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Cooking at the Ranch, Grass-Fed Style

Pescadero's TomKat Ranch holds an evening demonstration to showcase their LeftCoast Grassfed beef in the kitchen.

Located a short drive south of Half Moon Bay, Pescadero's TomKat Ranch is perhaps best known to the public as the powerhouse behind Leftcoast Grassfed, their venture raising cattle on 776 acres of land using a rotational grazing schedule.

An environmentally sustainable and more healthful alternative to grain-fed beef, grass-fed has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. Studies have shown that in addition to being lower in fat and calories, it also contains a higher amount of Omega-3 fatty acids beneficial for heart health, circulatory health — and mental health.

In addition, the meat provides consumers a more concentrated shot of conjugated linoleic acid (known for its cancer-fighting properties) and higher levels of vitamins A and E, according to Kathy Webster, Senior Program Manager for TomKat Ranch.

Save for not eating meat altogether, choosing grass-fed beef (or other pasture-raised meats) is perhaps the most sustainable way to go. Leftcoast Grassfed's herd of 100 cows is rotated every one to two days, according to Webster. As grazing cattle stimulate grass to grow through depositing natural fertilizer and regurgitating its seeds onto the ground, the rotation spreads its natural benefits evenly across the land.

"Our rotation not only gives the best forage Mother Nature provides — we are also helping to sequester carbon and limit our carbon footprint on the environment," Webster said.

Nowdays, anyone interested in cooking up a grass-fed steak doesn't have to go to great lengths to get it on their plate: one can buy a cut at local outlets like or the farmer's market. National chain markets like Whole Foods also stock the product as well.

Here out on the San Mateo County Coastside, of course, buyers can go straight to the source. LeftCoast Grassfed and Markegard Family Grass-Fed in Pescadero sell their cuts for customers to pick up onsite, as well as at the Coastside Farmer's Market  and the farmer's market.

But because grass-fed beef tends to be a lot leaner, conscious buyers don't always know how to cook it the right way, Chef Charles Vollmar said recently.

Vollmar, an alumnus of legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, was at TomKat Ranch for the second year in a row last week to demonstrate grass-fed cooking tips to an intimate group of clients and farmers at the ranch's rustic kitchen.

This year, the class was also available to chefs interested in featuring Leftcoast Grassfed beef in their restaurants.

"We feel the cooking demo is an opportunity for customers to learn the ins and outs of how to cook with grass-fed beef, as there are definitely differences," said Webster.

Once the group of about 15 guests had settled in their chairs, Vollmar got straight to the point.

"Cooks have to treat grass-fed beef differently because it dries out more easily," he said. "We have to think about how to tenderize it and flavor it."

On the menu that night were dishes chosen to illustrate just exactly how to cook "grass-fed style" (this reporter's term): Julia Child's famous Beef Bourguignon from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which stews the meat;  "Personal" Beef Wellingtons drizzled with a Béarnaise sauce on top; and chicken-fried steak, where the beef is tenderized beforehand through pounding with a mallet. A kale and sweet potato Shepard's Pie (with a base of beef) rounded out the menu, as did a Caesar salad dotted with pumpkin seeds toasted to intensify its flavor.

On a wood-topped main table hung with an overhead mirror which provided a bird's eye view, Vollmar cooked several dishes in succession while speaking to participants — all the while giving them an up-close view of ingredients both in its raw state as well as sizzling in a pan.

Tips were dispensed generously throughout. "Cutting across the grain  breaks up the muscle fibers," Vollmar said of the meat.

Braising breaks down the tendons, as does marinating, he added. 

Cooking the beef less than one normally might — to a medium rare state — was also advised.

"With a quality product like this, you don't need to cook it all the way through," he said. "Make it less overdone."

Avoiding salt is key, Vollmar said, as the seasoning draws out water.

The highlight of the leisurely evening — which lasted for over four hours and included wine with plenty of conversation — was when participants got to make their own personal Beef Wellington by stretching phyllo dough over a palm-sized chunk of beef, then decorating the top.

Local farmers, such as Kevin and Shae-Lynn Watt of , owners Bill Laven and Christine Pielenz, and Portrero Nuevo farm managers Suzie and Jay Trexler were in attendance, as well as Level Lea farm owner Meredith Reynolds, chef Suzette Gresham of Acquerello in San Francisco and local restaurateur Tim Duarte of Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero.

See more photos from the event posted on Half Moon Bay Patch .

See Chef Vollmar do a cooking demonstration on Saturday, September 10 at the Ferry Building Plaza Farmer's Market in San Francisco from 11 - 11:45 a.m. Vollmar, who now offers a range of culinary experiences through Epicurean Exchange, will follow a conversation and book signing featuring's Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters from 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. The events are free.

To receive news feeds about Half Moon Bay and the unincorporated Coastside between Montara and Pescadero, visit Half Moon Bay Patch on Facebook and "like" us here. Follow us on Twitter here.

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