Grass-fed, grass-finished: Grass-fed means that the cow has eaten only grass or forage its whole life. Grass-finished means that it ate grass or forage until its last bite (some farmers switch to grain during the last several months of the cows’ lives, to fatten them before slaughter). So having both terms on the label is ideal. Here’s a nice explanation of why all grass, all the time is good.
Only pasture grasses, grain, water and minerals, no hormones, grain, antibiotics, chemicals: This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Never confined to feedlots. Again, great.
Pure Catskill Dry-Aged Beef: It’s local, and the cool moist climate of the Catskills happens to produce excellent grass. Dry-aging concentrates flavor; in contrast, factory-farmed meat is usually “wet-aged” (vacuum-sealed to retain moisture).
Pasture-raised: The gold standard. The cow lived on grass, ate grass, roamed and laid in grass, and got to engage in natural cow behaviors its whole life. Interestingly, many pasture-based ranchers refer to themselves as “grass farmers” rather than “ranchers.” They see their job as raising the right variety of pasture grasses; the animals do the rest.
Full contact information and names of the farmers: Always a good sign. If I wrote or called Ken and Linda Jaffe to ask questions, I bet they’d answer. The main question I usually have is about the slaughter. Farmers can do everything right while the animals are under their care. They may even have pretty pastoral photos of their land and their animals on their web site to prove it. But if they have to use a slaughterhouse they don’t feel good about, or if they have to transport their stressed-out animals too far, to me, that undermines their best efforts. On the Jaffes’ site, they say they consider their nearby slaughterhouse “excellent.”
It’s true the label has no third-party humane certification seal, and it’s true that such seals guarantee that an outside agency regularly inspects the farm and slaughterhouse to ensure that a set of animal welfare standards are being met (whereas a company’s or farmer’s label can be misleading or even false). But at the co-op, this is as good as beef gets. Plus, a little more web research revealed that Ken Jaffe is a former Park Slope doctor who, fed up with the health care system, bought a farm and named it for his old neighborhood (my current one). He and his wife have 63 cattle and are politically active in local land- and farm-preservation issues. Bubby’s, a great restaurant in Tribeca, serves his beef exclusively, and if you’re not a Park Slope Co-operator, you can order it online.