From Pasture to Plate
By Drew Myron
Deschutes River Beef partners with Timberline Lodge as exclusive provider of local, natural beef
In a unique partnership, Deschutes River Beef and Timberline Lodge are changing the quality and sustainability of Oregon’s food supply.
With an unconventional direct-to-market approach, Deschutes River Beef is now Timberline’s exclusive source for meat, providing the resort with pasture-toplate quality meals.
“Deschutes River Beef simply has a more complex and intense flavor profile than any other beef I’ve tried,” says Jason Stoller Smith, Timberline’s executive chef.
Timberline Lodge is a national historic landmark situated at nearly 6,000 feet on Mount Hood. It has numerous restaurants, from a relaxed café to top-shelf dining.
Initiated in September 2016, the proprietary beef program aims to boost quality and experience by making a direct connection between ranch and customer.
Traditionally, an animal will change hands several times during its short life. The multiple exchange of product increases the price at each turn.
For most restaurants, meat is one of the highest costs, with great demand for quality and great potential for profit, as well as loss. But this innovative partnership short-circuits the process by reducing the stockers, auctions, feedlots, packing plants, distributors and retailers —and keeping nearly all of the meat on the farm before it hits the plate.
Local ranchers Rory Wilson and Keith Nantz are the men behind Deschutes River Beef.
Rory, the production manager, is a second-generation cattleman and wheat farmer with farms in Grass Valley and Maupin. He grew up in Grass Valley and worked for Steve and Patty Burnet, who taught him the essentials of ranching. Rory is past president of the North Central Livestock Association, which serves Wasco and Sherman counties.
Keith, the business manager, is a first generation rancher raised in northeast Oregon. He has served as chairman of both the national and state Young Cattlemen’s Associations.
“We’re in the beginning stages of this shift,” says Keith. “People want to know where their food comes from. It’s a growing demand and it’s driven by the consumer. But it’s not just ecological sustainability. There’s got to be some economic stability, too.”
The duo offers more than buzzwords and the latest trend.
“This is an emphasis on local, sustainable and humane,” says Keith. “We want complete transparency. We want people to come see what we do and why we do it.”
Good Practices for Good Beef
The two men say responsible grazing, farming and ecological practices create real sustainability.
Their animals are on a highly orchestrated grazing routine. During their 18-month life span, the cattle move between pastures in Grass Valley, Dufur, Moro, Maupin and Scappoose. This allows for the land to rest and replenish while ensuring the best health of the animals.
The tightly managed system is essential to sustaining the land by reducing erosion, increasing water filtration and producing high-quality food.
Along with good grazing management, they practice no-till farming to produce the hay and barley the cattle eat. Crop rotations and no-till practices are used to boost soil health.
Just as consumers take comfort in sourcing their meals, Rory is proud to farm with a focus on land and animal stewardship. “We’re raising our own cattle from the time they’re born so people know what they’re getting,” he says.
What consumers get is grass-fed and grain-finished natural beef. Unlike large scale feedlots, these animals dine on a blend of grasses and hay—about 20 pounds a day. Once they reach market weight, they are finished off on a specialty barley mix that, like the hay, is grown on the farm. Using barley instead of corn is said to create a more tender and flavorful meat.
The beef is then dry-aged for 21 days. Each week, one steer is delivered in eight sections to Timberline, where it is butchered and the cuts are distributed among the resort’s seven restaurants.
One cow yields about 1,500 meals. “It’s a locally procured product done on a grand scale,” Jason says.
Changing the Economics
The chef uses as much of the animal as possible. Bones are used for broths, stocks and sauces. Steaks go to the posh Cascade Dining Room. Roasts are carved for lunch buffets, and the grind is used for burgers.
“By doing all the butchering ourselves, we can control the quality of the cuts,” Jason says.
Even the fat is used to make candles. Jason is searching for someone to help him use the hides.
This approach is changing the economics of both raising cattle and providing meals.
Even as a seasoned chef, Jason says the program has opened his mind.
“I understood that working with small producers helps to promote and support small businesses on an economic level, but I never made the correlation as to how it affects the economic impact on our customers,” he says. “It wasn’t until I developed the burger program at our Wy’East Café and incorporated the grind from Deschutes River Beef into the offering that it became clear. I’m pretty confident we are the only ski resort in North America offering naturally raised, 21-day dry-aged, house-butchered burgers.”
Jason says Rory and Keith are at the forefront of a fresh approach.
“By thinking outside of the box and developing a process to raise beef that isn’t hindered by preconceived notions, Deschutes River Beef has defied convention and produced a product that will change the way other cattlemen think about their processes,” he says.
For more information, look for Deschutes River Beef on Facebook or go to www.deschutesriverbeef.com.