At Smart Kitchen, we have been working very hard at ”putting up” all the exercises of our Lesson 7: Basic Proteins, which includes intriguing information on Wagyu Cattle, the Japanese breed from which the super-flavorful Kobe Beef is made.
With Wagyu beef on my mind, I wrote to Lone Mountain Cattle Company in Golden New Mexico and told them about the Summer Food Drive 2011. To my surprise, Griff Foxley wrote me back and arranged for an invitation to visit the 28,000 acre ranch at 6,800 feet an easy drive from Santa Fe, which has had an interesting history.
Originally part of a Spanish Land grant, the ranch has subsequently been in many hands, including those of the Warden of the State Prison, who arranged field trips to the ranch for his convicts, hard labor field trips. Some of the prisoners’ work still remains, like the old “Main House,” a former building from the Alamosa, Colorado Japanese Internment Camp from WWII, re-purposed as the owner’s home on the ranch. It served that purpose from 1945 until 2011, when Bob Estrin, the owner built a new modern home.
After navigating a few miles of ranch, I reached the ranch headquarters and pulled up to speak with Stan Hartman, the ranch manager. It turns out, he forgot I was coming but we laughed about it and improvised. I was able to visit, with Stan (maybe interogate) and then shadow him a bit as he worked with his cowboys on the AI program. In the city AI means “artificial intelligence.” On the ranch, “artificial” is in the name but the activity involves helping make new bovine babies. Cows are in heat for only 18 hours every 21 days. Begetting new calves builds the herd and builds future product. Conception is crucial.
Because they are highly prized for their blood lines, each animal is genetically tested and its DNA kept on file with MMI Genomics. It is a different way of doing the beef business which has been a game of weight gain and pounds. Lone Mountain is concentrating on flavor and marbling, hoping to find sustainable profitability in higher quality meat.
Lone Mountain started with 9 Wagyu Cattle in 2005 and has grown its herd with meticulous breeding, (both AI and natural) to 300 animals, each insurable for thousands of dollars.
We had time to kill before the AI began so Stan took me on a mini-tour, that covered miles on foot and in Stan’s ranch truck but covered a miniscule portion of the very large property. Stan showed me how they graze cattle on pasture grasses until they are at least 20 months old, but typically older. Wagyu don’t start building the marbling that they are known for, until 20 to 25 months of age. Until then the cow-calf pairs are on the range, under the supervision of Stan and his cowboys but otherwise essentially on their own. Apparently, the imported Japanese cattle can cope with high altitudes, dry climates and predators that can include bears, mountain lions and coyotes.
Around age 30 months the steers identified as beef animals are “fed-out” meaning they are put on a higher ration of hay and grain to put on weight. As we were driving, Stan took me by the new “Main House” to see if Bob, the owner was available.
It turns out that Bob, who is a film editor (River Runs Through It) and also the President of the American Wagyu Association, was in working on genetics and had a moment or two for us. Bob first learned of Wagyu when his daughter took him out for a high end Japanese meal in LA. “They had Kobe on the menu for $128 a serving” Bob tells me and as a rancher in a dry area, he was hooked on the potential margins.
Since then, he has boned up on the genetics, grading and marbling. He is a font of knowledge on the subjects that give Wagyu its tenderness and flavor. He was very generous with his timeand we discussed marbling and breeding for a while. I learned a few things that will augment Smart Kitchen’s Kobe and Wagyu sections.
Bob also cautioned me (and us) about the explosion of “Kobe-Style,” and “American Wagyu-Style” burgers being sold for premium prices at restaurants and grocers. If they say style they are not pure Wagyu. There are firm rules on the use of the “Kobe” name but few on the variants which at a minimum have to be only 24.9% Wagyu, with the other 75% being comprised of other breeds like Angus or Hereford. Ground or processed meat products are the easiest to blend and mix, so if you are unsure and want 100% Wagyu stick with steaks or roasts.
Bob mentioned that the Mine Shaft restaurant down the road in Madrid (pronounced “Mad-Rid”), NM served 100%Lone Mountain Wagyu Beef Burgers and I was sold on extending my Lone Mountain stop by just one burger’s worth. On the ride back to ranch headquarters Stan regaled me with the benefits and flavor of Wagyu, which has a higher proportion of mono-saturated fat than traditional beef which helps make it more tender. In fact, Stan and his father count their chews on Wagyu steaks and find that a bite disappears in 6-7 chews as compared to 30 chews or more for a Prime Graded steak from another breed.
As I bid Lone Mountain farewell, I turned right for a detour to Madrid for the Mine Shaft and some Lone Mountain beef.
The 100% Wagyu has a “beefier” taste and cooks more quickly. I really enjoyed the 100% Wagyu burger and can’t wait until Lone Mountain has their consumer direct site online to buy some July 4th burgers. In the meantime, if you have a hankering for Lone Mountain Wagyu, you can find it at fine restaurants like Alexander’s Steak house in the Bay Area.
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At 5 PM September 14, 2010, Safford, AZ trailhead for the Arizona Salsa Trail, celebrates SalsaFest.
We’ve been through Safford, doing part of the Salsa Trail, a few years back. It was an eye opener for the destination, a throwback to another time. The restaurants, housed as they are in some interesting old buildings, are the draw that might get me to go back. And the food was all right, if you like a more traditional (almost historic) version of Mexican in the place we tried. A return trip might uncover another gem.
I wish I could give the food from our choice (thankfully which I have forgotten by name but still remember by geography and can avoid) higher praise but we are a little spoiled by some of the great Mexican Chefs cooking in Phoenix and LA, in the style of Mexico City with fresher ingredients and more improvization. We like Barrio Cafe, in Phoenix, Freida’s in Beverly Hills, Elote Cafe in Sedona, and Richardson’s in Phoenix. And of course there are the road houses, taco joints and burrito havens like The Owl Bar in Socorro, New Mexico, King Taco in LA, Cafe Rio (a small chain), H&H Car Wash in El Paso and one of my favorites for red or green chili, B&E Burrrito in Hatch, New Mexico.
Now I’m thinking Mexican and that the SalsaFest might just get us burning a tank of gas this year, if nothing else to get that much closer to Hatch, NM. If you are in the Sonoran Desert this week, you might want to check it out too.
In this instance, after exhausting all possibilities and making a few circuits, the correct road ended up being the little driveway looking thing in the middle. And then once on the right road, another gracious tableau discovered at Phillips’ Grocery, which was built across from a former train station, now abandoned.
So you drive all this out of the way and you love the look and the feel. The whole abandoned, pre-civil war, ambience thing is like stumbling on a “Faulkneric” mythical Brigadoon. And then you face the real burning question. You haven’t eaten in 350 miles. What will the food be like? That is the curiousity that kills this cat. And the curiousity that fuels my search, mile after mile and year after year, for another perfect, often unobtainable meal.
In this case the food was good, but not great, not in line with the expectations driven by the distance, or the ambience. In fact the burger was probably decent but got an ambience bump up to “Good” by the whole “Finding Lost Dixie” thing. There should be a 2009 blog post about the actual visit to Phillips’ Grocery, but my point in writing today is to get my psych on for the upcoming miles.