10 May 2004
A buck a burger
By convention, the Good Stuff goes on the top shelf, and that's where my supermarket of choice has been stocking Laura's Lean Beef, a product which immediately spawned two questions: "Do they really think they can get that kind of money for this?" and "Who the heck is Laura, anyway?"
The latter question, at least, was answerable on the Web. Laura Freeman, who gave up journalism to run the family's central-Kentucky cattle operation, moved into the high-end, low-fat, no-additives beef business in 1985; last year she sold $100 million worth of the stuff, every pound raised without dosing the cattle with antibiotics or growth hormones. The least I could do, I figured, was check it out.
"Lean," it turns out, is an understatement. The burgers I bought claimed a mere 8 percent fat (there's also a 4-percent version), and I'd be surprised if they had that much. My usual ploy of stuffing them side by side on George Foreman's grill and expecting the eventual shrinkage to make them fit on the surface failed miserably. Normally I pull them off the grill and drop them on a plate covered with paper towels to soak up liquids; the towels got damp, but they didn't get the drenching I'm used to.
Laura and company don't raise all those cattle themselves, of course: they buy from outside producers, but they're extremely finicky about what they take. I tend to take "low-fat" claims for meats with a grain of seasoned salt, and indeed there was a dust-up last year between Laura and the Center for Science in the Public Interest; the Center found some samples that didn't match their labeling. Then again, CSPI lives in constant fear that people might actually enjoy eating.
Is all this worth four dollars a pound? And, dear God, what must her steaks cost? For now, though, I'm giving Laura at least one thumb up, and will sample more of her wares next time I pass by the top shelf.Posted at 6:52 PM to Worth a Fork