“Our focus is marbling, for flavor,” Brett Miller, manager of Blackwater Ranch began. It was a warm but busy Monday afternoon; we had a lot to accomplish that day, beginning with an interview about what separates Blackwater Ranch beef apart from the rest.
Know Your Ranch
Hormones and Meds?
“They’re pasture-raised and grain finished.”
The Black Angus cows and bulls at this Middleburg ranch have access to grass and grain from the day they’re born. Transparency is key in this sort of industry, so being able to talk with an expert about what the cows’ diets really consist of was a refreshing experience. The Black Angus cows’ food is a commodity pellet mixture of grain and corn, prepared by the nutritionist at Culpeper Farm Co-op, complimented by acres of fresh green pastures to graze on.
The trigger word for health nuts and lean beef enthusiasts is “grass fed” but Brett later warned, “When an animal is just grass-fed, it takes them forever to get to a finished state. Their meat is very, very lean – there’s no marbling in it. When you cook it, it’s tougher.” If lean meat is what you’re after, he recommends deer!
Fat is the one essential component of Blackwater Beef that makes it so tender and flavorful. A lot of people, myself included, are trained to see fat parts of meat as a blemish, when in reality its what makes it delicious.
- coloring or marking that resembles variegated marble.
- streaks of fat in lean meat.
- Grass & grain fed
- USDA approved
- Medical treatments for cow’s that become ill; nothing nefarious
“You get these people that are out there, ‘No antibiotics!’. There’s no meat that’s out in the public that’s USDA inspected that has antibiotics in it, because they test every animal.”
With that being said, the debate between grocery store meat and farm fresh meat is still as present as ever. On one hand, timeliness, convenience, pricing and quantity will have you rushing to the grocery store. On the other hand, quality and health can weigh heavily on the consumer’s mind, pushing them to buy local. I’m not here to condemn you for either choice, but I do want to let you know, if you didn’t already, that buying fresh from your local farm isn’t as complicated as it used to be.
Blackwater Ranch realized that the average family doesn’t have the storage space to intake the quantities that are normally sold, so they came up with a process that families and business entities alike can grasp. Not only did they create an innovative system that works, giving you the option to pick up the beef from the farm yourself or allow them to ship to you, but they can send your purchased beef over a period of time. This is going to allow families to receive farm fresh, hormone free, grass & grain fed beef straight to their front door without having to worry about storage space. Just as an example for how fast and effective the shipping is: for those located as far as Washington D.C. who place an order on a weekday before noon, you can expect to get your order the next morning. That’s almost more convenient than grocery store shopping.
Know the Product
I got the chance to try the product in what was probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The quality of the meat was high, the texture was perfect and the flavor was spot on without any of the sauce or toppings usually needed to jazz it up.
The steak was seriously delicious, and I’m not just saying that to say it. If it were subpar or just okay, I’d tell you, dear reader.
On top of getting to try the beef in burger and steak form, I got sent home with a little goodie bag of Blackwater’s beef sticks. I can attest to the deliciousness of the sweet and spicy flavors, of which only lasted about a week in my house thanks to the convenience of the packaging (great for on the go) and, again, the quality of the meat.
Know Your Rancher
When asked what his average day was like, Brett’s immediate response was to laugh, a clear indication of a spontaneous workflow. While there is definitely a system down, no one day is like the rest.
“It’s insane! I didn’t really expect to be this busy with it. We’re running, constantly. You get up, do your chores, feed everything, get everything ready,” Brett explained.
His days can start as early as 5 am and end as late as midnight. On top of farm work, he’s constantly looking for the next way to promote the ranch’s savory beef, of which you can order online or stop by to pick up. You can tell that he truly loves what he does just by how many hours he puts in. It’s hard work and long hours, but I could tell that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ranching is so much more than a career for him – it’s a lifestyle. Originally from Wyoming, Brett has over 20 years of experience in running a farm. When asked if he missed the Wyoming mountains: “Oh, terribly. You know, the whole state has a population of 500,000 people, so it’s just what you do there. You go to the mountains.”
As much as he loved Wyoming, he was offered a great opportunity here in Middleburg, Virginia, to run the ranch that he’s currently at. When given the choice to turn it into a farm or a ranch, his roots led him to the latter. Fast forward to present day, and the guy has created one of the most innovative systems to distribute purebred Black Angus beef at Blackwater Ranch.
If you’re looking to grab some Blackwater Beef for you and your family, you can check them out here. A huge thank you to Brett and his crew for not only showing me around the farm, but for allowing me a place to eat at their table.