At the new Graze Burgers in Westerly, your beef is grass-fed one town over
Westerly — Because the structure of American Aberdeen cattle is smaller, it is easier for them to calve — give birth — and the process doesn't require human help or intervention. And so those who work at JW Beef in Stonington sometimes start their days to find that a new calf has appeared overnight.
That calf will eat hay in the fall and winter, and grass in the spring and summer, when cattle are rotated on a weekly basis among six pastures. At 20-24 months, steer will be sent to slaughter about 50 miles away, at Rhode Island Beef & Veal.
The beef then ends up at Graze Burgers, a Westerly restaurant that sells 100 percent grass-fed beef, just eight miles away from the farm.
"When you have a burger here, it comes from one animal," said Josh Welch, owner of JW Beef and Graze. "I can tell you what animal that was. I can tell you what that animal ate."
Depending on one's views, that level of specificity may be appealing or appalling. But it's the steering force behind Graze, which opened at 127 Granite St. in Westerly — formerly a Cumberland Farms — in October.
Welch said he and the other owners of Graze — Dave Newton Parr and Kevin Bowdler — "don't really hit people over the head with the farm-to-table. That's not our thing. Our thing is just keep the prices low."
The prices are $6.95 for a burger, $2.75 for small fries and $4.95 for a shake; those are their three main products.
Welch and Parr made trips to Worthy Burger in Vermont to try their fries, which have the distinction of being cooked in beef tallow — cooked and strained animal fat. Both loved the fries, saying the taste is better and the fries are more filling, and decided to use the same method.
McDonald's used to cook its fries in tallow but switched to vegetable oil in 1990, to lower the fat content.
The fast-food joint has a location next to Graze, but Welch is not concerned about competition, saying, "If you go to buy a diamond ring you can go to Zales or go to Tiffany's." He quickly added, "But Zales does a good job, I assume."
For the shakes, Graze gets its custard from Lloyds of Pennsylvania.
The counter-order eatery is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It seats about 50, and the owners hope to have an outdoor patio open in the summer.
Welch and Parr also own Bridge Restaurant in Westerly together, which they opened in 2010 and which also sells grass-fed beef from Welch's farm.
Previously, Parr opened a Summer Shack at Mohegan Sun, after working at Summer Shack and Legal Seafoods in Boston. He met Welch at a yoga class in Mystic about a decade ago.
That was around the time that Welch and his wife founded JW Beef, which has grown from five animals in 2008 to about 120 now.
Parr said of the grass-fed movement, "It's a very natural process of growing meat, and I think from what I've seen is it also leads to a lot of happy cows."
Studies have shown that beef from grass-fed cows, while distinct in flavor, has less fat, a higher omega-3 content and a large concentration of vitamins A and E.
Welch said it also makes sense, considering baleage — a variety of hay — is abundant in the area and therefore less expensive than in other parts of the country.
On the farm
On Saturday afternoon, farm workers Noah Lewis and Kelsie Culotta set about feeding the American Aberdeen, a process done roughly twice every 10 days.
Cattle huddled around a bale in the sacrificial pasture, called as such because of the wear and tear it undergoes when the cows roam there in the fall and winter.
In May, the cattle go to pasture, where grass is ankle-to-thigh-high. Welch uses a tool he got from New Zealand to add grass seed to the pasture without killing existing grass.
Welch noted that a grass-fed animal must have a smaller frame; American Aberdeen are about 65 percent the size of the original Angus.
They graze on the eastern side of the 150 acres Welch leases, whereas across Al Harvey Road, it's a different story. That's where Chianina cattle — majestic and nearly the size of horses — roam in a woodsier area.
These cattle will not be eaten, but rather are for show. Lewis and Culotta estimate they took the cattle to 30-40 fairs over the summer, winning perhaps twice as many ribbons.
Welch noted that Lewis trains them every day starting in May. But for now, they lead a life of leisure, roaming through the trees and around Copps Brook.
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