It's not every day you get to sample food prepared by the chef of a four-diamond restaurant right on the farm where some of the main food ingredients were raised. Media and special guests were treated to that unusual happening at Heritage Farms in Whitley County on St. Patrick's Day last week. In honor of the occasion, corned-beef and cabbage was on the menu, along with deviled eggs and mini-cheeseburgers.
The eggs were laid by chickens on the farm. The corned-beef and mini-cheeseburgers were from animals 'harvested' after being grown on the farm. And they aren't just any animals. The beef that tasted scrumptious with full, juicy flavor was from F1 crosses between registered Angus cattle, either black or red, and Wagyu cattle, the type raised in Japan.
"We brought them over and now have bulls, plus inseminate some females with semen from bulls in Japan, because we believe that it is the best beef you can find," says Pete Eschelman, owner of the farm, along with wife, Alice, and also of the restaurant, Joseph Decius, in tiny Roanoke in Huntington County.
What makes the beef special is the marbling, Eschelman says. They introduced a premier American breed, Angus, already known for meat quality, to produce 50-50 crosses to use as beef at the restaurant because Eschelman wasn't sure American palates were ready for the intense marbling of 100% Wagyu beef. One of this projects is crossing back 50% Wagyu females to Wagyu bulls and experimenting with 75% Wagyu beef, comparing taste and marbling to 50% and 100% Japanese Wagyu beef.
The cattle are known for their leanness, and are maintained on a high protein diet, Eschelman says. It also takes longer for them to reach market weight. For public relations purposes, he refers to it as harvesting when an animal goes to slaughter. That happens typically at 24 months of age, as compared to earlier maturity dates for most American calves.
Besides using the meat in the restaurant, the Eschelman's also sell it in a small store in Roanoke, along with eggs and other products produced on the farm. This farm features perhaps the only 'henhouse' with a wood-paneled office on one end of the building, right next to where the hens roost.
They're also starting a new venture. The goal is to prepare and sell food products which contain farm-produced ingredients, especially Wagyu beef, and market it ready to prepare at home for consumers. Just getting off the ground, they will likely concentrate on bigger markets first where consumers are more used to trying things with exotic taste.
Eschelman expects a regional launch this year, and a national launch following that for this new type of product. It's an outgrowth of growing cattle for niche markets on the farm.