5 May 2021
Tomorrow is the day. Farmers’ Market opens at 10AM and closes at 2PM.
When it comes to eating, I can tell you that I am definitely a meat and potatoes man. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good vegetable (mostly broccoli, asparagus, peas, and any kind of bean), but especially salads. My favorites are endive and escarole mixed with a little Romaine, red preferably, and baby greens. Throw on a little vinegar and olive oil and I am set. The great thing about it is that I can get almost all of the items to make this great meal right from the Farmers’ Market.
Being a meat man, I love a good cooked beef steak and a baked Russet potato to go along with the veggies and salad. I mix in a smattering of microgreens for that added nutritional benefit they offer. Radish, Purple Vienna Kohlrabi, and Red Acre Cabbage are my favorites.
When I shop for a good steak, what do I look for? Well, that depends on where I shop. Some of the basics are, it needs to be juicy and tender. For me that means a bone-in Strip Steak (a.k.a., New York Strip Steak, Kansas City Strip) or a Ribeye.
Some people will say it’s the marbling that makes it juicy. While it is true that marbling can give a more robust, intense flavor, it will probably be more expensive (it takes time and more money to fatten up a cow) and if you don’t cook it right you may have a very chewy eating adventure. I find a happy medium somewhere between too much marble and not enough.
As far as tender goes, some people say try a filet mignon if you want tender. The truth is that a filet is probably the tenderest cut of meat, but I also want something with a lot of flavor and to me filet mignon is rather bland tasting.
Now, let’s talk about a kind of beef I just ran into a little while ago, Raramuri Criollo.
We can thank Christopher Columbus for bringing these cattle with him to the New World on his second expedition. These cattle are hardy and durable. Coming originally from the desert country of Andalusia, in southern Spain, they thrive in our desert climate. The conquistadors further helped spread these cattle throughout the western hemisphere. One expedition alone brought thousands of these cows across northern Mexico and the New Mexico area of the US in 1593.
So, I picked up a steak from Dennis Moroney at his Sky Island Brand Meats booth here at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market. I’m not sure which cut of meat I bought, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I eagerly took it home and whipped up one of my steak and potato meals with all the trimmings. Since I wasn’t exactly sure how to cook it at the time, I cooked it slow and low so that the marbling could melt.
Let me tell you it was fantastic. It was juicy and probably the most tender steak I have ever cooked. I found out later that criollo beef is extremely tender based on testing being done at the University of Arizona (U of A).
Dennis usually brings his sidekick, Flavie Audoin, with him to the Farmers Market every Thursday. She is an intern from France, seeking a doctorate researching criollo cattle at the U of A. She has been working at the 47 Ranch/Sky Island Brand for the last four years or so. Her studies on meat tenderness of the Criollo cattle have shown that out of 65% of the steers she tested, they returned an average reading on the Warner Bratzler Shear Force compression test of 5.6 pounds per square centimeter. To put that in perspective, the USDA and two other organizations define tender beef as being in the 8.6 to 9.7 pounds per square centimeter.
Let me tell you folks my steak was a very tender cut of meat and it tasted great. The meat literally melts in your mouth. I could go on and tell you more about criollo beef, but the real master is Dennis himself. So, I sat down and talked to him the other day about his cattle and the cuts he brings to the market each and every week.
Dennis, has been around agriculture since he was knee high to a mud turtle. He is a very knowledgeable individual, especially when it comes to ranching. Heck, he even taught agriculture in schools for 34 years, part time. He is most proud of the fact that he focuses on being a food producer as opposed to being a cow/calf producer. Cow/calf producers focus on getting calves into the market to be raised until it is ready to be food on someone’s plate. Again, this process introduces potentially, a lot of intermediaries before the meat becomes a meal.
Dennis has only one intermediary and that is the meat processor. He uses the U of A as his meat processor. This is good for Dennis as it allows Flavie, being a student there, full access to his product for testing. She focuses on the fat content and tenderness of the beef.
Dennis’s ranching concept is to let the cows roam and eat as if they were in the wild. He doesn’t supplement their feed. Nothing gets added to their diet. He in essence tries to mimic nature as much as possible. No hormones, no anti-biotics, no grain feeding, no containment. He is allowing the cattle to express themselves. He wants to see how their behavior and diet selection contributes to the meat’s flavor.
Flavie has tagged 202 cows with tracking collars. They watch where the cattle hang out the most and then they pay a visit to that area. Flavie takes fecal samples along with samples of the plant life found in the area as well. These are analyzed to see if any of the plants have been ingested by matching the chemicals of the plants found with the chemical makeup found in the meat. That match now confirms the relationship with the cow’s diet to its meat makeup. It boils down to; the flavor of the land is what you taste in the meat.
Most of the meat you buy from the grocery stores comes from a feed lot somewhere, where it is fed a bland diet, goes to a slaughterhouse at about 14 months of age, which doesn’t allow them to reach their full potential flavor. Dennis, however, allows his cows to put on a full cover of fat both on the outside as well as the inside so that now the flavor is fully expressed in the meat. This process takes about 32 months or so before Dennis considers them ready for meat processing. All of the meat that is processed is tenderness tested by Flavie.
His ranch management style didn’t go unnoticed. He received what he calls a “lifetime achievement award.” The Arizona Section of the Society for Range Management honored him as the Range Manager of the year for 2019. Not an easy thing to accomplish considering his ranched land covers over 25, 000 acres of land, mostly unconnected.
Dennis considers the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market to be his favorite and best income producing activity. He has been a vendor here for 18 years or so. I encourage you, wholeheartedly to stop by his booth when you are here and pick up a sample of some of the best steak you will find. He also tends to a herd of churro sheep which provides great meat and lots of wool too.
And as a reminder, don’t forget that Mother’s Day is fast approaching (Sun., May 9). You don’t want to miss it.
In case you haven’t heard, the Hone Ranger is in need of your help. A fire recently destroyed his van and took his livelihood. If you want to help restart his livelihood head on over to his Go-Fund-Me page at https://gofund.me/bb641232 and donate whatever you can.
Remember, many of the market vendors accept WIC Farmers Markets & Senior Farmers Markets Vouchers in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables. SNAP vouchers can be also used at some of the vendors booths. You can use your EBT card at the info booth for SNAP vouchers and Double UP tokens (unlimited amount right now).
We are looking forward to seeing you all at this coming week’s Market. For more information on all our vendors and the products they will be bringing, please see this week’s Farmers’ Market newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com. Also, check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sierravistafarmersmarket/.