Herr Angus Farm beef now being marketed to top butchers and restaurants
● By Steven Hoffman
On the Herr Angus Farms in Nottingham, the cattle are raised on carefully balanced diets that are monitored and adjusted by specialized nutritionists. The cattle receive the best veterinary treatment possible, and they are lovingly cared for day to day by Dennis Byrne, the farm manager who has made breeding, showing, and caring for Angus cattle his life's work. The cattle are treated with respect, always. That quality of care is evident in the tender and tasteful beef that is produced.
For many years, the Angus beef from the Nottingham farm was sold to wholesale markets worldwide, but now a new initiative finds the beef being marketed to top butchers and restaurants in the region.
West Grove resident Bill Pew formed Pewter Valley Provisions LLC with partner Curtis Mathias to market the Angus beef to high-end butcher shops and restaurants that are looking for a top-quality product for their customers, under an agreement with Herr Angus Farms, a division of Herr Foods. Pew said that the goal is to limit the availability of the Angus beef to only a handful of the finest local butcher shops and restaurants rather than trying to saturate the market. The emphasis is on quality, not quantity—just as it has always been on the Herr Angus Farms.
“It's really a very specific market,” Pew said. “It's a high-quality market. We're looking to get “PA Preferred” Black Angus beef into the finest markets and restaurants.”
Byrne, a resident of Nottingham, has more than 30 years of experience breeding, showing, and caring for Angus cattle. He graduated with a degree in Animal Science from the University of Delaware, and he and his wife Dottie were raising their own small herd of cattle as far back as 1974. Byrne worked in a professional capacity at the New Bolton Center before he was enlisted to manage the Herr family farm in 1986.
From the very start, there has been a considerable amount of synergy between the snack food company and the farm. The farm provides Herr Foods with environmentally responsible ways to reuse and recycle both the human edible products and water generated in the process.
Byrne explained that James S. Herr, the founder of Herr Foods, was instrumental in deciding that the company needed to make some productive use out the by-products. As the company was growing, it was using more and more water, and a farm would allow for the water to be recycled, too.
“Mr. Herr's thinking,” Byrne explained, “was whatever we can recycle, we want to do that. So the farm became the recycling arm of Herr Foods. The Herr family and this farm are concerned about the environment. Being a part of Herr Foods, it's always been one team and one goal.”
Byrne said that there are at least 400 head of cattle on the farm at any one time, and that number can grow to up to 700 depending on a variety of factors, including the time of year and market. The farm includes more than 1,400 acres of pasture, hay and crop land. It's a lot to manage. Byrne is assisted by two full-time employees, Doug Lawrie and his son, Rob Lawrie, as well as several part-time workers. Byrne also offers work experiences to some local students and college interns who are interested in Animal Science. These students also help out for part of the year.
With more than 30 years of experience breeding and raising the cattle on the farm, Byrne has long-since established the highest level of care for the animals.
Byrne likes to call the by-products from the snack food company—discarded potatoes, chips, and pretzels a “steer party mix.” Steers are fed three pounds of the steer party mix each day as an energy source combined with corn and hay, grown on irrigated farm land, with appropriate vitamins and minerals added. The diets of the cattle, mixed on site in the “Cowboy Kitchen,” are carefully monitored, and nutritionists work with Byrne and the team to make adjustments in the diet so that each one receives all the nutrients that are needed.
“They are better fed than you or I are,” Byrne explained. “Because they always eat what they should be eating. We always like to say that our cattle are grass-fed and grain-finished. We work with nutritionists, and they test the ingredients. The nutritionists will help us make a custom blend to balance everything out.”
The idea to start marketing the Angus beef came about only recently. Pew, a retired plant manager at Du Pont's largest global agricultural research facility, wanted to take up hobby farming. He and his wife, Pam, have some chickens, horses, and beef cattle. When he was doing the research before buying any cattle, he came across the Herr Angus Farms and the work of Byrne and his team. The fact that Dennis was a former University of Delaware graduate served to cement a friendly relationship with Pew, who also graduated from UD with an Agricultural Engineering degree.
“Angus was clearly the choice for this area,” Pew said. “The real story starts with the quality of the beef, and the Herr Angus Farms herd is one of the finest in the region…and the country in our opinion”
When he and Pam bought a quarter of beef that was produced from the Herr Angus Farms, Pew could tell immediately that this was a special product and should be marketed to the high-end markets. He talked to Byrne about the idea. The cattle were already on a superior diet and were treated with the utmost care and respect that leads to the production of a more tender and tasty beef. Why not market it to restaurants and butchers in the area?
With Byrne focusing on what he has always focused on—providing the best care to the cattle—Pew enlisted Curtis Mathias, a Philadelphia resident, to begin the process of identifying the right fits for the black Angus beef. Pew said that they are currently talking to different restaurants and markets in the greater Philadelphia region, currently including Philadelphia County, Chester County and Delaware County.
Domenick Crimi, whose family owns and operates Cappuccio's Meats in Philadelphia, agreed with the growing assessment of the taste and tenderness of the Herr Angus beef. As the general manager of a third generation Butcher Shop in Philadelphia’s fabled 9th Street Italian Market, Crimi had built a strong customer relationship with Pewter Valley Provisions partner Curtis Mathias. After some discussions with Mathias (and a sample of the product) he recently made the decision to offer the Herr’s Quality Angus beef to his customers. He thinks it will be very popular.
“I'm an old-fashioned butcher,” Crimi explained. “People want a quality product. They want to know where their food comes from. They want prime cuts of locally raised shop butchered meat and store ground burger meat. So far, we've had a lot of interest in this product.”
Aurora Pizza and Pasta in Jennersville is excited to bring this product to market as well. A frequent shopper at the local (and seasonal) farmers' auctions, owner and head chef Jim Del Vescovo sees the value in bringing local quality products to market. Aurora Pizza and Pasta Kitchens will be featuring Herr’s Quality Angus Beef “chalkboard specials” in addition to their regular menu on a limited basis in the coming weeks.
Pew said that he expects other butchers and restaurant owners to be just as receptive.
“What we're trying to do is bring a high-quality, farm-to-table food to the market,” Pew said. “This is a labor of love for us.”