Photo by Mark Shelley of Tassajara Natural Meats
Besides fresh produce and flowers, shoppers at the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets are also able to pick up a variety of meats and meat products that come from small operations including beef, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken. Grass-fed, pastured, certified organic, commercial. Au naturel, dry-aged, marinated – you can find it all here at our farmers markets.
Pasture Raised Meat
Tassajara Natural Meats and Old Creek Ranch are practitioners of old California style ranching practices that are good for the environment and for the animals raised for market. One thing these ranchers have in common is a sense of history. They are doing things the way they used to be done here in California long ago and honoring the best aspects of these traditions.
At one time, California’s central coast was home to an extensive cowboy and cattle ranching culture, which was the number one economic industry in the state. Ranching used to be done without feed lots and grain finishing, and the cattle moved from place to place, eating only mother’s milk or foraged grasses, thus avoiding destruction of land, diseases, and polluting the environment. This is referred to as California style ranching. Today, animals raised this way are called “grass-fed” or “pastured” animals, and both Tassajara Natural Meats and Old Creek Ranch produce meat this way.
Dry Aged Meats from Tassajara Natural Meats
Although Tassajara Natural Meats is not yet certified organic, their practices are. Their coastal raised cattle forage in pastures of lush grasses in Big Sur and Elkhorn Slough. They currently have beef, and will be bringing lamb to market within the month. One of the things that surprised me (pleasantly!) was when Mark Shelley told me they dry-age their beef 2 to 4 weeks. This produces a flavor that is considered quite desirable by many, and results in a lower yield by weight on what are already smaller animals than standard commercial cattle. The flavor of dry-aged meat is described many ways, but “beefier” is a common expression used. Dry aging is done for flavor purposes, but it is also done to create a tenderer cut of meat through an enzymatic process.
You’ll find Tassajara Natural Meats at the Monterey (MPC), Del Monte and Carmel Farmers Markets.
Certified Organic Meat from Old Creek Ranch
Old Creek Ranch raises grass fed, pastured animals and are certified organic. In addition to beef, they also raise pork, lamb, and goat. Besides au naturel steaks, roasts and braising cuts, you can find ground meat, sausages, and jerky.
In addition to meats, Old Creek Ranch offers rich stocks for cooking (so much better than the stocks and broths in boxes and cubes) as well as pure pork lard and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) used in kosher and eastern European Jewish cooking. You can even get bones for pooches.
Bob and Terri Blanchard work the property that has been in the family since 1949, when it was originally a dairy farm. Their philosophy is “production in harmony with nature,” and this is accomplished by rotating the animals through different ranges, preventing over-grazing and destruction of habitat, which is what you get with feedlot cattle. This is what makes for “pastured” animals – that and the fact the animals actually move around and graze on foods that are natural to their diet. The animals are milk fed, then weaned, and go to pasture where they eat what they are designed to eat. This is better for the environment, and produce animals that are happier and healthier. Less stressed animals don’t usually get ill, so there is no need for the constant use of antibiotics that you find in commercially raised beef. This in turn, translates to meat that is better for you and tastes great as well.
Corralitos Market and Sausage Company
The folks at Corralitos Market have been in business over forty years now, and are one of very few local markets where real butchers still ply their trade. Dave Peterson and crew still break down meat from sides, rather than having everything arrive in plastic bags or already in styrofoam trays ready to go. They will custom cut meat and process game in season as well.
Corralitos Market is known for the marinated meats and poultry they sell, ready to take home and cook, as well as a wide large variety of sausages and apple wood smoked bacon, that are now world famous. They have bison (what we call “buffalo” is technically bison) as well as ostrich, if you are looking for lean, tasty meats. Both are low fat, low calorie, high-protein meats. What makes Corralitos Market stand out is that their sausages and smoked meats, like bacon and ham, are still prepared by real butchers. You can also pick up treats for your four-footed friends as well.
For further reading, see How to Cook Pasture Raised Meat