Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Beef with Recipes for Every Cut by Lynne Curry has been a truly great discovery. The book provides any and all practical information that a meat consumer could dream of, and a ton of different recipes featuring all imaginable cuts of beef. It also underlines the importance of the hard work done by producers and how we, as consumers, can help them in what they do. I have to say that I was quite surprised to learn that Lynne had been a vegetarian for almost 20 years, given the subject of the book, I naively assumed that she would be fiercely carnivorous. Lynne explains that she started to eat meat during a trip in Mexico, when she came across a 90-year old Mayan grandmother who didn’t speak English, and who offered her a piece of beef to try, so that she couldn’t say no: it was her first taste of grass-fed beef, and it had a flavor like she had never tasted before. This where her great interest in grass-fed meat was born, leading her so far as to write a book about it.
“In 2001, I moved from Seattle, Washington to eastern Oregon, where my husband was raised on a wheat farm. Suddenly, I was living among ranchers. And since I’ve always relied on locally raised food, I purchased a share of grass-fed beef from an ecologist and his partner who raise a heritage breed of beef on pasture, slaughter it on the farm, and process it at our local butcher shop. But despite my recent conversion to meat eating, vegetables are still my first love.”
Lynne reveals that at the beginning she wasn’t very familiar with what grass-fed meat really entailed, the depth of knowledge, level of skills, and strength of commitment required from ranchers who use nothing but grass to grow muscle that is good enough to eat.
“Grass-fed beef is compositionally and nutritionally distinct from conventionally raised beef. I liken it to wild game because it is leaner and its flavors and composition depend on the pastures where it grazed and how it was raised by the rancher. Humane slaughter and good butchery practices also have an impact on the final flavors and texture of the beef.”
The book is divided into two parts: the first part addresses all of the issues that today’s beef consumers want to know about (with special attention to Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, from where Lynne hails). Lynne explains in detail what ranchers need to follow and do in order to produce grass-fed meat. The book then goes on to gives suggestions to consumers on where to find high quality meat, and how to choose cuts, beef cooking basics with a nose to tail guide, and favorite flavor pairings.
“It is essential for everyone to understand how animals become meat. There are different production systems, and currently the industrial animal agriculture system prevails. In order to make any change in that system, the first step is for more people to understand all that it entails and why it exists.”
Lynne’s analysis mixes tradition with innovation and highlights the creative solutions that farmers and consumers are using to leap hurdles imposed by the system, solutions like ‘cow pooling’. “Cow pooling is a funny term that came about from ranchers selling “shares” of an animal. In other words, a “pool” of people collectively purchases a live animal directly from the farmer and then divide up the meat.”
Part two of the book includes a ranch to table experience with more than 125 recipes that offer a new approach to cooking and eating meat. Lynne shares the best ways to eat and use all the cuts of grass-fed beef, pointing out that all the recipes can likewise be used also for meat that is not grass-fed… although why would anyone want to! Besides providing delicious recipes, she also gives cooking suggestions to ranchers in order to help sell their meat with recipes, and even by organizing cooking demonstrations. Lynne also highlights the importance of reducing beef portion sizes by supplementing beans, potatoes and grains. “When the meat is so high-quality and prepared with attentiveness, it just seems natural to me to be satisfied with less of it. For me, meat is a luxury to be savored and is complemented by such a variety of foods that together make a nourishing meal.”
As the 125 recipes in the book are sure to set tongues wagging, we had to find out whether Lynne played favorites and had a particular weakness among her own recipes.
“I love braising, and the shoulder cuts, called ‘chuck’ in the US, are my personal favorite. So, I’d have to say that the Grass-fed Pot Roast with Parsnips, Carrots and Fingerlings is a favorite recipe of mine.”
To understand how beef is made and sold Lynne spent a year following the food chain from the rangelands in Oregon to regional meat processors and retailers. She came face to face with the complexity of food policy and health, and with the economies of large- and small-scale production.
“Independent and small-scale food producers of all kinds struggle in Oregon and elsewhere to make a living growing and producing foods. There have been some significant changes within the past 10 years that allow farmers and ranchers to sell products directly to consumers. However, they still bear the burden of marketing and the costs of production and certifications, like organic. It is not a level playing field, and those working within that system are some of the hardest working people I know.”
Over the past 10 years, Lynne observed the changes within the small agricultural community: the artisan beef movement is momentous to the ranchers, cattle, and the land. And we, the eaters, are the greatest beneficiaries.
“The term “artisan” to me involves valuing the craft that goes into producing anything of quality. As a result, Slow Meat is part of the movement to return animals to the land, which takes more time and more know-how on the part of the rancher, to nurture animals and produce the best-quality meats.”
Pure Beef is a book written by an author conscious of all aspects of sustainable meat production, from animal welfare to fair payment for producers, and who offers practical advice on how to cut and cook cuts of meat that are not favored as a way of avoiding unnecessary waste. Lynne opens the window onto a world of good and devoted producers, who love what they do, many of them escapees from life and work in the big cities, leaving the rat race behind to move back to the land. It’s a book that puts you at peace with life. As you can see, Pure Beef is one of a kind and I would strongly suggest adding it to your book shelves, or even better, open on your kitchen counter. Find yourself a copy at your local bookstore, or online here.
About the author: Lynne Curry is a writer and educator who lives in the Wallowa mountains of eastern Oregon, a cattle and wheat-growing region. As a freelance journalist, she writes about animal welfare, organic and pasture-based agriculture and transparency in the food system. She is the author the grass-fed beef cookbook, Pure Beef : An Essential Guide to Artisan Beef with Recipes for Every Cut, and is working on her next book about pasture-raised foods. A professional cook and former farm-to-table restaurant owner, Lynne writes recipes for Food52, Fine Cooking, the Oregonian and other publications. A Slow Food chapter leader, Lynne coordinates Slow Food Wallowas volunteers in activities to promote locally raised and heritage foods and to address food insecurity and food access in her community. You can find out more at her website.