Stockpots are simmering. That means The Beefening has come upon us.
"The Beefening" is what the members of my ad hoc bulk beef purchasing cooperative call a gathering to distribute the shares in our latest purchase of whole sides of beef.
Here's how it works. The organizer knows a farmer in upstate New York who raises and slaughters grass fed, corn finished beef and sells it by the side. Grass fed beef has a richer flavor, but corn fed beef has more fat and is more tender, so grass fed beef that's finished on corn works out to be a good compromise. The beef is inspected and often grades as USDA Prime or close to it. When people are interested in making a purchase, they make an announcement on an internet forum called Echo that actually pre-dates the World Wide Web, and we ask some friends who aren't on Echo if they would like to participate. The minimum share is one eighth of a side, which, depending on the size of the steer, is about 30 pounds of trimmed beef, not counting offal and soup bones. This time a share cost $130, which includes a small fee to cover the organizer's expenses involved in purchasing, picking up, and delivering the beef, which works out to about $4.30 a pound (excluding offal and soup bones)--not bad for prime or almost-prime beef, considering that it's the same price for hamburger or a porterhouse steak.
The beef comes butchered and frozen, and the organizer drives it down to New York City, where everyone gathers in a festive atmosphere and divides up the shares. Some of the division is straightforward--if there are sixteen rib steaks, then there are two in each share--and some involve more subtlety of judgment--is the full eye of the round equivalent to a rump roast and a brisket of about the same weight? Close enough for us. It's a friendly bunch.
When all the regular beef cuts are distributed, soup bones and organ meats go to whomever wants them. Remember the Pâté de Campagne that I posted about a few months ago? The beef liver was from the last Beefening, and I'll be making another this round. I also got a couple bags of bones, which is more than will fit in my 13 quart stockpot, so I've got two pots simmering with enough stock to last me, I hope, until the next Beefening. It's a better bet than the stock market these days.