Brandt family takes artisanal approach to beef farming

Re-Posted from The North County Times
By PAM KRAGEN – | Posted: August 5, 2010 12:00 am

At 2:30 a.m. every Monday and Tuesday, Eric Brandt pulls out of the driveway of his Encinitas home to start his work week. During what he describes as the golden hours of his job, the managing partner for Brandt Beef will follow a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector as he grades the company’s meat at a processing plant in Pico Rivera, and then Brandt will hand-select how each carcass will be cut and trimmed, and which premium cuts will be delivered to the company’s pickiest customers —- restaurant chefs in the U.S. and Japan.

Understanding how fat marbling, aging, moisture and pH balance will affect the taste, texture and tenderness of his beef is a lost art that Brandt trusts to no one but himself.

Eric Brandt of Encinitas in an alfalfa field at the Brandt ranch in Brawley. The beef cattle on the ranch are fed an entirely vegetarian diet. (Photo courtesy of Graham Blair Photography)

“My favorite time are those hours from 4 to 7 a.m., where I’m going in those coolers and hand-selecting the meat,” Brandt said. “That’s old-school tradition, and I believe in doing things the way they used to be done. That’s who we are as a company, and all of those years of work we’ve put into our business are defined for me in those couple of hours each week.”

As butchery operations go, Brawley-based Brandt Beef is tiny —- processing just 350 beef cattle (about 175,000 pounds of meat) a week, about the same amount as one of the major meat-packers process in an hour. But 5-year-old Brandt Beef has made its name in quality, not quantity.

Brandt Beef is the nation’s only beef producer to earn the Master Chefs Institute’s Seal of Excellence (ranked against three competitors in 120 blind taste tests) and its hormone- and antibiotic-free beef is prized by fine-dining chefs and gourmet markets around the country.

Locally, Brandt Beef is on the menu at The Marine Room, Shores Restaurant, Waters Fine Catering, Stingaree, Jsix, Argyle Steakhouse in Carlsbad and Twenty/20 at the Sheraton Carlsbad, among others. It’s also sold locally at Harvest Ranch and Jonathan’s markets and to many famous restaurants in the Northeast, including Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steakhouse in Connecticut; Grill 23 and Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Boston; and Porter House, Les Halles, SOHO Grand Hotel and Quality Meats in New York City, among others. The meats are also sold online through the gourmet grocer Dean & DeLuca, where a four-pack of 8-ounce, center-cut filet mignon steaks retails for $120, and a “grilling collection” of 12 burgers, steaks and chops sells for $225.

One of the company’s very first customers was The Lodge at Torrey Pines, where executive chef Jeff Jackson said he likes Brandt Beef for two reasons —- flavor and personal service.

“It’s about taste. It’s got a cleaner flavor than other meats, and Eric has worked with me to get just the right cuts,” said Jackson, who worked with Brandt for months to get the right ground blend of lean and fatty beef for the lodge’s famous Drugstore Burger.

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