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Dec 30, 2007 10:29 AM

Prime rib: Marin Sun Farms vs. Niman

For the last few years, I've been buying dry-aged Niman prime rib roasts from Cafe Rouge in Berkeley for a holiday party. To me, that's the gold standard for beef.

This year they told me they would charge me $10 a pound extra to tie the fat cap back on, so I went to Baron's instead. Baron's had a choice of dry-aged prime rib roasts: Niman (grass-fed, grain-finished) and Marin Sun Farms (all grass-fed, local, effectively organic), so for a change I thought I'd try the latter.

It was delicious, but it did not have the marbling or intense aged flavor of my usual Niman. If I'd tasted it blind I'm not sure I would even have guessed it was dry-aged—it didn't really taste much different than a relatively inexpensive Choice-grade prime rib roast I bought from Costco.

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  1. Link:

    Baron's Meat & Poultry
    1650 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

    1. We had Niman filet mignon for Christmas (from Canyon Market in SF), and it was the tenderest beef I've ever eaten. Not necessarily the most flavorful, but unbeatable texture.

      1. $10 a pound extra!!!??!??! Not $10 extra?

        1 Reply
        1. re: twocents

          The guy said $10 a pound. I'm not sure that's what he meant.

          They always did it for free in the past, as did Baron's this time.

        2. Next year, consider Prather Ranch. I had a prime rib from them in August that was superb. The grain-finish results in more tender, flavorful, and rich meat than MSF, and they do an excellent job with dry-aging. Overall, I think their beef is far superior to both Niman and MSF. You can special order prime rib through their farmers' market stands.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            I was going to try Prather this year, but by the time they answered my email I'd already ordered from Rouge, which did not charge extra for tying the fat cap back on.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Prather sells at the Marin Farmers market.
              I don't it possible that they bring their lowest quality product to sell there? Everything I've purchased from there has been fatty and tough so I've given up. Could it be the venue or the brand as a whole?

              1. re: MSK

                Which cuts did you buy?

                Their Web site says that in 2004 they "began testing for the tenderness gene in herd sires," so maybe they're aware of the issue.

          2. I will second Robert's earlier post on comparison of Cafe Rouge sourced beef vs Marin Sun, with added notes. First, I ordered the longest dry-aged standing rib they had at CR which could have been Niman or the ranch in Oregon they were getting beef from (forgive my forgetting its name and which beef we ordered--it was 3 years ago); and as Robert suggests, it was the best beef roast I have ever eaten. Most expensive too. Second: as for Marin Sun, I love their hamburger and have enjoyed other inexpensive long-cooking cuts, but the rib and other steaks (have not tried prime rib)were not as tasty. Based on this experience and appearance I also have only tried less pricey cuts from Prather as well.

            Anyone else with similar experience: lesser cuts better than the more elegant ones from grass-fed beef? ( I also should admit my personal preference for braised beef dishes over plain roasts.)

            7 Replies
            1. re: alfairfax

              As a matter of science, I don't think the "elegant" cuts are really so elegant as "grass fed beef," which usually lends itself to quick cooking, don't have many fats to melt through the muscle.

              1. re: alfairfax

                I bought organic, grass-fed Eel River beef from Green Grocer in Windsor before it closed down the retail operation and converted to strictly catering. The prime rib was dry-aged and could be purchased as individual chops. I got a hulking big one that was probably the equivalent of a 2-bone roast, seasoned it, seared off in a pan, and then slow-roasted to rare. We all thought it was the best local beef we'd eaten. Nicely marbled, depth of flavor, clean minerally, grassy finish. Drinking the 1975 Phelps "Eisele" CS with it didn't hurt either.

                I know that Willowside ages grassfed beef from Humboldt. I'll have to check to see if it is Eel River or not. A friend got her Christmas prime rib roast there last year and raved.

                Willowside Meats & Sausage
                3421 Guerneville Rd, Santa Rosa, CA

                Green Grocer
                Windsor, CA, Windsor, CA

                1. re: alfairfax

                  I think with grass fed beef, you have to cook the steaks pretty gently (lower heat, to medium rare at most), otherwise they toughen up.

                  Prather finishes their beef on grain, so their flavor and texture is somewhat different from 100% grass fed, like Marin Sun, so you might want to give Prather a try. I personally really like Prather ribeye steaks, which to me are a nice compromise between the chewy and gamey 100% grassfed and the soft and fatty cornfed stuff.

                  That said, Prather oxtails and ribs (flanken is what I think they call them) are incredible. Really, really flavorful and tender. And the ground meat makes awesome burgers. Since they are so much cheaper than "prime," maybe that is the way to have your ethical meat and eat it too.

                  1. re: alfairfax

                    The only grass-fed steak I've had that I really liked was an Estancia rib-eye at the late El Raigon. I feel like it's better for braising.

                    I'll give Magruder a try sometime if I can find and afford it. Their meat I've had has all been extraordinary.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I heard Magruder and Canales at a talk at Cal several months ago. Canales talked about the aging program he'd instituted at Oliveto. So, if you buy Magruder beef elsewhere, it might not hit the same heights.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I've bought Magruder beef and pork at Cafe Rouge.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Marsha McBride of Cafe Rouge was a panelist too. The sound bite I most remember was Mac Magruder's emphasizing that his task is to raise the best grass and pasture possible. The resulting meat is the way he harvests his crop.