INSIDE Chico State
0 November 21, 2002
Volume 33 Number 7
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Project Beefs Up Quality for Sierra Nevada Restaurant

Dave Daley, right, and Dennis Lee, student herdsman at the beef unit, work together on the Sierra Nevada project.

Dave Daley, right, and Dennis Lee, student herdsman at the beef unit, work together on the Sierra Nevada project. Lee, a senior animal science major from Fallon, Nevada, manages the feeding for the project.

Cow

Beef that "tastes the way it used to" is a hit on the menu at the Sierra Nevada Restaurant and Tap Room in Chico, due to an innovative partnership with the College of Agriculture.

Professor Dave Daley, his colleagues, and students have been working with Sierra Nevada Brewery to produce premium natural beef for their restaurant by raising a small herd of cattle and feeding them brewery grains.

"This is a story in innovative marketing, as well as managing waste by-products," Daley said.

Daley was approached by Stan Cooper of Fairfield Feeds, who worked with Sierra Nevada to haul away about 150 tons of brewery grains left from the fermentation of hops, barley, and yeast every day. Historically, this wet mash was sold to add to dairy cattle rations, so the brewery management wondered if they could feed it to beef cattle of their own. Cooper suggested "keeping things local" by working with the College of Agriculture, and a great working relationship was born.

"Ken Grossman is very easy to work with," Daley said of Sierra Nevada's owner and founder. "He wants to give back to the community." Showing that the feeling is mutual, Bob Littell, the restaurant's general manager, said, "The ag department has been incredible. We think the partnership will continue for a long time."

The concept was simple: Sierra Nevada would buy the cattle and supply the mash, the university would feed the cattle at the University Farm and process the meat at its U.S. Department of Agriculture packing plant, and the restaurant would serve the all-natural, locally produced beef.

Sierra Nevada purchased the first herd of 40 beef cattle in Nov. 2001 from Clinton Lowe of Orland, a 1999 CSU, Chico agriculture graduate. The animals were guaranteed free of growth promotants and antibiotics. "The Sierra Nevada consumer prefers a natural product," Daley said, "and Ken wanted a story to tell, one of superior quality."

The cattle were fed for 100 days on a blend of brewery grains, corn, alfalfa hay, and minerals. A.L. Gilbert, California's leading animal nutrition company, helped create a naturally balanced diet.

The first meats were processed in March and began appearing as weekend specials in the restaurant. "The reviews have been wonderful," Daley said. "On graduation weekend, they ran out the first night."

The project gives university students a real-world view of the industry. They see the process from purchase of the herd through care and feeding, processing, marketing, and economics.

Daley cites numerous research opportunities: evaluating brewery grains as feed, experimenting with aging times, tracking cuts from each animal, and creating a data set to improve the process. Before slaughter, students work with Professor Wes Patton to do an ultrasound, looking at fat and marbling in the rib eye area, to make sure the animals are ready for processing and to insure a premium product.

The Sierra Nevada special beef may be in short supply until the next herd -- probably 150 -- is purchased and raised. Then restaurant patrons will be able to choose from all-natural beef stir fry, beef salad, rib eye and New York steaks, filet mignon, and burgers. There's even a Sierra Nevada natural beef jerky in jalapeņo, teriyaki, and plain peppered flavors.

As the size of the herd increases, Sierra Nevada hopes to use the CSU, Chico-raised natural beef exclusively.

Francine Gair

 

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