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Good things might come to those who wait, but even better things often come to those who wait longer. Find proof at the Friday showcase of this month’s Slow Meat symposium (June 20 to 22), a gathering of 100 ranchers, butchers, chefs, and other culinary professionals from around the world looking for ways to improve our meat system with more sustainable, healthier, and increasingly humane practices. The showcase, which will feature demonstrations and tastings—as well as a whole bison butchering—is the only part of the conference open to the public ($100, slowfoodusa.org). Fortunately, Colorado boasts plenty of meat industry professionals who embrace the principles of slow meat year-round. Meet a few of them.
You learn a few things about cattle when your family’s been ranching since 1882. A pioneer in holistic ranching, Dale Lasater won the 2002 Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity. Today, with his sons, he tends 800 cows and their calves on 30,000 acres in Matheson. The grass-fed animals spend their lives outside and get little human help: The Lasaters don’t treat them with hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides. They don’t even hunt predators, like coyotes, leaving the cattle to fend for themselves. The result is superlean beef. But because it takes longer to raise these cattle (around two years versus 13 months or so for a typical feedlot animal), and because grass-fed animals tend to weigh less at slaughter (1,100 pounds instead of about 1,400), slow beef costs more. The Lasaters’ suggestion: Eat less of it. lgbeef.com
A one-time Lasater Ranch partner, Duke Phillips now manages his own cattle and bison herds—2,500 head of each—on nearly 200,000 acres (one ranch is near Colorado Springs; the other sits close to Great Sand Dunes National Park). He applies many of the same principles as the Lasaters: natural pastures; no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides; no human intervention. Phillips also leaves the female calves with their mothers; more traditional operations wean the young and take them away. Ranchlands manages its bison, a conservation herd, much the same way as its cattle: no weaning, no branding, and the only vaccine they get is for brucellosis. ranchlands.org
Get It: Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe (westerndaughters.com), or order bison from Ranchlands
Taste It: San Luis Valley Brewing Company (slvbrewco.com) in Alamosa
One of Colorado’s raw milk trailblazers, Windsor Dairy has 40 Brown Swiss dairy cows and 100 beef cattle that are pasture-raised on 320 acres in Windsor and elsewhere in northeastern Colorado. But it’s the dairy’s whey-fed hogs that have been garnering plaudits lately: The pigs, which also snack on orchard leftovers such as apples and pumpkins and the spent barley from nearby High Hops Brewery, have a rich, complex flavor profile. windsordairy.com
Get It: The only legal way to purchase raw milk in Colorado is directly from a dairy, like Windsor, by buying a “share” of a live animal; you can purchase Windsor pork and beef from the farm or at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market (boulderfarmers.org)
Taste It: Occasionally at Z Cuisine (zcuisineonline.com)
Cottonwood Creek Farms
What started as a small pasture-raised-egg business outside of Sterling has morphed into a 2,000-bird farm. One of the only operations of its kind and scale in Colorado, Cottonwood Creek lets its hens roam the farm’s fence-free 40-plus acres. Third-generation farmer Matt Kautz provides a mobile nesting unit for the chickens, but otherwise the birds are on their own. “Some of them get up and walk a quarter mile away to eat out of the pigs’ trough,” Kautz notes. cottonwoodcreekfarms.com
Get It: Natural Grocers and Door to Door Organics (doortodoororganics.com) for eggs; the sustainably minded Western Daughters sells their eggs and is currently the only retail outlet that carries Cottonwood Creek’s pork