At this point in the foodie revolution, meat connoisseurs pretty much expect their beef to be cut from pastured, grass-fed, humanely raised, drug-free cattle. As well as the requisite marbling, dry-aging, and now bespoke aging, serious carnivores are looking to their butchers for the next thrill. And that's the finish.
Typically, "finishing" – the final stage of a beef cow's life – begins after the beasts have spent between 12 to 18 months on pasture, where they graze on grasses; after that, the standard feedlot-finished cow is moved into pens and fed a diet of 90 per cent grain. Movement is limited and all those carbs are fattening; it's here, for the next three to six months, where they quickly pack on the pounds and develop marbling and flavour – depending, of course, on what they are fed. This regimen is a recipe for tender but potentially bland beef.
Some small-scale producers, however, are trying a radically different approach by finishing their pasture-raised cattle on fruits and veggies, and the results are wildly delicious. Just as terroir is at the root of a wine's character, the location, lifestyle and diet give these lucky cows their subtle sweetness and grassy richness.
Island Beef, Morrison Farms, Summerside, PEI
Meat and potatoes: They go as well together on the farm as they do on the plate. A second-generation potato, soybean and beef farmer, Brian Morrison has 300 head of Angus-Simmental-Charolais-cross cattle that are finished on spuds grown on the family's acreage. Producers who operate under the Certified Island Beef program adhere to a strictly enforced feeding regime and the cattle are hormone- and drug-free. The beef is super-well-marbled, almost wagyu-like in appearance, and richly flavoured. Toronto-based chef Mark McEwan is a fan; he carries the luscious stuff at his high-end grocery and features it on his menus (islandbeef.ca).
Grandview Farms, Thornbury, Ont.
Nestled into Ontario apple-growing country, the Angus and wagyu cattle on the 35-year-old von Teichman farm spend spring and summer on pasture, then, from August to October, the cows are finished on mountains of windfalls from the surrounding apple orchards. The result is a subtle sweetness, good marbling and a healthier fat – fat that's a deep yellow from all the grass, and impossible to resist with a little sea salt. The von Teichmans have had their meat analyzed by Dr. Richard Bazinet at the University of Toronto's nutritional sciences lab, where their product has tested having a 2.9 to 1 ratio (Omega 6 to 3), whereas feedlot beef has tested from 16 to 1 to 22 to 1, in those same tests. Look for the yummy stuff – shank, ground, short ribs – on the menus of some of Toronto's top kitchens: Canoe, Jump, Opus (grandviewfarms.ca).
Frugie Beef, Fort Langley, B.C.
Ex-NHL defenceman Dwayne Lowdermilk, along with his wife, Sue, has returned to his family's roots in farming. His herd of Angus and Hereford-cross feast on pasture grasses and about 70 pounds of fruits, veggies and herbs – trimmings and less-than-perfect specimens gleaned from grocery stores and commercial greenhouses – every day. The end product is tender yet very lean beef – a difficult feat – that's higher in iron and vitamins, and free of any gluten allergens that may be present in grain-fed beef (frugiebeef.com).