5 questions for the beef lady (Michelle Dietzler)

October 18, 2010

 Like most kids from West suburban Glen Ellyn, Michelle Dietzler didn't really know what she wanted to do when she grew up.  In college, she changed her major from Large Animal Veterinarian to Journalism. Fast-forward to today, and Dietzler's name is on some of the city's top restaurant menus, serving as a moniker for all-natural, grass-fed beef. How did that happen in the course of a couple of years? Five questions get to the bottom of it:

How did you go from a Journalism major to a cattle rancher? "When I moved home, I worked for prettycity.com reviewing spas and didn't really want to do that. My family had owned a "hobby" farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin since 1999. Some people would go to Lake Geneva, we would go to the farm.  So I pitched a tent at some of the suburban farmer's markets a few years ago, just selling some of the individual [skirt, tenderloin, ground beef, oxtail] cuts." People were interested in all-natural beef.  Then I started going to see chefs, like‚ Paul Virant (Vie). I asked him if he was interested, and he said 'absolutely.'  He could say, 'you're aging them for‚ 21 days, I want 28 days.' He wanted a custom-cut‚ no problem.  We had the products, and we could get it exactly where he wanted it to be."

What kinds of animals do you raise? "They're an Angus-Hereford cross. They're "black baldys" [black animal, white face]. We have them vaccinated when they're born, but that's it. There are no treatments, steriods, or other drugs. If one gets sick, we use natural methods to separate them from the herd. A few years ago, a couple of them got pink eye; we separated them, treated them, then sold them to another lot."

What are the main challenges in‚ raising all-natural beef? "Managing the herd everyday. It requires a lot of time.  We have special feed rations and we grow all of our own non-genetically-modified, food-grade‚ corn and soybeans.  They're always on pasture, eating grass. The last 90 days of their life they eat the soy and corn, but we don't just give them the kernels, we feed them the entire stalk. We also have herd managers in Wisconsin, as well as in Colorado, constantly monitoring our 660 animals."

What has the response been to the product, and more importantly, the higher price? "A lot of our customers at the Green City Market believe you are what you eat. They don't want steriods and antibiotics in their food. Chefs are realizing this as well. The beef is not just grass-fed, we're really a specialty product. We invest in genetics, and have great marbling; it's considered high Choice, low Prime. We are also dry-aging it, so there is some loss in volume."

Where is it available? "A bunch of restaurants in Chicago, including Vie, The Publican, Fred's at Barney's, Province, 160 Blue...but on the retail level, Provenance carries it (frozen), and so does City Provisions (fresh, aged 21 days).

www.dietzlerfarms.com