Nearly every new vegetable or animal that the Black Cat Farm grows or raises starts with a trial run. One of the latest trial runs was a big one. Literally, a really big one.
As a birthday present from Jill to Eric, two 200-pound Scottish Highland cattle steers arrived at the farm on July 2013. The steers originated from Frank Silva’s Natural Homestead Beef ranch, which is located south of La Salle, Colorado.
Eric and Jill know Frank and his beef well. Not only does Frank have a Boulder Farmers’ Market stall, Black Cat Farm-Table-Bistro and Bramble and Hare use his beef. According to Eric, “I met Frank 13 years ago at the Western National Stock Show in Denver and have been featuring his beef ever since. Frank does a spectacular job raising the highest quality beef in a way that aligns with our values and Colorado’s unique climate.
Highland cattle is a great fit for Colorado’ s harsh winters. The Highland’s signature long-haired coat keeps the animals warmer through the frigid months. Short-hair cattle require spectacular amounts of feed to maintain body weight as they burn calories to stay warm. Most ranchers move towards using grain to keep body weight from falling. Highland cattle are able to not just maintain weight, but actually gain weight on a grass diet though the winter.”
Much like with the Black Cat Farm’s signature Mulefoot-breed pig, the combination of being naturally well-adapted to Colorado weather extremes and yielding great-tasting meat led them to favor Highland cattle in their cattle experiment.
As for the decision to try cattle, Eric commented, “As the farm’s make up has unfolded over the years, its mission has always been the same. Jill and I grow the most we can to supply the restaurant. Having no real experience in farming, as a guide, we’ve viewed these first seven years as an opportunity to discover the types of products that make the most sense for the mission. Sometimes, items make the list because they are so vital to the operation, like carrots and onions. Other times, we grow things for the joy they bring, like our geese or old fashioned English peas. For the cattle, they have the potential to have a great impact on the percentage of food we raise relative to the number of hours they require.
In December, 2014, after 17 months of grazing on the Black Cat Farm pastures and fields, Steers 25 and 26 (their ear tag numbers) had grown to 1200 pounds each and it was time to taste the results of the experiment. After slaughter, the dressed or hanging weight for each steer was 570 pounds. Eric elaborated, “So the yield is about 45 percent. That’s the industry norm. In addition to the carcass, we kept the hides (they are at the tanners and will have their hair still on), the heart, liver, sweetbreads, kidneys, caul fat, and tongue. The offal weighs about 15 pounds and the hides about 60. So that brings the usable part up to 53%. We’ve also kept the horns. Most of the waste comes from the rumens intestines.”
Eric is hoping that Steers 25 and 26 will keep his restaurants fully supplied with beef for January and February, slower months for the business. When asked for his assessment of this trial run, Eric said, “The results are in on the flavor. The beef is wonderful. Now we’ll see how it works for finances to make a final decision on whether they will be a regular part of our operations.”
Black Cat Beef tasting dinner
Black Cat Farm-Table-Bistro will be holding a tasting dinner with the Black Cat beef on Monday, January 26, 6:30pm. It will consist of beef dishes, largely using recipes from Eric’s cookbook, Farm, Fork, Food: A Year of Spectacular Recipes Inspired by Black Cat Farm. Eric and Frank Silva will talk about raising cattle and cooking delicious beef between each course. The cost $68 per person (does not include alcohol, tax or gratuity). RSVP by reserving your space on Open Table or calling 303-444-5500.
Trumpet mushrooms, caper, horseradish
Salted winter radish, sorrel, lemon
Spicy fermented cabbage, borlotti beans, gaufrette
Winter arugula, grilled onion, grana padano
Braised beef shoulder, ricotta, olive & leek cream
Parsnip purée, creamy barley, ponderosa jus
Minced meat, fig & apple purée, caramel anglaise