Colin Brown is a man on a mission. At Colin and wife Keryn’s property, appropriately called Lake Farm, on the banks of Lake Karapiro, work is underway to produce the perfect mouth-watering Angus steak. Part of the problem with mainstream meat production, Colin said, is that farmers get paid on the weight of the carcass rather than the quality of the meat produced.
Standard beef cows are bred for short gestation times, ease of calving and low birth weights, not for eating quality, he explained.
“The bigger and faster it grows, the more you get paid, and there’s nothing wrong with that but at the end of the day, beef is a meat to be eaten,” he added.
So, Lake Farm has gone their own way, with an intensive focus on genetics in the quest to only have Angus cows with good marbling – intramuscular fat that gives it an appearance similar to a marble pattern. The presence of marbling, more than any other factor, will affect the eating quality of an animal, Colin said. “You get more flavour from the fat, plus it melts when it’s cooked.”
It’s so important that Colin gives each cow an ultrasound before they are sent to Auckland to be killed, just to make sure the marbling is there. Also, he only breeds from the marbelled cows. And, because stress is also a factor that can diminish the eating quality of meat, the animals are sent up in pairs rather than herded into a crowded truck, trying to reduce their anxiety as they take their final journey. The chilled carcasses are then trucked back to Hamilton to be cut and packed for distribution.
Winners of the Beef and Lamb “Steak of Origin” competition in 2009 and 2014, they are clearly doing something right on their 75-acre property. Since 2009, they have reached the semi-finals in that competition every year, putting them in the top 20 per cent of cattle in New Zealand. They didn’t enter last year, because their main focus has been breeding rather than “finishing”, Colin explained.
“We’re first and foremost farmers trying to grow some special beef,” Colin said. “It’s more than ‘farm to plate’, and more like ‘from conception to consumption.”
As part of a nose-to-tail approach to using the animals, the farm has contracted a pie factory in the Bay of Plenty to produce pies to Lake Farm’s own recipes. Credit for that goes to wife Keryn, who Colin describes as a “fantastic cook”. Only a small percentage of the beast is made up of prime cuts of meat, so by using the less popular cuts in pies it’s a good way to showcase their beef and make best use of the whole animal, Colin explained. Frustratingly, they can’t enter the Pie of the Year competition with their pies, because they are not manufactured by them. The pie maker can’t enter them either, because he doesn’t sell them. So, it’s a stalemate on that front. But they are flying out the door thanks to online orders, being despatched around the country to pie-lovers everywhere.
And what better to go with a pie or a steak than a cold beer? So obviously Keryn and Colin are all over that as well. Their son, Aran, is an avid homebrewer and has provided the recipes for the Lake Farm range of craft beers, which are manufactured by a boutique brewery in Matangi.
The Matangi plant produces around 3,000 bottles of Lake Farm’s special brew each month, and it’s not pasteurised so it needs to be handled with care. Avoiding pasteurisation is key to developing the intensity of flavour, and the beer can last up to 12 months if refrigerated. It’s also available online, and from Onyx as well as the Angus Aberdeen Steakhouse in Palmerston North. “Our beer is specifically designed to accompany food…we don’t want our beers to be too “hoppy,” Colin said.
There are three varieties in the Lake Farm Beer stable, with Karapiro Gold, Farmhouse Pale Ale and Black Angus Ale. Also in the pipeline is a Ruby Red Ale, which will have a bit of “New Zealand pizzaz”, as opposed to some of the other more Irish-influenced beers on the market Colin said. And it’s named after Ruby, the farm cat.
All of this is a far cry from Colin’s previous working life, as owner of a computer assembly business. When a downturn saw the business close, Colin knew he needed something completely different. “I didn’t really want to go back into business, but it was a hard road with limited funds…most people wouldn’t do this,” Colin said.
It takes a special kind of “driven personality,” he reckons, which is probably why he gets out with an ultrasound machine to make sure his steak is only the best.
“You have to believe you can be the best in the world at what you do.”
Too right, we reckon.