Full Belly Files | Terroir in Cows?
This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on March 31, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Alejandro Carrillo is considered one of the leading voices in the regenerative ranching movement, having shifted his family’s 30,000-acre property in the Chihuahuan desert of northern Mexico from conventional to holistic management over the past 20 years. He was in Santa Barbara County this past weekend, leading a two-day workshop at the Las Cumbres Ranch near Los Alamos and then giving a free public talk at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective in the Funk Zone on Sunday.
We spoke on the phone for nearly an hour last week, primarily about how he went from IT wizard to ranch hero — “I watched too many Western movies,” he theorized — and about the techniques that he’s using to alter the landscape in favor of nature on his Las Damas Ranch, which is located in the wide open space between El Paso, Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico. That’s what I focused on in this feature about Carrillo that we published on Independent.com last Sunday: Mexico’s Regenerative Ranching Wisdom Comes to Santa Barbara: Grasslands Regeneration Project’s Alejandro Carrillo Syncs Cattle Grazing with Nature.
But toward the end of our conversation, I was curious to hear whether the regenerative strategies were having any effect on the flavor of the cows themselves. It’s fantastic that this management style is restoring native species, reducing ambient temperatures, increasing effective rainfall, and keeping grass green year-round. But as a food lover, I wanted to know: How does it taste?
Carrillo was game for the question, probably because I wasn’t the first one to ask it. He explained that Las Damas is now home to an incredible array of native grasses and plants, which provide his cows a very healthy, high-protein diet. Then we went straight to wine as a comparison, not even knowing of my background in that industry.
“The diversity is so huge that it not only gives nutrient density, but also gives specific flavors,” Carrillo told me. “It’s the same deal as terroir in wine, but our flavors are coming from the different plants that the cows and the sheep ate.”
Then he said something that was edited out from the published story, but that I found to be most illustrative: “I know the flavors of the middle of my ranch.” Just like in bottling from specific blocks or rows of a vineyard — here are a couple of examples of that: Foxen’s Block 8 pinot noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard and Lindquist Family’s Z Block syrah — Carrillo can recognize nuances based on where his cows have been eating.
No doubt, tracking terroir in meat is a complicated affair, dependent on so many factors that it may never be a relevant trend, save for those who can afford such a high level of care and attention. But the fact that it’s a noticeable reality is quite exciting. Maybe it can even be a selling point for reluctant ranchers who are still on the conventional fence to finally make the switch to more sustainable strategies.
Live from New Orleans
By the time you read this, my family will be on the tail end of a five-day adventure through New Orleans, where our plans were to explore, eat, explore, eat, and so forth. We’re staying at the Higgins Hotel, and (if all went according to plan) have already enjoyed meals at Café Du Monde, Peche, Le Chat Noir, Marjie’s, Molly’s Rise and Shine, and elsewhere, with our last dinner reservations for Compère Lapin tonight. I’ve been posting steadily to my Instagram account stories in case you’d like to see what we’ve been up to. Next week’s newsletter will most likely be a rundown of that trip.
Drinking Dates to Save
The spring lineup of wine and beer events continues to expand with post-pandemic aplomb. Here are a few more for your calendar:
- Lagerville returns for the fourth time to Figueroa Mountain Brewing in Buellton on April 15, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Breweries are coming from across the country as well as Mexico, Australia, and Germany to pour, including Maisel & Friends, which teamed with Fig Mountain to collaborate on a lager named Bockville. Tickets and details here.
- Meritage Wine Market is hosting a grand testing on April 15, noon-3 p.m., at SOhO featuring more than 50 wines from California and Europe. Details and tickets here.
- The team at Satellite S.B. is hosting the first-ever Natural Coast Wine Festival on April 22, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. They’ve already amassed an impressive crew of low-intervention winemakers to pour, and it will be the coming out party for Satellite’s second location. Details and tickets here.
- The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association is hosting a “Behind the Scenes” weekend May 19-21, with seven panels at various wineries discussing trends in the wine industry. Click here for the full lineup.
- The Santa Barbara Culinary Experience hosts the second annual Taste of Santa Barbara event May 15 to 21. Highlights include a talk and selected screening of Julia Child’s TV shows at the Victoria Theater on Friday, a day of panels sponsored by the magazine Cherry Bombe at Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos on Saturday, and a wine festival on Sunday at the Presidio. Click here for details and tickets.
From Our Table
Here are some articles that you may have missed:
- One of our new contributors Anna Maria Giambanco DiPietro wrote about the Wine & Chili Festival in Buellton, telling readers what to expect from the event in advance and then reporting on what she enjoyed during the day of spice and sips.
- I finally got around to writing a story on Campo del Sol in Solvang, which is serving up nostalgic and modernized classics that are downright crave-worthy. Read that one here.
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