Here's a fun, educational, and delicious event for foodies: a butchering class and family-style dinner right on the farm where the cattle are raised.
On Oct. 21, a Sunday, Taylor's Market, which has long been known for its meat counter run by skilled butchers, will hold a Butchering 101 class, along with a tour of the Wintun Ranch property in Roseville, followed by a family-style dinner at the ranch.
As Taylor's owner and butcher Danny Johnson told me by phone, it doesn't get any more "farm-to-table" than that.
The class, tour and dinner costs $75 per person (wine is extra). Add up all you get and that's a tremendous value. The Bee has written about the butcher classes at Taylor's and I have heard from participants that they are a great learning experience. You don't have to be an aspiring butcher - or even have an interest in breaking down your own side of beef sometime in the future. Johnson says it's all about educating consumers about the various cuts of meat and how to handle them. That said, Johnson hired a guy who took his butchering class last year, so you can learn plenty.
This is Taylor's first foray at combining the class with a dinner at Wintun Ranch. Taylor's carries the beef at its store and Johnson says he is very impressed with the quality and eating characteristics of this grass-fed product.
"We've had great success with it," he said. "Hereford is a great beef breed. I like the fact that the ranch is so close. I know the people who own the ranch and manage the ranch. It's a great fit. It's probably the most local grass-fed beef you can get."
Here's a quick tip from Johnson about grass-fed beef: you don't want to overcook it. Cook it medium-rare at most. And beware - grass-fed cooks faster.
The butchering class starts at 1 p.m. and will last an hour. The walking tour of the picturesque, 225-acre suburban ranch - the last working ranch in Roseville -- is about 90 minutes. Dinner, cooked by the chefs at Taylor's Kitchen, will start at 4:30 or 5 p.m.
This is an excellent opportunity for those who want to get more serious about their cooking, expand their knowledge of the food they eat, and become acquainted with a ranch Johnson says is the most sustainable ranch he has encountered. To finish with a ranch dinner and drinks is icing on the cake.
Tickets are available at taylorsmarket.com. You can also buy tickets directly at Taylor's Market when you stop in, avoiding the online surcharge. For more information about Wintun Ranch, go to wintungrassfedbeef.com.
If you still want to know more about quality beef, here's an interesting explanation of the dry-aging process I found on Taylor's blog. I'm pasting it in below (you'll notice there is no reference to Wintun Ranch, as the blog post was written in 2009, before the grocer began carrying beef from there):
High above the meat counter in the back corner, you may have noticed the glass box of meat. That box holds one of Taylor's most valued possessions -- dry aged beef. If you bought a prime rib roast (which isn't the same as "grade - prime", but that's a whole other story) for the holidays, one of the Butcher Boys gave you a choice of regular or dry-aged. What's the difference? The short answer: dry-aged tastes better because it ages naturally resulting in a more tender and flavorful piece of meat. The long answer is below:
Part 1 -- the boring, dry-aged explanation for the box.
Beef is never fresh. That is to say, the beef you buy in a market has to be aged before being sold. After a steer is slaughtered, the meat is referred to as "green". Green meat is tough and has an unfavorable taste to it, but if allowed to sit, certain bacteria and enzymes break down the muscle. In the old days, beef carcasses were hung in coolers -- think Rocky Balboa punching the side of beef. This technique was to age the meat. When it sits like that several things happen -- one: it starts to grow bacteria on the surface (bacteria that's naturally in the air); two: the meat loses water weight. The bacteria contributes to the flavor of the meat. The loss of water means that flavor becomes concentrated. Dry aging produces this intense flavor as a result.
So why doesn't beef taste like this any more? Cryovac is a patented technique to age meat in its own juices. This technique is referred as "wet aging." This is now the standard practice in the meat industry. If you buy your meat at Costco, you've probably bought a NY strip or prime rib roast in this packaging. Instead of hanging the side of beef to age in refrigeration, meat companies butcher the meat in smaller parts (primal cuts or even retail cuts) and immediately Cryovac them. They'll immediately ship out to distributors and stores -- aging in the packaging. This saves time and space which translates into money savings for the consumers. To summarize: you trade quality for cost savings.
Part 2 -- Taylor's Butcher Boys go to work
At Taylor's, we order high-quality beef from local ranches like Harris Ranch and 5-Dot Ranch (both are Northern California companies). Both companies dry age their meats before shipping to Taylor's where we age the cuts an additional 21-28 days. (note: our "standard" rib roast meats (rib eye, New York, etc.) are from the same ranches (they just don't get the extra 21-28 day lovin') which is why it still has a better flavor than most other retailers) We receive whole sides of beef or primal cuts (first cuts of the carcass -- once again, a whole other story that will include pictures!) and break them down (i.e., butcher) into roast form to be cut into steaks later (or sold as whole roasts).
If you happen to shop when the meat department receives a shipment, you'd be treated to quite a show with huge cuts of beef being sawed and butchered -- a show you are not going to get anywhere else in the Valley!
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.