On the vast pastures of the Spratling family Ranch in North East Nevada, Harald Wüsthof's second home, the cattle roam free, just as their wild ancestors – the buffalo or bison – once did. And you can taste it!
Grasses and herbs are the natural food of hoofed animals; the expansive grasslands of Nevada are the natural habitat of the American bison – and, today, of Spratling cattle. The animals graze widely, and for as long as possible across these same natural pastures: from when the first signs of spring appear after a cold winter in the Ruby Mountains (a Nevada mountain range west of the Rocky Mountains) and the heavy winter snows begin to melt, until first snowfall in the autumn. Then the 3,000 or so cattle are rounded up again over several weeks – the cattle have a pace of their own – and herded from the plateau back down to the Spratling ranch. Then the cattle continue to roam freely throughout the winter, on the snowy pastures around the ranch, eating hay harvested by the family in the summer.
Harald Wüsthof is one of two managing partners of the eponymous premium knife manufacturer WÜSTHOF from Solingen, Germany. He leads a life in two worlds, working in his German home country and spending a lot of time in the remote expanses of Nevada with his wife, Gwen Spratling-Wüsthof, on her family ranch. Here they live with his new extended family and around 3,000 cattle. In our ‘Ranch to Table’ series we share razor-sharp insights about sharp knives and sustainable beef from Harald's second home.
The Spratlings are, obviously, part of the US meat production industry. However, they have deliberately chosen their own path, giving absolute priority to animal welfare, the environment and to taste. Spratling cattle are allowed to grow naturally and healthily; the animals are allowed to mature in their natural habitat, with predominantly organic feed. The family expressly refrain from artificially stimulating their impressive breeding animals and from treating them with precautionary antibiotics. Growth hormones are completely out of the question! Thanks to this approach to cattle-rearing, Spratling cattle are officially certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as NHTC, non-hormone treated cattle.
On our ranch, we focus on species-appropriate husbandry. Cattle are grazing animals, specialised in converting grass into meat. We do not use any chemicals: no pesticides or hormones are included in our farming.Gwen Spratling-Wüsthof.
The romantic notion of an animal-friendly wild west world is reality for the 3,000 or so Angus and Hereford cattle on the Spratling family ranch. Living conditions for this exemplary, healthy husbandry of breeding animals are quite deliberately set apart from efficiency-focused industrial livestock farming.
In the cattle breeding process, the Spratlings put particular emphasis on the crucial development phase of young animals. Calves are born on the family ranch and live their first 9 months on the grass-green high plains of Nevada. At Spratling ranch it is only natural that a calf stays with its mother as long as possible after birth, suckled as nature intended.
After their first season on the Spratling ranch, the cattle usually spend a further summer and winter on another ranch in the area. This gives the animals enough time to fully develop, roaming free on the vast, limitless pastures.
Everyone benefits from this approach to animal husbandry: the animals, the environment, and the end customer, who will ultimately enjoy an extremely tasty, high-quality product. The focus is on the authentic taste of the meat and the entire process is geared towards this.
After their first season on the Spratling ranch, the cattle usually spend a further summer and winter on another ranch in the area. This gives the animals enough time to fully develop, roaming free on the vast, limitless pastures. Everyone benefits from this approach to animal husbandry: the animals, the environment, and the end customer, who will ultimately enjoy an extremely tasty, high-quality product. The focus is on the authentic taste of the meat and the entire process is geared towards this.Harald Wüsthof
The taste of a really good steak becomes obvious the moment you have a cut of slow grown meat on your plate: meat from cattle allowed to grow at a natural pace has an enormous variety of aromas, complementing the sensationally intense flavour of the meat. A unique taste experience that is best enjoyed in its purest form: heavily seasoned barbecue sauces and marinades, added aromas and salt are all more of a distraction than an enhancement when it comes to slow meat.
As a bonus, this meat contains double the usual amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Feed consisting entirely of grass meadow on the high pastures of Nevada gives the meat a subtle herbal flavour. Only in the final fattening stage does the addition of energy-rich feed, such as corn or apples, ensure that the animals put on fat in the right places, namely the muscles. This creates fine marbling of the meat, enhancing the taste, to the delight of many steak lovers.
But enjoyment is more than just taste. Enjoyment means eating consciously, relishing every bite, and recognising that a cut of meat is perfect in every way. When the knife glides slowly through the juicy, beautifully marbled meat, it is obvious that this meat is of premium quality. The animals are reared well, and their feed requires neither endless fields of corn stretching across the landscape nor the clearance of tropical forests for intensive soya feed production.
Too expensive? We could just eat less. Health experts would certainly not object to a reduction in meat consumption: 31 kg of meat per head, per year, is recommended, but average consumption in the EU is around 74 kg, going up to a whopping 123 kg in the USA. More good quality, slow meat could be the answer: relish the taste instead of gorging on huge amounts of lower-quality, intensively-farmed steaks.
Slow meat: eat less meat, of better quality. By doing this, we would create enormous benefits for our health, the farming system, and the quality of the air, soil, and water..
‘Conventional’ modern farming has developed partly because of a widespread lack of appreciation of food: eating can be seen as a waste of time. If this is the case, food doesn't have to be good, it just has to be quick: fast food. Often, this also means those who fail to appreciate the value of good food are only interested in getting it as cheaply as possible.
The Slow Food movement was founded in Italy in 1986 as a reactive response to fast food; it started small but the organisation with the snail logo now has more than 100,000 members in over 150 countries with millions of supporters around the world. The global organisation encourages a culture of food, based on appreciation, responsibility, and enjoyment.
"…the movement has evolved to embrace a comprehensive approach to food that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture." (slowfood.com)