Contented Okanagan cows get a daily dose of red wine
It all started with The F Word. Janice Ravndahl was sipping a glass of wine while watching British superstar chef Gordon Ramsay feeding beer to some pigs on his eponymous television show.
“It got my mind churning about the possibility of feeding beer to cows,” recalls Janice Ravndahl who grew up with on a cattle ranch in Saskatchewan. “ But I knew you couldn’t feed beer to a cow because the carbonation would bloat its digestive system. Then I thought…so here I am out here in West Kelowna surrounded by wineries and wouldn’t I rather have a nice glass of red with my steak than a beer?”
She called her brother, Darrel Timm, back in Saskatchewan and ran the idea by him. Timm wasn’t convinced that anyone would buy it so Ravndahl started talking to some local chefs about her notion for “the ultimate pairing of food and wine.” Michael Allemier, formerly chef at Mission Hill winery thought it was a brilliant concept and soon other foodies in the area were eager to jump on the “chuck wagon.”
The first cow to belly up to the wine trough (actually a pail) was affectionately nicknamed Wino. Cows are curious animals with a herding mentality so it didn’t take long for Wino’s mates to start imbibing too.
The brother and sister team decided to call their beef company Sezmu (says moo) because the nightly ration of a liter of wine per cow resulted in increased mooing and Sezmu was the Egyptian god of wine.
“The cows were more mellow and easier to handle but boy did they smell like winos when they belched,” says Ravndahl.
The experiment began in April 2009 with the purchase of 70 Angus hormone-free calves raised to Ravndahl specifications with plenty of fresh water and free grazing time in the mountains. Then they go to Bill Freding’s Southern Plus feedlot in Oliver where they are “finished” for 60 days on a special diet of hay, barley, grass and a bit of corn mixed with a liter of Okanagan-blended plonk.
The only other wine-fed beef that Ravndahl has heard about is in the Margaret River grape producing area of Australia.
When Ravndahl sent out her first press release many folks thought it was an April Fools joke. But it’s no prank. This year she intends to increase production to about 220 cows. The reception to Sezmu wine-fed beef has been phenomenal with Okanagan and now Vancouver chefs featuring it on their menus. The Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Winery, for example, serves Sezmu carpaccio-style with truffle oil. Not only does the wine seem to tenderize the meat but it also has a sweeter flavour, especially the fat.
“I really don’t think it’s possible for a liter of wine to make a cow drunk when you consider its size and liver capacity,” Ravndahl says. In fact, she has noticed that the wine’s anti-microbial properties seem to inhibit disease in her herd.
So chances are that Wino and his pals won’t be attending any Alcoholics Anonymous meetings out in the Okanagan, but if you happen to come across a cow with wine on his breath mooing a happy tune, he’s probably a Sezmu.
Marinated Flank Steak
This recipe is courtesy of Cooks Meats in West Kelowna
1 large Sezmu flank steak
1 large garlic clove minced
1 small onion chopped
1 Tsp on ginger
½ cup of soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp salad oil
In a 9 x13 baking dish blend all ingredients except steak. Place steak in marinade and refrigerate for 8 hours or longer, turning once or twice. Remove from marinate and grill.
To serve, slice thinly on the diagonal. This freezes well after being marinated. Serves 3 to 4 people.