Last night I went to a tasting that DeBragga put on for its major clients. It was a big meal, hosted by Waldy Malouf at Beacon (Beacon uses Niman Ranch beef purchased through DeBragga), and we got to taste ridiculously large portions of three exceptional, naturally raised products that DeBragga is evangelizing about. Part of the goal was, of course, to get clients to buy these products, but the larger agenda was to introduce the producers (they all came in for the event) and let them explain the steps they take to ensure a better product. When you see the prices of some of this stuff there's definitely a sticker-shock reaction, but when you hear all that goes into this kind of production you start wondering how any of these people even stay in business. It is, simply, more expensive to produce super-premium, natural products than it is to produce industrial, mediocre ones. Much more expensive.
As soon as the event was over I ran home to check online and was pleased to see that these products can be ordered online by regular consumers.
The first producer we heard from was Denis Drone of Joyce Farms in North Carolina. Joyce Farms produces poultry according to the French Label Rouge protocols (heritage breed, air-chilled, outdoor grown, antibiotic free). He was passionate and had a charming French accent. The chicken (in this preparation, braised) was great. The thing I noticed immediately was a combination of denseness and tenderness that reminded me of dry-aged beef. I'd say that the texture of this product is its number one point of superiority compared to regular chicken. It also tastes better, something that was easily detected in a subtle preparation like this one but might get wiped out by many contemporary chicken recipes with heavy seasoning. One of the things I was thinking is that to make chicken like this worthwhile it's going to be necessary not only to produce it but also for chefs (and consumers) to re-learn how to cook chicken in ways that focus on simplicity and subtlety.
We then heard from the folks from Nebraska Imperial Wagyu, an American producer of Kobe-style beef. I was actually at a table with Lawrence Adams, CEO and President, and his wife -- they flew in from Lincoln, Nebraska for this event -- and was very fond of them. I was a little worried, though, because my experiences with American (and Australian) Wagyu have sometimes been disappointing. Not that it's bad, but often it doesn't compare to the real Japanese stuff. But this product, with a marbling score of 9/10, was terrific. Finished 500 days on grain, with the characteristics I expect from real Kobe beef. I was relieved that this was a product well worth supporting.
Finally, Jeff Swain, CEO and President of Niman Ranch was there and spoke about their Certified Angus, naturally raised, USDA Prime, dry-aged product. from the Midwest. We "sampled" (I use quotes because the sample portions must have been 12 ounces) dry-aged New York strip, which was as good a piece of strip as I've ever had, maybe better.
There were a couple of other speakers as well but I was in and out of the room and missed some stuff, like the guy from Certified Angus Beef. Marc Sarrazin and George Faison of DeBragga and Spitler introduced all the speakers. George Faison gave a particularly impassioned wrap-up speech and argued that if purchasers don't support these products they won't get made and it will take 20 years to recreate the infrastructure necessary to produce naturally-raised chicken and beef of this quality.
There was also chocolate cake for dessert, with smoked-vanilla ice cream. And single-malt Scotch. And coffee. And before the meal ther were hors d'oeuvres that alone could have been a whole, excessive meal (steak tartare, Wagyu mini-burgers, dry-aged strip cubes on skewers).