How to buy local meat in the Catskills

To buy local meat in the Catskills, you've got to know where to look. But the extra effort pays delicious dividends -- like this grass-fed ribeye from Liddle Farm in the Delaware County hamlet of Halcottsville. Photo from the Facebook page of AgriForaging, Inc., a local farm consulting business. 

Buying locally raised meat is more complicated than buying vegetables, partly because sales of pork, beef, lamb, poultry and goat are subject to different sets of regulations.

Raising livestock is seasonal, so supplies at farmers’ markets and farmstands vary. Lambs, calves and chicks are born in the spring and must be nurtured through the warm months until it’s time for slaughter. Farmers may go months without meat to sell; then suddenly they’ll have a glut. For some folks, it makes sense to purchase a half, quarter, or whole cow or a half or whole pig at a time, and freeze it. Just like at a big box store, buying in bulk saves you money, and it keeps well.

Many farmers who sell meat in small quantities at farmers’ markets also sell in bulk if you pre-order. Another excellent way to buy local meat in bulk is to seek advice from a local meat processor or slaughterhouse, says Nicole Day Gray, who runs the farm consulting business AgriForaging, Inc.

“The processors know all the farmers,” she said. “Call them up and ask them, ‘Where can I buy a cow?’”

Three slaughterhouses licensed by the USDA to process red meat serve most Catskills farms: Steiner Packing Co. (Otego, 607-988-7723), Eklund’s Processing Inc. (Stamford, 607-435-8171) and Larry’s Custom Meats (Hartwick, 607-293-7927).

What an animal eats changes how it tastes. It seems obvious, but farmers say customers are often surprised when they buy a goat, lamb or cow that has eaten only grass, not grain.

“If you cook it like you cook stuff from the supermarket, it’s going to end up like shoe-leather and you’ll never come back,” said David Burris, the farm operations manager for Argyle Farms in Andes.

Animals that have eaten mainly grass are leaner than animals raised on grain. The lack of fat makes the meat dry out faster. To cook it right, you need “lower temperatures, longer time,” Burris said.

Some farmers raise their animals on pasture and then finish them on grain, which makes the meat more tender.

“When they’re big enough, I bring them down to a barn and I give them corn and minerals -- a salt-block -- and grain for the last three months,” said Linda Weinmann, who raises about 80 calves a year on her farm in Hobart.

For more info on buying and cooking grass-fed meat, see The Grassfed Gourmet cookbook by Schoharie County farmer Shannon Hayes.

This article originally appeared in the print version of the 2014 Catskills Food Guide, our annual publication covering local farms, restaurants and food purveyors. Find a copy near you here. Find a farm, market, restaurant or other food-related business in our searchable, sortable online database here.