By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
In my Dec. 7 column, I shared a wonderful experience I had spending two days on the McCaffertey ranch with the entire family. We literally broke bread together as Eric Stenberg and I cooked dinner for all of us, showcasing some of their wonderful cuts as we conversed over wine around the family heirloom dinner table.
By trade, the McCaffertey business is a stock-growing ranch. That is to say, they raise the cattle that are sold at auction to the ranchers that raise the cattle we eat.
But Joel McCaffertey is also raising about 100 head of cattle specifically for beef.
The next morning after breakfast, we bundled up and set out for one of the outbuildings 100 yards or so away from the house. It was a beautiful bluebird morning as we trudged through the fresh snowfall.
When we stepped inside my glasses instantly fogged, as did my camera lens and my phone. It was a balmy 70 F in the building with equal humidity and we threw off our jackets.
Lining both interior walls were large white metal racks about 10 feet tall. Each one had four layers of shelving with misters suspended under the bottom of each shelf.
What was on all these shelves? Beautiful green grass. Or more specifically, sprouted barley.
What the McCafferteys have been working on for more than five years now is hydroponic barley grass that grows in a week, is full of nutrition and is available year round.
They supplement the normal hay and alfalfa grasses with the barley grass as needed, and as winter arrives and the outdoor grass goes dormant and is blanketed with snow, they can supply their beef cattle with as much as 80 percent barley grass. This means they have grass-fed beef from start to finish, 12 months of the year.
When Joel divulged how much they have spent on this project over the last five years, Eric and I looked at each other. We knew right then how passionate they were about the project to have spent that kind of money with no return on investment to date.
“We don’t know if there is a market for this, it just seems like the right thing to do,” Joel said.
Many of the shelves had large sections of this “barley sod” in various stages of growth. The new shelves contained wet barley that has not yet sprouted. Down the row, there were rows of grass that were as tall as 8 inches, yet only seven days old. A 10-12 foot roll of this grass weighs about 200 pounds.
We pulled a few blades to taste for ourselves. It was sweet and tasted like cucumber; not a flavor we were expecting.
Megan, Joel’s daughter, explained that the nutritional testing takes several weeks if not months. But even though they do not possess all the information yet, early indications are that the healthy fats, Omega 3s, Omega 6s, and a host of other nutritional data suggest that this is some of the healthiest beef that exists.
We finished our morning back at the dining room table where we discussed the marketability and logistics of the grass and how we could get this grass-fed beef to as many chefs as possible. Joel, Megan and Joel’s wife Cindy were extremely excited at the prospect of getting their beef out there to more of us.
Men and women can accomplish great things wearing suits and ties and seated around conference tables. However, some of the best relationships are built around a dinner table, with ranchers and farmers in worn jeans, muddied boots and hats hung accordingly on the rack close by. After all, you just don’t wear a hat to the dinner table.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.
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