High-end, mail-order, free-range 'organic' meat
There are now at least three online sources for 'organic' meats from small producers: KOL, Wise and Grow & Behold. Maybe there are more. They're all very expensive, especially with shipping, but we eat meat very rarely, and would consider an occasional splurge for a special occasion.
I'd be interested in hearing whether people have tried these (or other) brands -- especially if anyone tried more than one and can compare.
Which products have you tried? How were they? How did they compare to other kosher meats? How did they compare against each other? How was the service/delivery/consumer experience? Would you order again?
If I'm going to spend $15-20/lb on meat, it should be really amazing.
(NOTE: please do NOT weigh in, if you think the whole idea of small farms and free-range meats is nonsense; I don't want a debate on morality and kashruth. This is intended for people who already want or have some information about these products, so please don't try to convince us otherwise).
I've had Grow & Behold and Wise. The Grow & Behold beef was very good and not that much more expensive than beef at the Manhattan kosher stores. I've had the chicken too and like it, but the premium over the conventional chicken is enough that I've personally only bought it when I needed to round out an order.
I'm not sure if Wise really belongs in the same category as the other two. I believe they claim to be organic and free range, but neither term means much on its own. They are also available at a number of grocery stores. I guess if Sam Adams qualifies as a craft brewery, then Wise would fit in the same category as KOL/G&B. I haven't noticed as much of a taste difference with Wise, so besides the "organic" label, I haven't really had a reason to buy them.
I think you're right about Wise being a bit analogous to Sam Adams, but since they're available by mail order and they're loosely in this category, I thought I'd include them.
I need the stuff shipped to Texas, where I'll be going for the Dec holidays, and where the local pickins are pretty slim. There's some kosher meat, but not the more specialized stuff I was considering splurging on.
Thanks for the input -- now, hopefully we'll get someone to weigh in on KOL!
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I have tried all three.
First, I'd echo avitrek in terms of Wise not being in the same category. They feed their chickens organic feed, but that is about it. I emailed them to ask about their free-range practices, multiple times, and they never wrote back, so if you are concerned about humane treatment of animals, I'm not sure they are any better than standard supermarket fare.
I order from both Kol Foods and Grow and Behold regularly. They are both excellent in terms of taste and quality. I usually order lamb from Kol Foods, and chicken, turkey, beef from Grow and Behold. The advantage to Grow and Behold is that they do frequent drop-offs in NYC (not helpful for your trip to TX, obviously) and I think their standards for humane slaughter are tighter. Kol Foods does carry some beef from South America that is still slaughtered with shackle and hoist, although they fully disclose which beef products are slaughtered this way, so you can choose to avoid that if it is important to you. In terms of the comments about KF being inconvenient in the past: this is probably because years ago, they required you buy a "pack" and limited a buyers ability to choose individual cuts. However, that has not been the case for the last couple of years, and I have always been very pleased with my orders.
With both G&B and KF, I've had guests rave about the beef or poultry I was serving, asking where I got it, so there is definitely a significant taste advantage. And they are both very transparent about their standards on sustainability, local, humane treatment of animals, etc, so you can read their websites and judge for yourself. Personally, I find it to be well worth the price, and highly recommend both.
I order beef from KOL regularly. I was not unhappy with the quality of meat at my local kosher butcher, but use KOL because I am concerned about humane treatment of animals, environmental and health issues.
Generally their beef is flavorful but tougher than what you'd buy at a store. That's because grass fed beef is much leaner. I've been very happy with the cuts for braising - pot roast, chuck roast, top of rib roast - because the braising tenderizes it. Also, the rib steaks were great - I guess even a lower fat rib steak has plenty of fat to make it tender. However, when I tried to stir fry the flank steak or skirt steak, they were pretty chewy. I thought it was still OK, but the rest of my family didn't.
I was a regular customer of Grow and Behold, but I switched to KOL Foods when I found out that Grow and Behold's beef is fed corn. I really wanted 100% grass-fed for its health values. My respected doctor, who is on the list of 100 top doctors tells me that grass-fed is going to measurably improve the health of everyone, and I want our food system to change so people are healthy. Eat Wild has a good summary of the health benefits: http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits....
Good luck in you're decision!
My understanding is that Grow and Behold requires the cows be grass-fed except for finishing, and that they can be finished on a mix of corn and grass. Not disagreeing that this is different than KF (and I as I mentioned, I am a fan of KF as well) but I think it can be misleading to say G&B beef is fed corn, when it is only a mix during the finishing process.