The morning I was meant to speak with Kate Mead, owner of Mead Ranch Natural Beef, there were 65 m.p.h. winds and it was snowing two to three inches an hour. I got a message from Kate shortly before 8 a.m. — could we postpone? Yup, ranching and raising the best tasting beef in the valley is still at the whim of Mother Nature sometimes.
I caught up with Kate a few days later and we laughed about that morning.
“We use mostly large machinery to feed now, but that kind of weather is still burly!” she says. Kate and her family have deep Jackson Hole roots; five generations ago, in 1907, Kate’s husband Brad’s great-great-grandfather Peter Hansen homesteaded a parcel of land at the base of what is now Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And over the years, the family’s ranching operation matured into the booming business it is now.
In 2001, a nascent locavore movement was gaining traction in Jackson Hole and Kate suggested a small side project: The ranch would keep a select number of the best calves and continue to raise them. Then, they would be processed locally for consumption in the valley. Snake River Grill approached Kate about supplying the restaurant and she secured a spot at the farmers market. With that, Mead Ranch Natural Beef was born.
To maintain utmost quality, the Mead Ranch breeding stock is carefully selected; bulls must be resistant to high-altitude disease and cows are chosen for their disposition and calving ease. These pairings produce hearty calves.
The steers are proof that “you are what you eat.” They grow up grazing on native Timothy grass and clover and enjoy an evening meal of spent grain from Snake River Brewing, thanks to a local partnership between the brewery and Mead Ranch. The hops and barley help the calves add weight and create the marbling that typifies Mead Ranch beef.
Kate is very particular about when a calf is “finished” and ready to go be processed. “We’ve gotten really good at eyeballing when a calf is ready to go,” she says, noting that it’s all about fat; a steer fills out from top to bottom and front to back. On average, a steer is ready for processing at 24 to 28 months.
Once slaughtered, the whole carcass is hung and aged for 21 days. Many beef suppliers only hang the premium cuts, but at Mead, they hang the whole steer which results in tender and tasty beef regardless of the cut. Kate states proudly, “that’s why a Mead Ranch burger is the best tasting!”
These days, the Mead Ranch Natural Beef name is synonymous with high-quality, incredible tasting meat that’s available throughout the valley. Kate supplies meat for many local restaurants and remains a smiling presence at the Jackson Hole Farmers Market and the Slow Food Marketplace. The butcher shop, Sweet Cheeks Meat, distributes a full Mead Ranch steer through their door every 10 days. And, in her spare time (Kate is also a practicing lawyer and an active board member for the Teton County School District), Kate is launching an online marketplace.
So, what meat ends up on her table at Mead Ranch? “Skirt steak is my favorite — I call it the ‘bacon of beef.’ Of course, I love a good ribeye also.” And what is her favorite pairing? She laughs at this, “Well, a great Mead Ranch ribeye paired with Wyoming Whiskey’s Outryder Whiskey [Wyoming Whiskey is Kate’s husband’s side project] is pretty hard to beat!”
We’ll come to dinner at Mead Ranch anytime!