Monday, January 12, 2009

The Beefening


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.

3 comments:

daughteroffood said...

I wish we lived closer. The Beefening sounds like our Dodger Season Ticket draft, only more delicious. Maybe we could find a beef co-op in LA and combine the two... "I'll trade you Opening Day for a Prime Rib."

Son of Food said...

The general concept of buying shares in a farmer's product is called "Community Supported Agriculture" (CSA), so you might just try a Google search for a meat CSA in your area, or try searching or asking on chow.com.

Occasionally this group also does pork, but I don't consume enough pork to use a whole share in a reasonable amount of time, and I'd need to buy another freezer.

Son of Food said...

It's almost five months since The Beefening, and we've just about finished this round of beef--an eighth of a side for a family of two adults and a toddler. I grilled the last sirloin last night, and we're down to a few quarts of highly reduced beef consomme and about a pound of beef liver in the freezer.

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