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The Home Plate - Life and Lamb

Dung Beetles and Drones - Seeing Aussie Grassfed Beef Up Close

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aussie cowboys

 

Some observations from US food writer Alexei Rudolf


G’day Home Plate reader!

On a recent trip to Australia, I got to have an up-close and personal look at grassfed beef farms and ranches in action. My trip Down Under was an amazing experience, and there was so much to learn about the art and science of raising grassfed beef! Farmers in Australia choose their cattle breeds based on their climate, territory and market demands, and spend much of their time managing the land itself, while the cows are left to do what they do – roam around and graze with minimal human contact. The techniques ranged from high-tech; like using drones and iPad apps to monitor a wide-ranging herd at Calliope station in Queensland, to the low-tech – encouraging dung beetles and other invertebrates to improve soil health and pastures at Oombabeer Station. Who would have thought that cattle farmers would be thinking about dung beetles!

On my tours of cattle farms and properties, I met a number of ranchers that were really impressive with their deep and detailed knowledge of their craft, care for the animals, and eagerness to continue to learn and improve efficiency and sustainability. One of those was a young cattleman from South Australia, Jason Schulz, who with his wife runs a cattle and sheep operation called Raven Limousin (named after the breed of cattle, not the fancy car). As we drove around Queensland, he was gracious in answering all of my ignorant American questions, and encyclopedic in his knowledge of the cattle business. On his farm, the cattle and sheep graze in rotation on pastures where nutritious lucerne, veldt and rye grasses have been sown. The climate at his Coolaroo farm is well-suited to growing these grasses, and are also a good match with the breeds of cattle he’s using. Kudos to Jason for being named “2015 Young Beef Ambassador” by Rabobank!

One thing Jason and other Aussie cattlemen told me that was amazing: as a guideline, grassfed beef farmers in Queensland and Northern Australia try to have no more than 1 cow per 8 acres of land (about 350,000 square feet) – that’s considered “high density!” Around where Jason’s farm is and other parts of Australia where the climate is wetter, milder and more conducive to improved pastures, the ratio can be more dense, like 1 cow per 4 acres. Fewer grazing cows per acre is better for the health of the animals, protects the soil and grasses, and helps keep the grazelands going from year to year. You can get a sense of how fundamentally different raising cattle entirely on grass can be.


 

Meet the Chef - Sam Jackson

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Sam Jackson

 

Aussie Lamb and Beef lovers, meet Chef Sam Jackson, a True Aussie and owner of KO Catering and Pies in Boston. Sam brought an iconic food from his Aussie homeland – the meat pie – to the denizens of South and now East Boston with a second location. There were some awkward getting-to-know-you days in the beginning. “People would wander in and ask for a blueberry pie,” says Sam. But this October will mark five years since those early days, and after a lot of working the streets and the culinary scene in Boston, one pie at a time, both Sam and KO Pies have been fully embraced by the locals and numerous expats in Boston. According to Sam, his customer counts have tripled in those few years.

“In Australia, a pie is our burger,” explains Sam. “It’s comfort food, and it’s everywhere, even at gas stations,” he admits. Today the lamb pie is a number two seller (behind only the ground beef original), and it wasn’t always on the menu. “One of the things that shocked me about the States was how little you’d see lamb at the market. Back home it’s everywhere, and something we just expect to throw on the grill, or put in a stew or pie.”

When the lamb shank pie – naturally made with True Aussie lamb – did break onto the menu at KO, it was an instant hit, even making an episode of Adam Richman’s “Man Finds Food” on the Travel Channel. “I can tell the story of how Aussie lamb is pasture raised, how the animals are younger, and show people that there’s nothing gamey about Aussie lamb.”

Sam’s proud to represent his homeland in his choice of meat, of course, but it also just makes sense. “All the focus on local is great, but here in the Northeast you’ve got expensive land, brutal winters; it’s not a recipe for producing great lamb at a price that a pie shop can afford,” says Sam. “I wanted that pure, sweet, clean flavor from back home, as well as the the kind of consistency and affordability that I can get from Australia.”

So what’s the secret to getting Bostonians and Americans in general to go for lamb, or cook it at home? “Just treat it like your other favorite proteins,” says Sam, “if you like chicken parm, do that with lamb. If you like Asian flavors, like stir-fries or soy-ginger salmon, do that with lamb. And of course, have a pie!”

More than just versatility, Sam also recommends that you always rest your lamb after cooking – cutting into it too soon will release those juices that make lamb moist and tender.