The Producers series highlights the amazing work of the people who ultimately put the food and drink on our plates, whether at home or in the world’s finest restaurants. While chefs get most of the accolades, it’s often the producers who remain the unsung heroes of our food system.
Havelock North, New Zealand. Jason Ross saw a hole. A meat industry veteran, he knew changes were happening around the world and felt there was a huge opportunity. That hole he saw was that beef achieves high levels of marbling (the fat that makes the meat taste better), is grown in a humane, non-GMO, non-antibiotic way, and is completely grass-fed, making it healthier. This leads to better products that are more productive and potentially better for the environment.
First Light CEO Jason Ross
Because if all that sounds too good to be true, it almost was. He knew that if he could combine the genetics of Japanese cows with the endless grasslands of New Zealand, he might be able to achieve what was considered steak paradise.
“We wanted to create a product that solved a problem. And the problem we identified was that Americans were returning to pasture farming. [But] we knew [grass-fed] It was inconsistent. I also knew that Americans were accustomed to beef that was very consistent, tender, and had a mild flavor. So what if we make a grass-fed product with flavored, grain-fed tenderness and juiciness when they come back. investigated in every possible way. And we decided that marbling was a great leveler for consistency.
As a diner, you’ve probably noticed that the word wagyu is slowly but surely creeping onto menus around the world. However, Wagyu means it is a Japanese breed of cattle. It just so happens that this particular breed reveals its fat content in a unique way. , because it grows inside the muscles, the cow itself does not look fat. And the marbling of raw meat looks like a river delta with white tributaries running through it.
“We spoke with a lot of people in the early 2000s and they said they had total saturated fat and excess omega-6s, which is what you get from corn-based products. Americans have been told by doctors to stop eating so much, but they are not going to stop eating beef. [Instead] They start eating grass-fed beef. And we said, well, I mean, they’re not going to enjoy it. They might eat it as an 8 ounce health supplement. Unless they don’t have a great steak dinner from grass-fed.
If you’ve ever had really high-quality wagyu beef, you’ll notice how the fat oozes into the rest of the cut when cooked, creating a bite that represents the best of this beef: juicy, tender, and bursting with flavor. But Ross’ big challenge was finding a way to reach that level on the grass. To figure it out, he and his partner had to start eating and possibly take a break. I happened to be in their backyard.
“We ate a lot of beef in different ways, and decided it was marbling. And by coincidence, a Japanese family brought the wagyu business from Miyazaki Prefecture to New Zealand…and they flew a 10-month-old calf back to Japan on a 747. Space is limited in Japan. It was so precious that they needed a lot of space in their breeding herds… their business probably wasn’t profitable five years before they abandoned the white flag, but they persisted and We made a deal with them for their herd of wagyu beef.We then asked them to help us raise them on the grass but they said they couldn’t do that. Possible. That’s not the Japanese way.”
But Ross seems to be a fan of the impossible. What he understood was that Wagyu is a cart cow. They were meant to eat grass, move, and eat grass. However, in Japan, there was not enough land for free-range animals, so the animals ate rice straw and grains. This meant that the animals became fat due to lack of exercise, were fed unnatural diets and often had to be supplemented with first aid.
“Cows are biologically designed to process grasses with their four stomachs, and they are biologically designed so that there is diversity in the grasses they eat. So they move, you know, movement is a big part of that, so you put animals in a farm that are biologically designed to do all these things, If you give one product, it’s not designed for animals to eat.It gets very fat.Fast.Unfortunately it’s not good for their four stomachs.And if one person gets sick , it’s not good because everyone gets sick, so they’re filled with antibiotics, so they end up with this animal doing something it wasn’t biologically designed to do. On the other hand, in a grass-fed system, it is very difficult to put fat on animals that move around, and grass is a very low source of energy for fodder. It’s relatively low, so you get only the energy you get from eating grass.”
“So make sure the quality of the grass they get every day in their lives is great. There are a variety of high-energy forages such as , sunflowers, turnips, rye, clover, etc. Make sure you have it in your pasture and make sure your animals are always eating good grass.”
Another secret of Ross is that he is a kiwi. He knew New Zealand had the perfect climate to give these cows the best chance of achieving the marbling he was looking for.
“New Zealand is a mecca for growing anything on pasture. isn’t really good for farming, it’s not because it rains a lot and most of New Zealand’s terrain is undulating.It’s hard to get a combine on top of the hills.There’s this beautiful vast flatland It’s not the Midwest.”
Now he and his partner had to persuade the peasants. Like most great things, wagyu beef takes time.Ross and his partner started the company first light (named for the fact that New Zealand was the first country to see the sun every day), to create a kind of cooperative where farmers and producers could share in the profits. I had to convince the farmers that I had to wait until the cows were in just the right condition before I could send them out.
“Farmers are not in a rush to produce grass-fed wagyu. Farmers are very traditional in nature. is a very lean animal because it has all the fat inside.And farmers like big and fat animals.The farmer raises the animal until it stops growing and then slaughters it.Wagyu, on the other hand, weighs When it stops growing, it starts gaining fat and continues to gain weight, but the farmer will say, “This is not growing anymore.” But I have to explain that he may not be gaining any more weight, but is currently losing fat. . But biologically it does. When the cow is full, [we tell them] Please give me another 3 months. And they don’t like it. But they’re just not used to it. ”
For environmental impact, first light Look at beef production a little differently. They readily admit that raising cattle is by no means the greenest business (think methane), but they work on a few different principles. Because we care about quality, we never exceed a certain herd size. And second, they take a more traditionally indigenous view of cattle, utilizing every part of the cattle and creating an ancillary business for farmers to share.
“Our way of thinking is that we have a long-term view of cattle production, grain or grass feeding. We have a human population growth curve and the animal production lid is sinking. I We accepted it, and decided to stop raising more animals.We will focus our efforts on raising more valuable animals, and cut all costs into meat. We’re not going to do it by piling up on. We’re going to do it by being much smarter by using every part for the best possible purpose.
They now produce leather and sell it to New York fashion houses, but they use unsuitable hides to make collagen. It all means they can bring better financial returns to animals. This means fewer animals can be handled, which is better for the environment.
of first light The crew also cooperated Mark Shirtkerthe author of Steak: The Man in Search of the World’s Best Beef When jerry greenbergco-founder Sushi Nozawa Group Own and operate a sushi lover’s shop sugar fish When KazunoriPasta Dream Spot UOVO, 100% Grass-Fed Wagyu Hi Ho Cheeseburger, Beverly Hills Wagyu Steak Restaurant MatthuSchatzker, Greenberg, first light has created a one-of-a-kind steak club that can guarantee to help you cook the perfect seasoned steak for every delivery.
Jason and James Greer on the farm
So is this the perfect steak? Comparable to Japan’s highest ranked A-5 wagyu steak? In Ross’ case, he doesn’t care about the comparison. Because that’s not what he does.
“We’re not interested. We think it’s something the Japanese do. It’s about understanding the nutritional value and the micronutrients in that grass and its impact on two things: the flavor profile and micronutrient composition of the beef. Incredibly delicious and delicious meats included, that’s what we have, we’re not obsessed with fat for fat’s sake, we’re at the crossroads of good taste and health and well-being. We are obsessed with how something can be created. We want to create something that your body will say was just a nutrient explosion.
First light meat selection
Can steak be humane and taste great for you and the environment? This producer’s mission is to prove it can be done. If you’ve tried meat, seen New Zealand pastures, and met the team behind it all, you might believe that steak paradise has finally arrived.