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Criollo Beef is Healthy Beef


The problem with grain-fed beef animals finished in the feedlot

Modern animal husbandry practices and selective breeding techniques have created a grain-fed beef animal that reliably delivers a heavily-marbled, 16 oz ribeye. Consumers have been well-trained to choose the steak with the best marbling--marbling is what makes it taste good and what makes it tender, right? Wrong! The consumer of that ribeye frequently finds it bland, bordering on tasteless--hence the boom in steak sauces, seasonings and rubs. More troubling is the all-too-often tough cut of steak; the tenderness (or lack thereof) of a piece of steak can NOT be assessed visually. As expensive as steak has gotten, ending up with a bland-tasting tough cut of beef is a good way to drive a beefeater to chicken!

Rib EyeBeef lovers around the world are encountering additional difficulties associated with the consumption of modern beef. Expanding waistlines are dictating the need for a lower calorie cut of beef; rising cholesterol values demand a heart-healthy diet, including the protein sources. Obviously, the current business model--the grain-fed beef animal with heavy marbling--does little to reliably satisfy the modern consumer's needs.

Recent exposes of business practices of feedlots, from the mad cow scare and the downer cow problem, engendered fear and outrage in people. The beef industry's animal handling techniques, feeding practices, and reliance on the routine use of antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals in feedlot cattle, were suddenly under the microscope--and consumers didn't like what they saw. From the crowded, stressful conditions at feedlots, to the antibiotics mixed into the feeds, to the growth hormones implanted to promote faster weight gain, to the dewormers and pesticides used for parasite control--people suddently woke up to the fact that they didn't find the idea of eating meat from animals managed this way an appetizing idea.

This is when the boom in interest in grass-finished beef started. Grass-finished beef is what people ate, until about 60 years ago, when the grain-fed feedlot system developed. Grass-fed and -finished beef has become very popular, as consumers search for a healthier, lower calorie alternative to modern grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef has been shown to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, up to 3 times leaner, more Vitamin E, and less cholesterol than grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef also has a more robust, tastier flavor than the commonly bland experience of grain-fed beef.

Unfortunately, most European beef breeds simply can't hustle enough of a living and aren't efficient enough with what they eat to finish on typical pasture, and must be pushed with grain and other eco-unfriendly supplements--thereby defeating the purpose! In the challenging environment of our western rangelands, European breeds need regular, and aggressive, supplementation. Sadly, a large amount of "grass-fed" labeled beef actually comes from cattle kept in feedlots, but fed distillers' grains and silage rather than conventional cereal grains--again defeating the purpose! True grass-fed beef is from cattle who eat grass and hay, and have free-range of their pastures.

On the other hand...

Criollo beef is one of the best-kept secrets around. Most people assume, from the lean and hardy appearance of Criollo cattle, that their meat would be stringy and tough as an old boot. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Criollo breeders have known for years that Criollo beef is exceptionally tender, and very lean. University studies compared Criollo beef to Certified Angus Beef, and found that Criollobeef had the same or superior taste, tenderness, and aroma, with only half (50%) of the total fat. The advent of DNA testing has proven what Criollo breeders and discerning chefs have asserted: Criollo beef has the sameDNA markers for tenderness as the top Certified Angus beef lines. Criollo beef has been added to the "Ark of Taste" of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, an international organization that promotes healthful, flavorful, heritage foods.

DNA testing has also revealed the extreme feed efficiency typical of the Criollo; of 8 possible markers, most Criollo have 6 or more. This emphasizes how uniquely suited Criollo cattle are to an all-natural, grass-finish program for meat production. Criollos, with their foraging efficiency, get fat easily on pasture with no supplementation, only needing high quality hay in the winter months.

For consumers watching their waistlines, another benefit of Criollo beef is the option of a smaller cut of steak. Contrary to what the current beef packers would tell you, not everyone wants a 16 oz ribeye!

In summation, Criollo beef is predictably tender and lean, with a smaller cut, high levels of EFA's, vitamin E and less cholesterol, and perfectly suited for grass finishing.

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