Where's the Beef? At Mecox Bay Dairy
Mecox Bay Dairy owner Art Ludlow casually chatted with customers Friday morning at the East Hampton Farmers Market as he cut hunks of his celebrated Mecox Sunrise, Sigit, Atlantic Mist and Shawondasee cheeses from large wheels. For many, this moment was not out of the ordinary — the fourth generation farmer is a staple at literally every farmers’ market on the South Fork, hawking his prized cheeses produced from the Jersey cows raised on his Bridgehampton farm.
But for those in know, a Styrofoam freezer sat discreetly behind Ludlow representing a new era for followers of the Slow Food movement on the East End. The cooler held various cuts of grass fed, Bridgehampton beef, which has been unavailable for legal commercial sale since the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began regulating meat production over 100 years ago.
“It’s not in my nature to display myself,” said Ludlow on Monday as to the lack of signage announcing this almost historic moment in local food. “I do want people to know though. I was reluctant to get too public with it at first — one issue being was it going to be fit to eat. But then we had some for dinner and that cleared that up right away. It was excellent.”
Sitting in a stall next to Ludlow, Amagansett Food Institute Director Jennifer Desmond said she and Amber Waves farmers’ Katie Baldwin and Amanda Morrow sampled some of Ludlow’s steaks at their farm the evening before.
“It was delicious,” she said.
“This is historic,” East Hampton Farmers’ Market Director Kate Plumb said while walking around the market later that morning.
Plumb noted that while the East End is known for local seafood, produce and even chickens, it has long lacked locally raised meats.
And now that has all changed.
For Ludlow, expanding the use of his dairy farm, where he produces a variety of artisanal cheeses, was a natural extension — not just as a businessman, but as a farmer and member of the East End community.
Nestled on the northeast border of Mecox Bay and the northern end of Swan Creek, Ludlow, his wife Stacy and their sons Peter and John began producing raw milk cheeses at Mecox Bay Dairy in 2003.
Mecox Bay Dairy was founded after Ludlow decided to focus his efforts on the dairy farm, which is the last Jersey cow dairy on Long Island.
Making the transition to include selling the grass fed beef used to produce his cheeses, said Ludlow, was an idea his family has talked about since they started the dairy farm.
“The difference now is since we have gotten involved with the farmers’ market we can see there is a real demand for it,” said Ludlow.
While he briefly considered setting up a shop on the farm to process the beef, Ludlow said he quickly realized the small-scale of his production didn’t lend itself towards building his own facility. Instead, he chose to take his cows to upstate New York where they are processed and packaged under the watchful eye of the USDA.
While the demand for a product like his grass-fed beef does exist, Ludlow said taking this leap also came from a desire to ensure his animals are treated in the best possible way for their entire lives.
“This way I do have control over my animals, who I want to make sure are treated in the best possible way, from birth to death,” he said. “So when a cow is no longer milking, I don’t have to ship them off to some miserable place.”
Ludlow added that as a fourth-generation farmer, this is also a part of the farming tradition, and therefore has been a part of his whole life.
“I grew up doing this,” said Ludlow. “We have had animals on this farm since I was a child. I grew up familiar with slaughtering, butchering and eating our own animals. I do understand the issue that some people have with it — eating a steak with a name — but it is something that is natural for me because I grew up with it. It is a fact of life. Death is a part of life.”
This summer, selling the beef is truly a pilot program, as Ludlow feels out the demand through farmers’ markets and weighs that against the numbers in his herd. He added he could run out of beef before the season is over, and is already coming up with formal plans for next year.
So far, just two weeks into selling the beef, Ludlow has heard that his efforts appear to have paid off.
He is selling a variety of cuts, in an attempt to waste as little of the animal as possible, including short ribs, ground beef, all cuts of steak, London broils, pot roasts, rump roasts, and shanks, the last of which he has yet to try, but expects will be delicious.
“We have a philosophy about how we want to produce food,” said Ludlow. “I only sell what I choose to sell, what I choose to grow. I am not compromising my standards by fattening my cows with grain. When I say grass-fed, I mean grass-fed.”
“I’m doing something for other people,” he said. “I have to sell to stay in business, but business is not how I look at this, it is providing nutrition. What is more important than what you put in your body? The more people recognize that and take it seriously, the more I feel small farms like mine will become important and profitable.”