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!
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.
I have ordered from KOL and Grow and Behold not wise. The lamb at KOL is quite good, but I did a side by side with the identical cut from my local kosher market. The KOL lamb doesn't taste as "lamb-ey" as the local market stuff. If you're not a lamb lover that might be a good thing. You be the judge. I have used the beef from both purveyors and they do taste better than the local stuff. I buy both and consider the online beef a treat. The chicken from Grow and Behold looks different (it is darker) and has a more developed flavor. Probably reflective of the feed and maybe the chickens run around more or get older. I did a side by side of chicken drumsticks from KOL and about 4 national brands. The KOL drumsticks were darker and had a stronger flavor. One thing these companies offer is some very hard to find items in the kosher world such as duck breasts, legs, loose sausage, "bacon" among various beef cuts. The consumer experience with them has been fine and I have no complaints about that. KOL has buying clubs that offer cheaper shipping and maybe you could do that in your area. I've done that here (Atlanta) to save money.
FWIW...Not sure this helps with TX, but I buy poultry from Fairway, which is produced by Murrays. I grant that it is not in the same category or organic and free range, though they are certified by a third party for ethical treatment. We started buying only Fairway/Murrays after my daughter came back from Eden Village Camp (an organic, kosher farm camp in NY) insisting that we buy only meat that is raised in an ethical way with 3rd party cert. The camp used Wise and G&B, mostly the latter. The G&B we bought at a camp auction was very tough and we did not like it; this is the only time we had G&B chicken, so I can't say how typical it was -- it had been frozen for a while in the camp freezer when we got it. Murrays chicken and turkey are easily the best we have had so far and priced comparable to Empire and Agri, and about 1/2 the cost of Wise in local markets.
I love the beef and lamb from a company called EcoGlatt who started earlier this year out in Colorado. They sell humanely raised and slaughtered 100% pastured and grass fed kosher beef and lamb and they are more reasonably priced than the competition. They even dry age their meats which you can only typically get in high end restaurants. If you're lucky enough to live in Colorado, they have monthly meat CSAs and they ship across the country. Try one of their NY Strip steaks or Bone-in Rib steaks - absolutely delicious!
I just checked out EcoGlatt's website. Their kosher certification is a private rabbi that they give no information on. (If contacted, I'm sure they might give more info) They are using the hindquarters and treiboring according to them. I read their explanation for not using national certification, but it doesn't make sense since competitors (KOL and Grow and Behold) do use national supervision. They may very well be on the up and up and their products may be wonderful, but checking supervision long distance is a difficult prospect. I've called my local Kashrut agency before in cases like this and they will tell me they are unfamiliar with the individual and I'm back to square one. I'd love to try this company's products, but for me they need a name brand hechsher.
Certainly your prerogative to choose how you manifest holy eating in our tradition.
I checked the EcoGlatt hechsher - it's glatt kosher meat Beit Yosef - and the rabbi they use is Rabbi Harry Zeitlin who is Orthodox and has a shul in Seattle. I also checked out the process of nikkur achoraim directly on the OU website and have eaten kosher hindquarters when I lived in Israel where they are available. I find EcoGlatt a refreshing addition and their meat is scrumptious! I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they take meticulous care not only kashrut but in animal handling so that there are not yicky elevated hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in the meat.
They are very responsive to questions and respond quickly. BTW, other mail order kosher meat companies such as NYKosher has a private hechsher as well. I wouldn't eat their meat though, as it's from feedlots and corn fed which isn't what pastured animals are meant to eat.
Here's some info from the EcoGlatt website FAQ.
Why a meat buying club?
The answer is “economics.” A buying club offers the prices of bulk purchasing with the convenience and freshness of delivery stretched over time.
Why join an EcoGlatt Meat Club?
EcoGlatt, Inc. meats are the healthiest, greenest, most humane Kosher meats on Earth.
* grass-fed and grass-finished
* allowed to roam on natural pastures, never feedlots
* no added hormones, antibiotics or chemicals
* heritage breeds that offer the healthiest, tastiest meats.
* the most humane method possible as endorsed by Dr. Temple Grandin
* in our unique, non-industrialized artisanal abattoir
* under strict rabbinic supervision
* much lower prices than you would expect to pay for non-kosher meat at high-end retail establishments
The animals we pick are in short supply. We compete against buyers from gourmet food chains and restaurants for these animals, and supplies are limited. Prepaid subscriptions allow us to buy more efficiently, passing the savings on to you.
Our processing is also unique. We have the only kosher abattoir in the West set up for non-industrialized, humane, artisanal slaughter. Our shochet (ritual slaughterer) has specialized training with Dr. Temple Grandin to make sure that we use the most humane methods possible. We combine the kosher value with the highest ethics so that you can feel great about what you eat and what you feed your family and friends.
Is it true you have Kosher filet mignon and other prime cuts?
Yes! We have revived the practice of nikkur achoraim, preparing the hindquarters (where all the prime cuts are) for Kosher use. We are the only company outside Israel that offers these cuts of meat.
For more information go to: www.oukosher.org/index.php/articles/s...
What kind of hechsher (certification) do you have?
Our kashrut is privately supervised and certified by an Orthodox rabbi. Private certification by a rabbi is the traditional way that kashrut was established before the advent of large, industrialized, centralized kosher slaughterhouses. It is still used by many communities throughout the world.
While we appreciate the work done by national certifiers, for economic reasons no national certifiers currently supervise nikkur achoraim in the United States.
Without moving farther afield than we already are, national certification is the key to broader acceptance. It has less to do with factory farming than the spread of communities and the need for standardization. Keeping it privately certified means that every potential customer will have to go through a few hoops to determine whether they can accept it or not.
No US major kosher certification approves hind quarter meat. Hence, it is highly unlikely that they could get it. They might get approval from the Israeli rabbinate (why not, the OU approves products in Israel) or a private supervisor, but unless their policy changed, the OU won't do it.
It's more than a month later, and thought I'd close the loop here. I ordered some EcoGlatt lamb and beef, and it was fantastic. For better or worse, EcoGlatt is a relatively small operation, which meant a) I got very personal attention to my order, which, miraculously, arrived at a remote guest house in rural Texas slightly before we did, with a shockingly reasonable price for shipping, but b) because they're so small, it was a bit catch-as-catch-can for what they had available in stock. I couldn't get a large brisket on short notice, though I could have with some more lead time.
The beef and lamb I did get both seemed outstanding, but, to be fair, I was experimenting with a huge barrel smoker for the first time, and I don't think I did the meat any favors. Simpler grilling or roasting would have showcased it better and allowed me to assess it more thoroughly. The one time I had Grow & Behold chicken, it really was a good few notches above average; can't necessarily say that about EcoGlatt's beef and lamb, but, again, it wasn't a fair trial.
Unfortunately, though I like meat, I don't cook it often (our kitchen at home is dairy-only), so I can't give you any followup experiments any time soon. Going to Texas, kashering a grill and feasting pretty much only happens once every year or two.
Those of you not put off by the hekhsher situation should give EcoGlatt a try, see how it stacks up against KOL and G&B, and report back!