Food & Drink

At Templeton Hills Beef, buy a cow or a pound

Alton Emery, Darian Buckles and Will Woolley served up burgers at their recent Templeton Hills Beef open house.
Alton Emery, Darian Buckles and Will Woolley served up burgers at their recent Templeton Hills Beef open house. Special to The Tribune

Where’s the beef? If you’re looking for grass-fed, grass-finished meat, just steer yourself towards Templeton Hills Beef.

Though the home ranch is indeed in Templeton, Templeton Hills Beef also relies on “grazing leases on properties all over the North County,” explained Darian Buckles, a local middle school teacher who owns the beef company with her husband, Will Woolley, and their business partner, Alton Emery. The grazing locations range from Templeton to San Miguel, from Creston to Cambria, and also vary considerably in size. Some are large existing ranch operations, while others are just small personal properties where the cattle’s appetite for grass is specifically put to good use creating a fire-safe habitat.

“It all depends on what the landowners are looking for,” said Buckles, adding that the Templeton Hills Beef team not only does advance scouting on the properties to check fencing, etc., but also keeps a close eye on the herds for as long as they are grazing. That keen attention is not just directed at the animals, but also toward responsible management of the land itself.

Bringing the Black Angus cattle to their final weight of about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds takes “anywhere from 24 to 30 months,” said Emery, who is a fifth-generation rancher from Paso Robles. (Woolley can add four more generations to the mix, and the scenic 330-acre Templeton ranch — which he called “a dream come true” — has been in the family since 1987.)

While being raised for Templeton Hills Beef, none of the cattle ever receive antibiotics or growth hormones. If an animal does need such attention, it receives the proper care but is then immediately taken out of the beef program.

When the cattle are big enough to be processed, Templeton Hills Beef uses the services of J&R Meats, which owns and operates the only USDA-inspected mobile harvesting unit in California. Essentially, the mobile harvesting unit is a “slaughterhouse on wheels,” but it provides the most humane and least stressful way of harvesting the livestock.

Customers of Templeton Hills Beef have considerable flexibility in buying the final product. You can get just a pound of grass-fed beef, or you can purchase the entire animal. Getting a whole or half animal is the most economical, and it allows you to specify how you would like the meat cut, aged and wrapped.

A half or whole animal is not entirely made up of steaks, tri-tips and ribs, so if you go that route, you’ll have to learn a chuck from a flank and a round from a shank. The Templeton Hills Beef website is a great resource for that information, and Buckles has also posted several recipes using various cuts of meat.

One key characteristic of grass-fed beef is that it is much leaner than corn-fed. As such, it needs a different cooking approach, especially when you’re grilling. Lower — even indirect — heat is best, because if the beef gets overcooked, it will be tough.

“It shouldn’t be more than medium-rare at the very most,” said Emery, and don’t shy away from just taking it off the grill, letting it rest a bit and seeing if it’s done yet. “That’s the key to grass-fed — you can always put it back on if you need to.”

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