By guest blogger Laurel Miller, The Sustainable Kitchen
Grass-finished beef is so 2012. And don’t even get me started on buffalo. Yak is where it’s at. I live in Colorado and, because it’s the way I roll, I have some yak-rancher comrades. One of them is Brook LeVan, an outspoken advocate of local food security, whom I long ago dubbed the “Messiah of the Roaring Fork Valley Foodshed.”
Brook and his wife, Rose, own Sustainable Settings, a sublime 90-acre working ranch and “Whole Systems Learning Center” located in Carbondale, near Aspen. They grow all manner of vegetable and fruit crops, as well as raise sheep, poultry, dairy cows, and, until recently, yaks (“We, and our customers, ate them all,” Brook admitted when I called).
The LeVan’s focus is on sustainable farming systems modeled after nature. Thus, large ruminants (cud-chewing creatures like cows and their ilk) fertilize the land, dispersing seeds in their manure. Their hooves churn the soil, aerating it, and pastured chickens roam behind, feasting on bugs and grass, while adding their own nitrogen-rich manure.
Colorado is a major yak-ranching state because the high-elevation pastures are ideal for the wooly bovines, which are indigenous to the Mongolian Steppe and Tibetan Plateau. Nomadic herders have relied upon yaks for over 10,000 years, for draft, as well as meat, milk (which is often turned into cheese), fiber, and dung.
Colorado yak ranchers are now selling the hell out of these products. Some, like the LeVans, who primarily sold meat and mozzarella, can’t keep up with the demand. Yet yaks are more efficient than beef cattle. Says Brook, “They breed and calve easily, consume one-third of the feed needed by conventional cattle breeds, and are adapted to push through the snow for forage. They winter well, and also don’t require as much cover as cattle.”
Coloradans are just as hardy as yaks, and have developed a taste for their meat, which is low in fat, and high in protein, Omega-3’s, and conjugated linoleic acid (you know, that stuff that helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels). Nor is it gamy. “I’ll take a yak steak or burger over Angus or Hereford any day,” says Brook. “And yak soup bones make an unbelievably rich broth.”
As they say, “Once you’ve had yak, you’ll never go back.”
Looking for yak products in your state? Go to www.localharvest.org.