To let you in on a little secret, when Dan and I first started eating 100% grass fed and finished beef, we really didn't like it- shocking, I know. Why wouldn't we like it? Grass fed and finished beef from small, local farms is the best (highest quality), cleanest (cows live on fresh pastures, similar to wild animals living in nature), the more healthful choice (the nutrient profile in the beef compared to grain fed is healthier).
Well... The flavor of the grass fed beef tended to be gamy and chewy, full of inedible bits. Sometimes it was really good but sometimes it was just not that palatable.
After going full boar carnivore for about a year, Dan and I nearly exclusively ate eggs and grass fed beef. That's a lot of eggs and beef. After eating from many, many different farms' beef, I can see this is very common with grass fed. But why?
100% grass fed and finished beef has a lot of nuances. Because the cows are dependent on fresh and dried grass to make up the entirety of their diet, this is makes for a much more WILD-tasting animal. If there's a bad year of weather, a bad year of grass, well the meat is going to reflect that.
If the cows are not being moved to fresh pasture correctly and are dependent on low quality dried hay, that will affect the flavor.
What if the conditions on the farm are not good and the animals are living in muddy, poopy conditions? That too affects the meat.
Don't get me wrong, grain fed beef is grass fed for most of it's life. All cows are grass fed, even from beef you get at fast food drive throughs. In general, grain fed cows are just fed grain during the last 6 months of life to bulk them up with weight before harvest.
Sadly, these last 6 months are key!
What happens is that cows destined to be grain fed are reared on many different farms across the country. At the last 6 months of life, they are hauled to feedlots to be finished before harvest. Sadly, these are not nice places, I'm sure you've passed by one on the freeway going somewhere and are accosted by the harsh smell of ammonia.
The cows are put on a diet of corn, soy... candy... really folks just about anything that's cheap with calories. I have been horrified to see huge bins of expired neon sour candy for sale as feed for beef. Remember the era of mad cow disease? It happened as a result of feed lot cows being fed cheap feed "grain" made up of pulverized bits of dead cow/sheep bits.
Along with putting grain-fed cows on a grain (and other nasty bits) diet, they go from living on grass to living in a cramped, smelly feedlot. The cows don't wander and tend to stay put stuck in a small, poop-ridden area, thus restricting the calories they're burning and rapidly putting on weight.
The nutrient profile of the beef changes from a grass-fed profile, which is high in Vitams A & E, due to eating grass
Lower in calories (because the cow is eating a lower calorie diet and is smaller, with less fat)
Higher in healthy Omega 3's and low in Omega 6's (Omega 6's are the death of our culture. They are hidden in most processed foods as industrial seed oils - soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, etc.)
And this is still a shocker that gets me every time...
It's called Skatole...
Yes, as in feces. The bad smell of feces, which is in the air of the dirty feedlots, permeates the meat. Try to sense that in your mouth the next time you eat a conventional steak, yuck.
(Don't worry, she's eating a 100% grass fed & finished steak)
At the end of the day, is there a middle ground? Does it really need to be so extreme, 100% grass or 100% grain?
I personally don't think so.
I'll always choose 100% grass fed, if I have a choice. But what about nature? Cows in nature would have roamed vast swaths of land in the growing season, when grass seeds, which IS grain. I believe that beef that has given some grain (not all grain, not from a feedlot) tastes really good!
I also believe that if a healthful food like beef personally tastes good to you, when you're really present with eating and noticing the different depths of flavor, go for it! Maybe you need it for personal balance. Maybe sometimes the grass fed beef tastes really good because we need more omega 3's. Maybe if you're already eating a really clean diet, beef with some more omega 6's will taste good, because you need it.
Just food for thought.
Incidentally, we carry both 100% grass fed beef, as well as local, small farm beef that has been given some grain (non-GMO, which has been grown on-farm).