ranching practices, preservation of their breeds’ bloodlines and stewardship of the natural resources, whether from Lone Creek Cattle Company, HeartBrand Beef or 44 Farms, I again am anxious not to overcook, but honored to have their steaks on my backyard grill. Like Bob McClaren fondly says and I concur, “The best is yet to be.”