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Meat Math

June 7, 2016

It’s hard to remember, but I think once I introduced myself to Angelo Mazzone. It would have been at one of his restaurants on some kind of press junket a few years ago.

For those who don’t know, he’s one of the pillars of the Capital Region restaurant community, with a portfolio of restaurants, foodservice operations, and a catering company. He has also worked with the FarmOn! Foundation and contributed an on-farm commercial student teaching kitchen.

It’s great to see leaders within the local restaurant community supporting organizations that promote local food, local farms, and local farmers.

Recently, Mazzone Hospitality announced a new beef supplier for its two steakhouses, which are the crown jewels in the Mazzone empire. And while the announcement may not have been earth shattering, it revealed the potential to do something significant in the future.

Let’s start with a number. 50,000.

That’s the number of pounds of beef per year used in total by both steak restaurants. It’s a lot of meat, to be sure. But it can be hard to contextualize that. Luckily, there’s some handy dandy information available online about just how much meat is in a steer and all its primal parts.

So a steer is about 1,000 pounds. But that’s not all meat. There’s blood, and skin, and bone. When all is said and done, you can expect maybe 430 pounds of beef off that carcass. Of course, not all of it is suitable for steaks and chops.

If you just take the sirloin, short loin, flank, and rib sections of the steer, you’ve got 129 pounds of beef. Those are where all the premium cuts can be found. Granted, that’s not all steaks, but these steakhouses also make hamburgers.

How many steer would you need to make 50,000 pounds of just those sections? 388. Is that a lot? You bet. But it’s just a bit over one cow a day.

Of course, you have to figure out what to do with the remaining 115,000 pounds of beef. And if you are processing the cows yourself, that means you’ll also get beef bones for broth, beef fat for cooking, beef offal for specials, and even potentially beef blood for sausage.

The advantage of having an empire of several restaurants and a centralized catering facility is that It makes a task like this not only manageable, but realistic. All you need are the right people and the will to do it.

It would seem as if Mazonne Hospitality could benefit from a dedicated in-house butcher.

An in-house butcher who was an expert at breaking down whole animals could also make sure to provide value added cuts to the different kitchens around the region as needed. And everyone throughout the company would be able to lay claim to using locally sourced meat as part of a Mazzone Hospitality head-to-tail whole-animal-butchery meat program.

Heck, beef stock could be made in a central kitchen and sent to each restaurant so each sous chef could focus on transforming the rich gelatinous liquid into brilliant sauces.

Oh, so back to the numbers. Because I wanted to give you a sense of scale.

That new meat supplier that Mazzone is using tries to sound small by promoting the fact all their beef comes from a 150 mile radius of the processing plant. But in truth it’s a really really big operation. For Iowa Premium, 388 steer, the amount it would take to feed the Mazzone Hospitality steakhouses for a year, is less than one day’s work. In fact, the plant does many times that volume every single day. My conservative estimate is that they processes one steer every 85 seconds, but the real number is likely much smaller since it’s unlikely they are running the facility 24 hours a day.

It’s just a hunch, but I bet that when people want a great steak these days, they are looking for something better than a piece of meat trucked in from a giant meat processor hundreds of miles away.

When you have a restaurant operator who clearly cares about local food, farms, and farmers, it can be disheartening to see a decision driven by convenience over ideology. I have no idea if Mrs. Meaterson is ready to pick up her knives and get back to the fine art of butchering. But if Mr. Mazzone was committed to having the best, he would be wise to snatch her up and corner the local market on great beef for his restaurants.

Man, that would be great. Seriously, could you even imagine how cool that would be? And I know it can be done. I know it because there was a diner in New Jersey that was doing its butchering in-house, bringing in quarter carcasses from regional farms. Let me say that again. A diner. With two locations.

It just requires the will to make it a reality. And maybe some consumers to encourage a new path.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2016 10:55 am

    YOU GO Profussor!!!

    Let’s hope Mrs. Meaterson and Mr. Mazzone find themselves in business together tout suite!!!

  2. June 7, 2016 12:12 pm

    If you’re going to take the time to research the subject and write an 800-word prescription, would it have hurt to make a phone call or send an email to ask Mazzone/677 Prime if they’ve ever considered this? A five-minute conversation with Jaime Ortiz, who’s been researching, cooking and selling 25,000 pounds of prime beef annually for the past 11 years, would have opened your eyes — and your readers’ — to a number of factors you didn’t consider.

    • June 7, 2016 12:44 pm

      I write this when the world sleeps, so it limits my access to sources. But it sounds like you may have some more background to their plans. If your audience isn’t interested, I’m sure readers here would be delighted for you to share.

  3. June 7, 2016 12:56 pm

    Your email doesn’t work in the middle of the night?

    My point is that if you’re going to go to all the effort to make a case for how someone should fundamentally change their business model, it’s a disservice to your readers not to at least try to ask the business what they think of your proposal. If you don’t get a response, tell your readers as much. If you do, you’ll be have a more fully formed perspective to pass along.

  4. WCF permalink
    June 7, 2016 3:00 pm

    I really wish you or Steve would clear the air regarding what happened to your relationship. As i remember Steve even had your Blog on his list before it was removed.
    You and Steve are very important members of the local food scene and this falling out is confusing to the rest of us without some facts or context. Unless of course its too personal which would be understandable.

  5. June 8, 2016 10:52 am

    What you propose is interesting, but I have several concerns. First, you’d be asking Mazzone to completely change their menu since (per your calculations) 12.9% of the carcass is represented in the cuts they serve and the rest is “other”. Even a quarter carcass is going to have lots of “other”.

    Second, cows are big animals. A butcher can’t break one down on a table like they can a pig. Heavy equipment is required. And third, because cows are indeed big animals the requirements for efficient husbandry are different. If grass fed they need lots of room to roam. Niman Ranch, which sources its lovable pigs from a small region in Iowa, got its beef from the open ranges of Idaho. If you insist on getting your beef from a geographical radius near the processing plant (and I’m not sure why it is relevant) then you need to head for the wide open spaces. The Capital Region doesn’t have the right agricultural/population profile.

    Missing in this story is why exactly Mazzone did make the change. Since Jaime Ortiz says the new meat is more expensive, I’m guessing it was done for quality control reasons and they’re being gentle with their old vendor. Pasture raised, corn finished beef raised on family farms doesn’t sound like punishment to me. I can’t wait for Fish to open down the street from me so I can chow down on some of this flesh.

  6. Danielle permalink
    June 8, 2016 11:06 am

    To me, the more interesting thing here is that a large emphasis is being put on it being Black Angus. The moot point is that Certified Angus Beef is a brand, not necessarily a qualification for the cow. In order for a cow to qualify under CAB evaluation, it ‘must be Angus-influenced: have a predominately (51%) solid black hide.’ So if the cow is 51% black, boom. It’s Angus. What does Angus mean in terms of CAB? That it has a ‘modest or higher degree of marbling,’ and a ‘medium or fine marbling texture.’ Also 8 other points that indicate the carcass weight minimum, no neck hump higher than 2″, etc. The main point? Angus is upper 2/3 choice. This is how the USDA grades beef quality:
    Utilitiy – The lowest, usually used for animal feed or… other things.
    Standard – Still pretty much utility beef in the lower grades, though you may see it in grocery stores or some restaurants if A or B grade
    Select – Your standard beef
    Choice – Has three tiers of grading, which is determined by the fat striations throughout the meet, starting with Small, Modest, and Moderate. This is usually your commercial use beef and what you eat in restaurants. Angus usually falls under ‘Moderate,’ hence the “upper 2/3 choice” designation.
    Prime – This is exactly what it sounds like – abundant marbling, superior tenderness, etc. This is where your Wagyu falls.

    I’ve never understood why everyone makes such a big deal about Black Angus. It’s a brand that puts a premium on its name for a beef that takes second place. Is it good? Sure. But if a white tablecloth restaurant puts a premium on its steaks and is classified as a steakhouse, those babies should be top quality and hand cut. IMHO.

  7. EPT permalink
    June 8, 2016 6:48 pm

    If you want the best IMNSHO you go with USDA Prime dry-aged beef. I believe this is available at Primal in Stuyvesant Plaza and Clifton Park, as well as Fred the Butcher. But you will pay a price for it BUT not what you will pay at the steak houses.

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