Eat lunch at the Cirque … help a local rancher |

Eat lunch at the Cirque … help a local rancher

Jeremy Heiman

If you’ve eaten a hamburger at the Cirque Cafe in Snowmass Village this month, you’ve done a little bit toward keeping Western Slope ranches in business.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is serving all-natural ground beef from Western Colorado at the slopeside restaurant this month. The meat, which costs a little more than standard ground beef, is being used on a trial basis for the month of February. The beef comes from a ranchers’ cooperative called Rocky Mountain Beef, which may soon include some Carbondale-area ranchers.

Delta rancher Dick Hansen, president of RMB, said the co-op’s natural beef is healthier because it doesn’t contain the growth hormones and antibiotics found in most beef. It’s also dry-aged, so it’s more flavorful and offers less shrinkage, Hansen said. And it seems to be going over well with customers.

“People like it,” said Peter King, director of food and beverage services for the Skico. “I think they can taste the difference.”

King said customers are also interested in learning how the natural beef is different, and why the Skico has begun serving it. He said he thinks the program will be continued to the end of the season at the Cirque Cafe.

King said the Cirque was chosen as a test market because it’s the Skico’s only large-volume, on-mountain restaurant with table service. The wait staff, he said, can explain the advantages of the natural beef more effectively than signs could in on-mountain cafeterias. The Cirque, formerly the Timbermill, is located at the end of the Snowmass Mall on the edge of Fanny Hill.

Besides the health benefits, serving the natural beef is expected to have long-term advantages, King said.

“It supports Western Colorado ranchers,” he said, “and it lines up with some of the environmental things we’ve been trying to do as a company.” Skico Director of Communications Rose Abello also expressed high hopes for the natural beef program.

“It’s sort of a win-win-win situation,” Abello said. “We’re all about saving open space and the environment.”

Skico officials have expressed the company’s desire to preserve the western landscape as a way of enhancing the visitor’s experience. With commodity prices low and land prices high, ranchers are under pressure to sell out to developers.

Selling 100 pounds of natural beef a week isn’t going to keep a rancher in business, King said, but he said he hopes other markets will follow the lead and RMB sales will take off.

The co-op started about three years ago, Hansen said. Beef prices were depressed, he said, and a group of Delta-area ranchers got together to discuss ways to add value to their product.

At that time they hit on the idea of selling natural beef, and soon applied to the USDA to get their product certified, a yearlong process. They recognized that their product would have to sell in a different market, he said, because it would always be more expensive.

“What we’re looking for is profitability,” Hansen said. “Our meat will never be cheaper, because it’s always going to be cheaper to raise beef with hormones.” Cattle treated with growth hormones can put on five pounds a day, he said.

RMB members’ cattle are butchered by Monument Meats in Fruita, where the co-op’s beef is handled first thing in the morning, to avoid contamination from other products.

Hansen said when RMB contacted the Skico about selling its beef, Auden Schendler, the Skico’s environmental affairs coordinator, told them a group of Carbondale ranchers had already approached the company with the same idea.

RMB members met with the Carbondale ranchers last month to see if there was interest in joining forces. There was.

“There was a feeling of `why reinvent the wheel,’ ” Hansen said. “In an area as small as Western Colorado, there’s little sense in competing.” The merger of the two groups is in the discussion stage now, he said.

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