Food

Wine-drinking cows produce premium beef

 | May 26, 2010

Who knew that right in the middle of the Okanagan Valley graze a group of wine-drinking cows?

Kelowna entrepreneur Janice Ravndahl is putting a new spin on the traditional beef and wine pairing by adding a daily diet of red wine in her Angus herd’s feed. She and her brother Darrel Timm own Sezmu Meats, one of two producers in the world that distribute beef from wine-fed cattle.

After watching chef Gordon Ramsay feed beer to his pigs on Food Network, Ravndahl thought she would do a little experiment.

“My brother is actually a beef producer and I said ‘Would you be willing to give beer to the cows?’ And he said ‘No.’ ‘Well, what about wine?’” she persisted, because her husband worked for an Okanagan winery. Her brother finally agreed. They started on one cow for their personal consumption and were pleased with the results.

Mixing alcoholic drink to livestock feed is not a widespread practice but it has been done before. In 2006, an Australian couple made news after feeding their Wagyu breed cattle with cabernet sauvignon merlot. There’s also the ultra-expensive Wagyu beef in Japan, where the cows are pampered with a combination of beer, massage and classical music.

Sezmu Meats’ Angus cattle are given the human equivalent of a glass of wine per day. “That works out to be well over a bottle for a cow,” said Ravndahl.

The cattle eat grass until they grow to a certain size. Then their diet is changed to a proprietary blend of grains mixed with red wine.

“The cattle are much more relaxed,” Ravndahl said. “They moo a lot more. I don’t know if they were talking to one another, but it sounds like a little kitchen party.”

As for the meat, Ravndahl said they’ve produced exceptionally well-marbled and tender beef. Sezmu’s unorthodox technique has resulted in beef that has a bright red colour, nice smell and a longer shelf life compared to regular beef.

Mission Hill Winery Chef Matthew Batey, an islander who usually prefers cooking with seafood, is a convert to this type of beef.

“It’s really tasty,” said Batey who used the beef to make red wine stew. “It just makes a lot of sense. If you stop to think about it, you’re going to braise this meat in red wine and all these beautiful vegetables, but to have some of that flavour into it already just adds another depth to the flavour of the beef.” Considering the beef’s quality, Batey said he’d be a fool not to consider using the product.

He’s shared the story about the beef to some of the customers. And while it elicits a smile from some people, others are skeptical.

But when it comes to food, he’s all for Sezmu’s innovation. In fact, Sezmu Meats were developed with Batey’s input. “People these days tend to be pretty cautious, pretty safe and it’s really refreshing to see somebody who’s coming with such a passion and such vigour for this food.”

Sezmu Meats has been served at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort and Kelowna’s Cabana restaurant. This summer, it will also be featured in Mission Hill Family Estate Winery’s restaurant and Quail’s Gate Winery.

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