THE FOOD ISSUE
Meet your meat!
March 23, 2010 | 05:23 PMMaui Cattle Company
Do happy cows make happy beef?
by Nancy Kanyuk
If you're a diehard vegetarian, the idea of a kinder, gentler cattle ranch might not be enough to win you over. It might even seem like an oxymoron. But the Maui Cattle Company is doing its darndest to make the rest of us feel better about what's on our plates.
Granted, beef on the hoof still ends up on the dinner table. You can't get around that. It's the nature of the beast, so to speak. But it's the journey from calf to plate that's important, according to Maui Cattle Company manager Alex Franco and Ulupalakua Ranch operations manager, James "Jimmy" Gomes.
Maui Cattle Company LLC is actually a hui of six ranches on the island: Ulupalakua, Haleakala, Hana, Nobriga, Olumau and Kaupo. And while it's a relatively new company, getting its doggies along since 2002, some of its entities, like Haleakala Ranch, have been riding the range since 1888. It's in their blood, quite literally. "When we averaged out the length of time in the ranching business," says Franco, "it was 80 years." Both Gomes and Franco trace their ranching heritage back at least three generations.
The decision to band together was made to both keep ranching alive and financially viable on Maui. "We saw that this type of business, this type of lifestyle, was on its way out," says Franco.
Currently, Maui Cattle Company is a together-but-separate type of arrangement. "We're independent on day-to-day operations as far as what we do out in the field," says Gomes "but when we have branding and sorting and so forth and we need some assistance, we'll call our partners to see if they can come and help us."
And they're all in agreement on the type of cattle ranching they practice. While they honor the paniolo traditions of yore, this is not your grandfather's roundup. Gone are the whips, hotshots—or prods—and loud vocalizations. These are softer, gentler ranchers; they insist on what they call "low-stress" handling for cattle herding. They provide training in the form of seminars to ensure that their people use the most humane practices. So while a cow's final destination is never in question, the goal, according to Gomes, is to make its life calm and peaceful. "We use the animals for food but we don't have to be harsh," says Franco.
The result, say both men, is happy island cows from start to, well, finish. They are Maui bred, fed and harvested (a much nicer word than slaughter). They bask in the same Maui sunshine as you and me and feed on local produce (grass) which is often more than can be said for us. And they end their days here. At no point in their lives do they cross the big pond. "There's a myth out there that says our cattle go to the Mainland," says Franco. The only animals that are shipped off the islands are ones that have not made the grade, generally cows with a mean-streak or "troublemakers," as Gomes calls them. These cattle are sold to Mainland interests, but they never come back. What Maui Cattle Company is left with, says Franco, is "cows with good dispositions, cattle that are naturally calm."
These mellow Maui cattle don't do drugs either—no growth stimulants, antibiotics or artificial ingredients. Not every cow is completely grass-fed from calf to plate, but they've made that goal and hope to accomplish it by the end of 2011.
According to the company's Web site, cattle raised on grass offer all kinds of benefits to the consumer. Vitamin E (an anti-oxidant), Omega-3 (linked to the reduction of cancer and heart disease) and Vitamin A (which may lower the risk of cancer and improves vision). It's the way the market is going, says Gomes. And with the opening of Whole Foods on Maui, the grass-fed-only market is poised to get bigger than ever.
It is a more expensive product, admits Franco. "Like [author and food activist] Michael Pollan said, either pay now or pay later. And that's the bottom line. You spend a little bit more money on a healthier product."
But Maui Cattle Company doesn't just serve the high-end market. They also service smaller mom and pop operations, sometimes even pre-packaging, pre-pricing and pre-labeling products to go directly on stores' shelves, eliminating the need to hire a butcher. "We like to fit every group of people here on the island," says Gomes, adding that if they didn't, they'd "be out of business." So while their customer list reads like a who's who of Maui's swankiest dining establishments—Roy's, Capische, etc.—it also includes long-time local businesses like Ah Fooks and Pukalani Superette and a host of other accounts, including a number of island schools.
The folks at Maui Cattle Company seem intent on making carnivores like me feel OK about our dining choices. With their emphasis on humane ranching, their preservation of an old and endangered way of life and their commitment to local small businesses, it's really no surprise that they also practice controlled grazing, a more environmentally responsible method in which the herds are rotated regularly to preserve the ranch land. And their commitment to protecting open spaces goes above and beyond. Ulupalakua Ranch, for example, has set aside 11,000 acres in conservation easement with Maui Coastal Land Trust, while Haleakala Ranch has 5,000 acres at Waikamoi set aside to protect native birds.
So is there a difference in taste between a happy cow raised locally in an environmentally sustainable fashion versus a traditional, highly stressed, grouchy animal that's never seen a pasture? Studies, according to Franco, say there is. But the proof is in the tasting.
The Maui Cattle Company beef I sampled certainly qualified as delicious. Then again, it was only one taste—not a very scientific sampling. I might have to do a little more research.
From Steaks to stews to kalua duck, Maui carnivores have no shortage of options. Here are some of our favorites (places that carry Maui Cattle Co. beef indicated)...
Beach Bum's [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
300 Maalaea Rd., Maalaea, 243-2286
THE MEAT: BBQ lover sampler. OK, this is cheating, but what the hell? Ribs, pulled pork, beef, ham, turkey and, inevitably, Spam—all cooked in an industrial-size smoker—jostle for position on an overloaded plate. Add Beach Bum's' signature sauces—one sweet, one spicy—and loosen your belt.
Bruddah Willy's [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
1476 Honoapiilani Hwy., Waikapu, 243-7427
THE MEAT: BBQ baby-back ribs. Tucked by the highway in a small, takeout-only location, Bruddah Willy's is easy to miss. Don't. The rib plate comes loaded with delicious, housemade sides—there's even meat in the coleslaw—and fall-off-the-bone baby-backs drenched in a thick, sweet-and-vinegary sauce that'll leave you sucking your fingers for a memory of the flavor. Broke da mouth. (Note: open Thursday-Saturday 'til the ribs run out; call ahead!)
Rodeo General Store [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
3661 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, 572-1868
THE MEAT: Herb-marinated flank steak sandwich. Gourmet take-out from this deli is a cut above, and there's a good chance most of what you eat is grown here and made locally, including all beef products. Chef Paul Lamparelli and Manager Mike Fisher are committed to quality and expanding sustainable agriculture on Maui. The flank steak sandwich is no exception; if you want to make your own you can also purchase ala cart.
286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina, 667-5400
THE MEAT: Pork buns. We often lament the lack of good dim sum on Maui. With the arrival of Star Noodle, it appears that culinary hole has been filled. The steamed bun is soft and slightly sweet to contrast the melt-in-your-mouth pressed pork, seasoned with savory Hoisin sauce. Cucumber and shiitakes round out the flavors and complete the perfect balance—so ono. It's reminiscent of the local favorite manapua, but leagues above the ones you pick up at the convenience store.
Stella Blues Cafe [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 874-3779
THE MEAT: Short rib. When you think of home-style cooking, think Stella's, a family-owned, brother-and-sister operation, with a menu inspired by mom. The braised boneless short rib is so tender you don't need a knife, and with the chunks of vegetables in the thick jus, it's the definition of comfort food.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
1881 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 879-0004; 600 Office Rd., Kapalua, 669-6286
THE MEAT: Teriyaki beef pupu or grilled New York Steak. The sushi gets all the glory, but check out Sansei's tapas menu. The teriyaki beef is not to be overlooked, and Chef DK Kodama just added the New York steak, made with Meyer Natural Red Angus beef, hormone- and antibiotic-free. It's served with potato risotto and grape tomato salad and garlic jus, providing a new twist on the steak and potato meal.
Da Kitchen [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
425 Koloa St., Kahului, 871-7782; 2439 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 875-7782; 658 Front St., Lahaina, 661-6761
THE MEAT: Loco Moco. Next time a visiting friend tells you he wants to try a real local delicacy, take him to Da Kitchen and tell him to order the Loco Moco. Have your camera ready—the reaction when he comes face to face with a heap of hamburger, fired egg and gravy joined by enough rice and potato mac salad to feed a small army will be worth capturing.
Diamonds Ice Bar & Grill (Maui cattle co beef)
1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 874-9299
THE MEAT - Steak Fajitas. If you have missed Chef Jorge Galaviz from Horhitos stress no more, his sumptuous south of the border creations have been revived here at Diamonds. The fajitas are made with tender Maui Cattle Co. beef and can be shared, but my guess is you'll want them all to yourself.
Kimo's [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
845 Front St., Lahaina, 661-4811
THE MEAT: Prime rib. Simple, timeless, delicious. Thirty-two ounces of ambrosial beef cooked to your specifications and served with mashed potatoes. Those who want the prime rib experience but don't have a big bugga appetite can opt for the 14 oz. Molokini cut.
127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina, 667-5117
THE MEAT: Kalua duck. From the faintly smoky flavor to the juicy, fall-apart tenderness, this dish shares a lot in common with its famous pork counterpart. But it also retains the unique richness of duck—an excellent and underused fowl. On a menu loaded with worthy, if pricy, choices, this one stands out.
Maui Brewing Co. [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
4405 Honoapiilani Hwy., Lahaina, 669-3474
THE MEAT: Coconut Porter beef stew. This chef-recommended favorite—part of a revamped menu—features savory beef slow-cooked in a gravy based on the Brew Co.'s popular porter, served over a bed of rice. For a delicious dose of redundancy, order an actual Coconut Porter on the side.
505 Front St., Lahaina, 661-8422
THE MEAT: Lamb Pa'. Pa' is Hawaiian for "fence" and references the stacking of the grilled lamb chops on the plate, which are served with roasted beets from O'o farm and a demi-glace with a pineapple-juice reduction accented by a lavender-scented yogurt. Chef James McDonald says his inspiration was "to combine flavors that I enjoy with lamb in a simple and unique format that is uncomplicated and easily reproduced. I eat this dish often and want it to continually be as great as the first time I made it," he adds. Pair with the Longboard Merlot.
Mulligans on the Blue
100 Kaukahi St., Kihei, 874-1131
THE MEAT: Chicken Cordon Blue. This boneless breast of chicken stuffed with ham and Swiss and topped with supreme sauce comes perfectly prepared—compliments to Chef Drew Dixon. The crisp outer crust and tender, juicy chicken fly above the flock, and the sauce is, well, supreme.
Whole Foods Market [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
70 E. Kaahumanu Ave. (at the Maui Mall), Kahului, 872-3310
THE MEAT: Smoked meats from the in-house smoker. The free-range smoked beef brisket has no hormones or antibiotics and is naturally lean, meaning you can add smoked meat to your healthy options list. Also worth sampling: smoked pork belly and smoked chicken.
Merriman's Kapalua [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
One Bay Drive, Kapalua, 669-6400
THE MEAT: Lemongrass-scented chicken. Merriman's uses an all-natural Jidori chicken that's cooked slowly over the grill, basted with lemongrass and kaffir lime-scented butter and garnished with a shaved salad of fresh, organic baby carrots from Aina Lani farms in Kula, young coconut, cilantro leaf and green onion. The sauce that finishes the dish is a rich chicken jus augmented by a vibrant green curry. Chef Kevin Ives calls it "the perfect marriage of flavors and textures." Can't argue with that.
Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Pl., Paia, 579-8488
THE MEAT: Seared beef Polynesian. As beautiful as it is tasty; the prime beef tenderloin is served in a papaya. Contrasting savory beef, crunchy vegetables, ono spices, caramelized papaya and acidic lime, Chef Perry Bateman's creation hits your taste buds from all angles.
RB Black Angus Steak House
4465 Honoapiilani Highway, Lahaina, 669-8889
THE MEAT: Certified Angus Filet and lobster tail. The lobster comes with a citrus lemon butter sauce and the filet is always done perfectly. Chef Raul Bermudez's inspiration comes from the traditional "big city" steakhouses, but he adds a family-friendly vibe and his own Pacific Rim style.
Mala Ocean Tavern
1307 Front St., Lahaina, 667-9394; 3700 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, 879-1922
THE MEAT: Ribeye steak. Garlic Shallot butter dances with the Ribeye, drawing out the full flavors of this spectacular beef cut. In general, the eclectic menu at Mala is a combination of international flavors attributed to "traveling on our stomachs," according to owner Judy Ellman.
Tiki Terrace Restaurant [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
2525 Kaanapali Pkwy., Lahaina, 661-0011
THE MEAT: Braised short ribs. Chef Tom Muromoto admits that it's his dad's recipe with his touches, but says he loves to rave about it anyway—especially because of the Maui Cattle Company Beef. As a bonus, this dish is offered in the Localicious dine-out special (see mauicountyfarmbureau.com for more info). Besides his family, Chef Muromoto gets inspiration from the great food products grown on Maui: "Why not enjoy using it," he asks, "and support our local economy?"
Casanova Italian Restaurant and Deli [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
1188 Makawao Ave., Makawao, 572-0220
THE MEAT: The Ossobuco (veal shank). Ossobuco is a traditional Italian dish, braised 'til it falls off the bone. Owner Giovanni Steven Cappeli describes it thusly: "You bite it, it melts in your mouth in a symphony of flavors. Then you sip your wine. And the symphony starts again. Once a week, just once a week, indulge in a nice meat dish. It's good to you. But do it with passion and lust—the animal deserves it."
Bistro Casanova [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
33 Lono Avenue, Kahului, 873-3650
THE MEAT: T-Bone steak. Recently opened Bistro Casanova is already making a mark in Central Maui. Their Maui Cattle Company beef preparations are topnotch and they continue to add new items to the menu like Chicken Cacciatore. The fare is decidedly different from the Upcountry location, a result of the Mediterranean roots of Chef David Gemberling.
David Paul Island Grill
900 Front St., Lahaina, 662-3000
THE MEAT: Barolo wine boneless short ribs. Slow-braised in a rich Italian red wine with herbs and garlic and served with mushroom risotto, Italian vegetables and reduced Barolo wine essence. Chef David Paul's mantra: "Life's too short to eat bad food!"
Dog and Duck [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
1913 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 875-9669
THE MEAT: Corned beef and cabbage. Apparently, in Ireland, corned beef and cabbage isn't as popular as most Americans believe. But for those who do like the hearty dish, it's done to perfection at the Dog and Duck. Wash it down with a good lager—the Irish's love of those is no myth.
Max World Bistro [MAUI CATTLE CO.]
810 Kokomo Rd., Haiku, 575-2629
THE MEAT: Szechuan spareribs. Max has been fine-tuning its menu with new Chef Curtiz Hintz; they definitely hit the mark with these ribs, which come smothered in a sweet-spicy glaze and Szechuan spices.
Maui Tacos (MAUI CATTLE CO.)
THE MEAT: Lahaina Burrito with Chipotle Shredded Beef. Chef Alfonso Navarro says all of his spices come from Mexico, which is why their chipotle Maui Cattle Co. beef is so full of authentic smoky flavor.
Lahaina, 661-8815 and Wailea 874-8880
THE MEAT: Cowboy Ribeye. This is quintessential American dining at its finest, with USDA prime cut bone-in steak. Prime cut means lots of marbleing and that translates to one juiciness. The sides are just as important as the beef; try their creamed spinach or asparagus with hollandaise.
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