The January-February issue of Edible San Antonio featured an article about a local rancher raising heritage beef cattle at Heritage Lean Beef. This writing assignment took me to Epperson Ranch in Rocksprings, Texas—a sprawling ranch about 2 hours northwest of San Antonio. On a sunny day in January, Marcy Epperson and I spent the day on her ranch, looking for cows and talking about beef ranching.
The Eppersons focus on raising Corriente Criollo cattle. Descended from Spanish Corriente cows explorers left behind in the late 1400s to provide a food source on subsequent travel to the New World, these cattle are completely grass fed. They roam the acres of Epperson Ranch feeding on native grasses. You won’t see a huge mass of cows, like at a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or industrial-sized livestock operation). If you ever wondered what free-range beef meant, it means cows roaming over open landscape looking for grasses.
Marcy made lunch using her Corriente beef and the burgers were so full of beefy flavor – lean, yet juicy and with a texture better than any other beef I’ve eaten. It turns out that this particular heritage breed of cattle is both lean and juicy. Corriente cattle are an Ark of Taste registered breed with Slow Food, to help highlight and thus, preserve endangered heritage breeds.
After eating a conventional burger at home later in the week, I realized the beef had a flat flavor and left a waxy sensation in my mouth, almost like chewing on a crayon. Sounds crazy, I know, but it was the side-by-side eating of ground beef in the same week that made me realize the difference in the way the fat is marbled in the meat, as well as the overall beef quality.
If you’ve ever bought beef at the supermarket, you usually have to trim big pieces of fat off the meat. When I cooked a piece of Heritage Lean Beef brisket, there was nothing to trim—yet it roasted easily into one of the most juicy, flavorful briskets I’ve ever eaten (and y’all—we live in Texas, land of brisket!).
In general, grass-fed cattle can have as much as one third less fat as a similar cut from a grain-fed animal. These leaner cows have well-marbled fat throughout their tissues, and because of their grass diet, the fat is composed of omega-3 fatty acids or "good fats" – better for your health because they are the most heart-friendly.
Yes, grass-fed meat is more expensive—a Slow Food mindset translates into food shopping choices that shift to buying less meat, but eating better quality beef, pork, or lamb. Better not only for your health, but your taste buds as well.