There’s something to be said for principle, especially today, in the American culinary culture. Free range, grass fed, sustainable, are all descriptions whose definitions are of late at the mercy of semantics. Today, those words sell.
But 12 years ago Jon and Wendy Taggart weren’t pursuing a gimmick or a trend. And in 1999, trying to make a living merely off of the words sustainable and grass fed wouldn’t have been a strong business plan. They knew that to succeed, their beef had to be different. Put simply, it had to be great.
“We didn’t plan to outsmart anybody, we’re just raising our cattle in a way that has a lot of integrity – how we raise our cattle is who we are. It’s a whole different mindset,” says Wendy. “The way the industry has gone, their whole idea is to produce as much as they can; it becomes not about quality but about quantity. We’re the antithesis of that. I mean, there’s lots of room to grow, but we are about quality -and not just culinary quality, but integrity too. There are things that aren’t even options for us, like giving our our cattle growth hormones or spraying chemicals on our pastures. They’re not even on the table.”
Burgundy Pastures was founded by the Taggarts in Grandview, just south of Ft. Worth, more than a decade ago to bring local, high-quality, ethically raised beef to the people of North Texas in an effort that amounts to far more than a purely capitalistic venture. Burgundy Pasture Beef provides what they (and many Dallas-area chefs) believe to be among the best beef around, grown locally and with ethics that far exceed a token effort.
The ranch, which is operated sustainably on 1,400 acres with a butcher market storefront just a mile off of I-35 (the only exclusively pastured meats butcher market in the D/FW area), is a joint effort between Jon and Wendy, with Jon in charge of the ranching operations and Wendy heading up the business side. In the past 10 years, the business has grown steadily, allowing the Taggarts to expand from what was initially developed as a market designed for packing the meat for transportation to local customers.
And those customers? Among them rank David Uygur of Lucia, Celebration Restaurant and Catering, and Sharon Hage, formerly of York Street. Yes, there’s a reason Burgundy Pastures is growing, and it’s not just because it’s easy on the conscience.
“The fact is, if something doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter to most of the people out there how it was raised,” Wendy says. “There might be a small percentage of people who eat food only because of how it was raised, or only because of the nutritional value, but that’s a very small percentage, and that’s not enough to keep us in business. Most people buy the meat because it tastes great.”
Burgundy Pastures, which is a USDA-approved facility, ages all its beef on site for two weeks, and takes great care in the butchering of their products. And while beef is the only meat they produce at their ranch, they also sell pork, poultry, and occasionally lamb from their store, too, as they have found several other small farms and ranches that raise their stock according to the same principles.
And its those principles that set Burgundy Pastures apart. They aren’t just seeking to provide meat on a local level; they’re insisting that when meat is produced sustainably, ethically, intelligently and as free of chemicals as possible, it’s not only easier on the conscience and the palate, but beneficial from a practical and economical standpoint as well.
“People might say to us, ‘well, you can produce all of this you can, but you’re never going to be able to feed the whole world,’” says Wendy. ” But my response is, ‘You know what? You’ve had 75 years to create your system. We’ve been doing this for 10 years.’
“I’m a capitalist through and through, and culture helps to define capitalism. It’s becoming important in the American food culture to know where the food is coming from – and I can see that happening, and that can change a system. I think that’s great news, though I’m sure it will never get to a point in my lifetime where I feel satisfied with how far it comes, though the younger generations, the college kids and even younger than that, they’re thinking about their food culture, and I’m not sure that was the case 10 or 15 years ago.”"
Whether or not the culture ever gets to the point where the Taggarts are satisfied will remain to be determined, but for now there are hundreds – thousands – of local customers who are satisfied simply to find a local source of high-quality meat that they can happily patronize as well as support ethically. The Taggarts aren’t just two folks who woke up one day and decided that the U.S. Beef industry is a big, mean, heartless thug – they have been ranching all their lives, and made an educated – if not risky from a business viewpoint – decision to put that lifetime’s work of knowledge and experience into something they and others could believe in and happily support. It takes a lot of extra work to rely on Mother Nature “Hopefully that’s a once-in-a-lifetime drought we saw last year. That was brutal,” observes Jon – but that extra effort is rewarded by the loyalty their customers develop after years and years of watching them work and buying their products.
And those customers don’t buy their meat because of what it says on the package. Sustainably-Raised! isn’t posted all over everything, and it doesn’t need to be. Burgundy Pasture works because people can see the operation; they can see the ranch and they can see how the Taggarts work. They don’t need to shill buzzwords, because to them, those aren’t buzzwords at all.
They’re simply called principles.