December 9, 2014 – Environmental filmmaker Mark Shelley was making movies about the things society should be doing to protect our resources, when he started really paying attention and looking at his own life practices. He also was eating his business partner’s cattle raised on the pristine pastures and grasslands of their own ranches in the Elkhorn Slough area and Big Sur. He could taste and tell it was the right kind of meat for healthy living and eight years ago Shelley bought into Tassajara Natural Meats.
“I started with one animal right off the grass, processed it, and found it was really good, the way meat should taste,” Shelley says. “So I got another, and then a few more, as family and friends wanted some. I researched the USDA side of the field and knew it was time for me to walk the walk. I wanted to share this great meat with our neighbors and community, so I said, ‘I’m in’.”
The way meat should taste, says Shelley, is fresh. It should carry the varieties of the seasons and the grasses that grow—the French would call it the “terroir”—which will vary from season to season.
“Individuality and seasonality and special flavor don’t happen when people do all those things to commodity beef, like pumping the animal with antibiotics and hormones and salts because they want all their meat to taste, look, and be packaged exactly the same. It’s just like a tomato, conventionally raised for other reasons than health and flavor. With beef, they are taking the animal out of the animal and making it a commodity,” he adds.
Tassajara Natural Meats uses beautiful animals raised on some of the best coastal pastures in the world. They are very carefully cared for—Shelley drives them to the slaughterhouse in the middle of night so they will remain calm—and they are processed under organic certification. The meat is dry aged, and hangs for two weeks to increase tenderness and flavor, and is then vacuum sealed for freshness. All of this goes in to making the meat special and healthy and good.
The Tassajara Natural Meats motto is: “Take Cow. Add Grass. Enjoy.”
This January, Shelley is teaming up with Chef Brad Briske of La Balena restaurant in Carmel to present a “grass-fed, nose-to-tail” cooking demonstration. The event is part of the fourth annual “In Your Backyard” series, sponsored by Edible Monterey Bay magazine and Holman Ranch. Hosted at Holman Ranch Tasting Room in Carmel Valley Village on January 21 at 6pm, the event will include recommendations for the best wine to pair with the culinary item, in this case, grass-fed beef.
“I think, if you’re going to eat meat,” says Chef Briske, “you should know where it comes from. Experience an animal’s death, and be willing to try every part. You don’t have to like it, but you should give it a chance. You might find something you really like or your body craves and brings new life to your soul. At least that has been the case for me.”
This comes from someone who was, admittedly, a very picky eater as a child. Chef Briske believes it has something to do with all the road kill where he grew up. Like many children across the country, he ate only hot dogs, chicken strips and pepperoni. Food was frozen and processed to the point beyond recognition, mostly plastic-wrapped meat products—the type of things that had absolutely no resemblance to the real food Chef Briske loves and serves today.
“Eventually I liked cooking,” says Chef Briske, “but, thanks to a boarding school cafeteria, I didn’t trust or like eating food I didn’t prepare. I found a vegetarian and mostly vegan culinary school and worked at a vegetarian restaurant.”
Despite his aversion, Chef Briske actually started cooking meat at a slow-food restaurant under his mentor but never ate tasted the meat or did any prep in the kitchen. Early one morning, years later, he experienced his first pig slaughter at a small family farm in Santa Cruz. During the process, a few small slices were thrown on the grill and Briske took a taste. From then on, he was on board.
Nowadays chef Briske is known for serving unusual cuts and organ meats like tripe or tongue. “I try informing people what parts they were just eating. For both shock value and because it still is pretty hip for young restaurants and chefs. They call it Old World food which, given everything that’s happening in our world today, is a pretty good idea. Only a few of the more approachable 5th quarter cuts make title menu appearances at La Balena, and the rest we let patrons decide, based on taste.”
Chef Briske, who currently is in Florence, Italy, eating pigs’ feet, tongues, blood and parts of the stomach we can’t even buy in the United States, is looking forward to bringing these and a few of the “tamer” classic dishes back to share with Monterey County. Both he and Shelley are “primed” for their “In Your Backyard” event, demonstrating the special cuts of meat from “nose to tail.”
“I’m interested in having people experience the flavors and uniqueness of locally raised animals,” says Shelley, “animals raised within spitting distance from where we live. We want people to learn about grass-fed beef and its advantages. And I’m interesting in having people learn about discerning cuts of beef they normally don’t eat.
“One of interesting things about working with Brad is he values and enjoys cooking with organ meats and the tail; things that are hard to find in a grocery store, so people don’t have experience with them. But they are less expensive, have a lot of flavor, and are fun to work with, so he’s going to do something interesting with that. During the demo, he’s probably going to involve several different cuts and probably an organ or two. So there will be something for everyone. Except the vegans.”
A portion of the ticket sales will go to support MEarth environmental education project in Carmel.
“In Your Backyard” classes in 2015 include:
January 21st at 6:00 PM – Chef Brad Briske from La Balena in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Mark Shelley with Tassajara Natural Meats will do a grass fed nose-to-tail, cooking demo!
February 11th at 6:00 PM – Ted and Cindy Walter from Passionfish in Pacific Grove will be discussing the sourcing and cooking of delicious, fresh sustainable seafood.
March 25th, 6:00 PM – Chef Brandon Miller from Mundaka in Carmel-by-the-Sea will celebrate National Paella Day by taking you on a culinary journey through Spain and teach you the tips and secrets of how to make traditional Spanish Paella.
April 22nd, 6:00 PM – Executive chef John Cox of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch in Big Sur and Trevor Fay of Monterey Abalone Co. will take up the theme “Cooking the Big Sur Coast,” showing you how to cook our local abalone and sea vegetables, and sharing how Monterey Abalone raises the iconic gastropod and forages for sea vegetables and rare seafood in Monterey Bay.
May 13th, 6:00 PM – Aubergine’s pastry chef Ron Mendoza will lead you in creating fabulous desserts.
June 16, 6:00 PM – Executive chef Ken MacDonald from Edgars at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley and Jamie Collins, owner of Carmel’s Serendipity Farms, will take you from garden to table, discussing how to plant your garden with your menus in mind and providing tips for cooking your harvest.
Reservations are required for all classes and the cost for each event is $25 per person. Classes are $10 for wine club members. This includes the class, wine tasting, small bites, and meeting, learning and sampling from a local artisan. A portion of the class proceeds will benefit the local charity organizations. To make reservations call 831-659-2640 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.