Domenick Crimi, the GM of Cappuccio’s Meats in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, discusses how his parent’s shop recently returned to a practice they left 25 years ago. Having focused entirely on getting smaller, prepackaged cuts of beef for years–the status quo now for supermarkets and butcher shops– they recently started getting sides of beef from Herr Angus Farms (of Herr Foods) in Nottingham, PA (see my article on a local deli/butcher shop that has kept to this old school practice since opening) . They’re now the exclusive local provider of Herr Locally Raised Certified Angus Beef. They took their first shipment two weeks ago and announced on January 30th that, after letting them age a bit, they started breaking down the first sides (as they’ve been doing, some cuts will age even further).
Bringing back sides of hanging beef is something you’ve been talking about doing for awhile.
The groundwork for the move for doing hanging beef has been in the works for a little bit. One customer who would come in to buy some short rib, some dry aged beef and we’d make a mixture of ground beef for him. He’s getting more into gourmet cooking. He grew up near Herr’s potato chip factory and knew about the Herr Angus Farms ranch. His buddy’s dad is very much involved with it. We talked about it and after awhile I said, set up an appointment where I can come out to the ranch and see what it’s about. He brought along a cowboy steak from the ranch one day. It was beautifully marbled and we tried it out and then we checked out the ranch, saw how their whole operation works. I was already interested in doing some local beef because more people now prefer local as opposed to processed from your big plants in the Midwest.
Where’s the ranch?
In Nottingham, PA. About an hour away.
What’s the type of environment that the cows are raised on?
In the Midwest, there’s just thousands and thousands of cattle and you know there’s no real design to how they’re kept, how they’re fed. It’s just get ‘em in, get ‘em out. Whereas this ranch, they’re custom raised. They have a nutritionist who helps design their feed and keeps an eye on them from birth until they go to the slaughterhouse. For the first six months or so, they’re fed off their mother. From there, they graze off the pasture and they’re allowed to feed off a nutritionist-designed diet. That diet is designed to provide better for better cattle, a better product. They can tweak the diet to give it more or less fat. They keep an eye on the animal to make sure it doesn’t get sick. The only time it gets needles is if it gets sick. There’s no growth hormones involved. They feed them chips from the factory that aren’t able to go to market. Water used to wash the chips is used to feed them. Very low stress, which provides for a better quality product. Stress is foremost because when a cow is not stressed, it doesn’t tense up. When cattle tenses up, like any animal, its muscles get real tight. If it’s low stress, it’s going to be a much more tender piece of beef.
You told me that doing sides of beef is something you’ve been wanting to get back to, that it’s how the shop was doing things 25 years ago. Can you paint the picture of how it was done then?
25 years ago, you really didn’t have all this boxed beef from out west. A lot of the things the food industry doesn’t want you to know is where your meats come from, how they get from birth to when it ends up on your plate. They want you to see individualized, small cuts in a pretty package in the supermarket. They’re not interested in custom raised products. The food industry is owned and pretty much run by a few big conglomerates. Whereas we as a small business try to keep our products local. 25 years ago, we used to buy local sides of hanging beef and break it all down and get our cuts out of it and market it that way. The food industry has changed so much that they made it a lot cheaper to buy boxed stuff (roughly 20lb. cuts for instance). The cattle is killed out west and they cut it down, moving very very quickly. Within a day or two or three it’s cryovaced, boxed, and shipped out. When you buy boxed, you’re buying three or four of one particular cut. With a side of hanging beef, you have to market it differently.