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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Posted on: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beef, au naturel

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A plate of Kuahiwi Ranch grass-fed beef with all the trimmings was served at a January tasting event organized and hosted by Isle chef Alan Wong.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Alan Wong's chef de cuisine Wade Ueoka plated up a beef dish at the tasting event, which brought together chefs, buyers, grocers, agricultural specialists and others.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Diners at the tasting sampled Kuahiwi Ranch's beef side-by-side with beef imported from the Mainland.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Galimba family from Kuahiwi Ranch on the Big Island were on hand to answer questions about their beef and the local cattle industry. Al Galimba carved some of his beef with the help of his daughter, Michelle, and son, Guy.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Local beef was paired with beef samples imported from the Mainland so diners could compare them.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chef Alan Wong, who hosted the tasting event, carved beef. Wong urged ranchers to tell the story of their industry and their product.

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The story of Kuahiwi Ranch and the Galimba family is the story of the Island beef industry today: family operated, as much a lifestyle as a business, challenged at every turn, committed not only to their own operation but to seeing that Island-raised beef finds its place in the market.

In mid-January, chef Alan Wong hosted a side-by-side tasting of Kuahiwi Ranch beef and Mainland commodity cuts, inviting chefs, buyers, grocers, agricultural specialists and others.

"I want you guys to tell the story," he said. "If you don't tell the story, it's not gonna happen."

He was talking about the story of why Island-raised beef effectively went away some years ago, why the industry is struggling and why homegrown, naturally raised, grass-fed beef has advantages, even if it may be a little more expensive.

Al Galimba, founder of Kuahiwi Ranch in Ka'ū, knows the story well.

Galimba's boyhood dream was to own and live on a ranch. When he retired in 1993, the timing was right. "Sugar went out of Ka'ū and the opportunity came up for a lot of land (to lease)," he said. Now, he and his family raise about 1,700 head of Angus-cross cattle on 10,000 acres between Wood Valley and Wai'ōhinu, both in the uplands and down toward the sea.

The cattle graze until they're about 2 years old, then, in the last 90 days of their lives, they are fed a diet of barley and corn. This "hybrid" approach is designed to deliver the depth of flavor of grass-fed beef with the tenderness and consistent quality of grain-fed cattle, said Galimba.

No antibiotics or hormones are used. All is "no stress, quiet movement," said daughter Michelle Galimba. This is by design: Not only is it more humane, but happy cattle produce a better product, according to advocates of grass-fed beef.

"They're born and raised with us," said Michelle Galimba. "It's a really good life for the cattle, and we feel it shows up in the product."

But if the cattle are happy, the ranchers — not so much.

Despite a significant rise in interest in "natural" grass-fed beef, ranchers here face many problems. During a talk-story session at the tasting, nursery owner and agricultural activist Susan Matsushima summed it up: "We're at a critical point and it's not just this farm (facing these problems). To produce beef takes so much infrastructure."

The Galimbas must deal with rising costs of everything from feed to transport ("It costs us more to process the animal than to grow the animal," said Al Galimba), the consumer perception of grass-fed beef as tough or odd-tasting, problems in the processing side of the industry and how to get enough water to the pastures.

And what's so great about local grass-fed beef, anyway?

Michelle takes that one: "It's the taste. It's the freshness. It's no antibiotics, no preservatives," she said.

Also, said the Galimbas, it's knowing where your food comes from, which is increasingly important to consumers. And, according to research, grass-fed beef is lower in cholesterol and higher in beneficial fats and vitamins than feedlot-raised, commodity beef.

So how did Kuahiwi Ranch do in the tasting? They got lots of "mmmmms" and "hmmmmms," particularly from those who have been unimpressed with grass-fed beef in the past.

And we ate it aaaaallll up. When guests began nosing around for seconds of a filet he prepared, chef Ronnie Nasuti of Roy's Restaurant laughed. "You guys already had it all of it. It's gone!"