Where’s the beef? Look no further than our own valley | AspenTimes.com

Where’s the beef? Look no further than our own valley

Jeremy Heiman

A Western Slope ranchers’ cooperative is making its way into the local restaurant market with a high-quality, locally raised line of ground beef.

The product, first marketed locally during a one-month trial last winter at one Aspen Skiing Co. restaurant, is now available at four Skico eateries. The ground beef, marketed as “Open Space Burger,” is also available at Sunlight Mountain Resort’s cafeteria and the Village Smithy in Carbondale.

Rocky Mountain Beef is the company marketing the beef. Started about four years ago in the Hotchkiss-Montrose area, Rocky Mountain Beef expanded in the summer of 1999 to encompass the Roaring Fork Valley.

“We’ve been real pleased with the progress of our first year,” said Reeves Brown, Rocky Mountain Beef president and business manager for the Crystal River Ranch near Carbondale. The Crystal River Ranch is one of eight Roaring Fork Valley ranches from Snowmass to Glenwood Springs participating in the program.

The quality and taste of the ground beef is better than everyday hamburger because the prime cuts of beef, with the exception of the tenderloin, are going into the burger, Brown said. It’s also better because the beef is aged for a few days before processing, he said.

Rocky Mountain Beef burgers cost a bit more, but that’s true for any quality product, he said. It’s about 90 cents per pound more expensive than burger meat from major food distributors, which translates to about 30 cents tacked onto the price of a hamburger.

“By doing that, we’re able to return a premium to those ranchers that are participating,” Brown said. “But it’s not going to make anybody rich.” Sunlight Mountain Resort is actually selling the Open Space Burger side by side with a less expensive burger from a regional distributor.

The main purpose of the program is to increase awareness in local consumers that the ranching community in the Roaring Fork Valley is important to the preservation of open space, Brown said.

The cooperative’s ground beef from the Hotchkiss-Montrose area was marketed in the valley last year as natural beef, certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as free of antibiotics and hormones. Because Rocky Mountain Beef ranchers in the Roaring Fork Valley haven’t participated in the program long enough, beef now sold in the valley cannot be certified as natural beef.

“None of the cattle have had hormones added,” Brown said. “But the record-keeping system isn’t in place to document that.”

In order to produce certified beef, cattle have to be traced from birth to butcher, said Shannon Meyer, executive director of the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Fund. The WCAHF, formerly known as the Carbondale Agricultural Heritage Foundation, is an organization created to assure the survival of ranches in western Colorado.

Aspen Skiing Co. restaurants selling Rocky Mountain Beef hamburgers include the Cirque, Sam’s Knob and the Spider Sabich Picnic Palace at Snowmass and the Cliffhouse at Buttermilk.

“Skico is really the one that helped us put wheels under it this year,” Brown said. “They provided us with the initial market.”

“We thought this was a good program, to try to do something locally to help the ranchers,” said Peter King, the Skico’s food and beverage director for mountain operations. He said the Skico’s management got behind the idea because it has the potential to help ranchers make a living and preserve the ranching heritage and open space.

“We think it’s a sound thing to be doing for the environment and the community,” King said. “It’s a good product, too.”

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