We had a wonderful New Years Eve with friends. An amazing 7 course feast that lasted through most of the evening. Dinner was a slow progression which reached its height with an amazing 6.5-pound prime rib. It was easily the best – and most lavish – cut of meat I’ve ever cooked.
I’d been sharing pictures of the prep work that went into our New Years dinner with our Facebook group when Jennifer asked how much we paid for the cut. I started to type the answer but then realized there was an entire post of an answer (one the reasons we LOVE questions) so a giant shout out and thanks to Jennifer.
The immediate answer is that the cut of meat cost $83. The longer answer is something I hope you’ll continue to read. Comparing the final price of a cut of meat like this to a mass agriculture cut is a bit deceiving. It’s still going to cost more – but not nearly as much as comparing price tags may indicate. Consider:
- For our non-Canadian friends reading the blog, know that Canadian grocery prices are higher than many other places (especially when compared to the US). While this roast was $13 per pound, note that a recent flyer from a giant grocery chain had prime rib on sale for $5 per pound. This was $13.
- The cut was dry-aged for 28+ days. In that time it would have lost approximately 20% of its weight in water loss (protein doesn’t evaporate). That means that this roast was closer to 8 pounds if I had bought it ‘fresh’ – bringing the price closer to $10 per pound when comparing even weight. Portions are easily 20% less than what you would typically serve – but people are just as sated as they are eating the same amount of food (if not more because of the fat issue described below).
- Examine the photo for fat content. There’s not a massive fat cap and though the marbling is consistent (something Carrie Oliver is passionate about discussing) the feed and the aging make the fat far more edible to most people. I recall most of my life seeing the waste of a prime rib meal – many people had plates left with a pile of fat and gristle (my Father taught me how to eat that too). People were easily leaving 15% of the protein on the plate compared to this amazing cut of meat where most ate all of their fat (or there was little to consume). With 15% less uneaten meat, you’d have to recalculate the relative value of the meat by the percent taking our prime rib closer to $8.50 per pound (relatively speaking).
- A non-aged piece of beef has more moisture content – this is not a good thing if you want a moist cut of meat. Water expands when heated. The more moisture in a piece of meat when it enters the stove, the more water will expand, cell structures break and the more moisture will be released from the protein (makes for awesome gravy but less flavorful and drier meat. It also means that the non-aged meat will lose more weight and the end product will be considerably smaller by percentage than the dry aged piece (which already lost its moisture and retains what’s left as the cell structures are more likely to stay firm and not lose their moisture). There’s a very detailed explanation of this in the River Cottage Meat book which a paragraph of my writing will butcher. But this means that the ‘coupon’ meat is 10% more expensive than it appears (i.e. it’s in the pan) so we’re really at $5.50 a pound.
- The ribs themselves also have a great balance of fat and muscle. We’ll make a micro stock out of them (enough for a liter or two) that we’ll use in coming weeks. Chalk this up as a freebie.
Although this is somewhat unscientific, the last time I purchased prime rib (not aged or grass-fed), it cost me close to $45 to feed 4 ($10 per portion) compared to $83 for 8 ($8 per portion). My numbers aren’t meant to be taken literally – the point is merely that comparing price per pound could easily mislead the final cost it takes to feed people when comparing grass-fed, dry aged meat to the alternative.
On top of cost, consider:
- The flavor is superior (no one used horseradish even though it was there – in fact, I adore horseradish and skipped because the flavor was unbelievable).
- The moisture and texture were stunning. As I tried to cut meat with my knife it became clear I could easily use my fork to do the same work.
- There is an argument that the fat on grass-fed beef is better for you than the alternative.
- The life of the animal is superior.
- The impact to your local community (including the butcher who aged it) is higher.
At the end of the day, we eat less meat than we used to and insist on amazing meat when we have the chance. Buying small-farm and dry-aged meat generally increases those costs by 33% – a difference we easily make up for by being part of a community supported agriculture program (CSA) and by eating meat a little less often. When we do eat it, it’s often simply and remarkable – I’m sure we’ll all talk about this one roast for a long time to come.
We also aren’t shy of asking others to chip in – our 7-course feast which included all sustainably harvested food (much of it local) came to $40 a head and included a small donation to Charity we’re making on behalf of the group. Compared to the costs of most restaurants in this city (who do great work), I would think we had the best deal going!
How do you justify the cost of the food you value most?