Elk Meat Production and Consumption on the Rise

In the Midwest it’s not uncommon to see farms filled with cows, pigs, or even sheep, but it’s a little foreign to come across hills covered in elk.

Elk are slowly making appearances at restaurants and farmer’s markets around the state of Iowa.

I took a visit to one of the few elk farms in the state, then a local restaurant that prepares elk, to ask what prompted that decision. I also spoke with an expert about the health benefits of eating elk.

The Antler Ridge Elk Farm

It was 2001 when Antler Ridge started to raise elk on their ranch, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Owners Bob and Karen Thuerauf took a long time thinking about different forms of agriculture for their 40 acres of land.

They wanted something that would make money, and elk have numerous avenues of opportunites. Karen listed things such as selling them as breeding stock, selling the meat at the meat market, saving the hides and making leather, selling the two ivory teeth each elk have, making tables or lamps out of hard antler, using the hard antlers as dog bones or knife handles, using the velvet antler in pills for arthritis pain, using their hallow hair to put on bobbers for fishermen, and making belt buckles or clocks out of the buttons, which are the ends of the antlers that fall off every year.

The Thuerauf’s main income from these animals comes from their involvement in the farmer’s markets in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

These are the prices for the meat sold at Antler Ridge.

These are the prices for the meat sold at Antler Ridge.

They load up one of their deep freezers, which is packed full of different sections of the animal, into the back of their truck. Then, they take a trip to the farmer’s market, and plug the freezer into a generator.

Karen said there are no other elk farmers in Iowa who sell elk like they do at the farmer’s markets. They even have customers coming with coolers to be filled, or who want to make shipments of meat across the country.

“It’s exciting to see it grow, and have the same people coming back,” said Karen. “Some of them start to come with their cooler on wheels, and you think, ‘All right!’, it’s really great. We even have one lady who sends a big box to her parents every Christmas in Washington DC.”

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Selling to Restuarants

When it comes to selling their meat to local restaurant owners, Karen says it’s not something that they do a lot of because they want to sell directly to the people. They do, however, sell their meat to the Sanctuary Pub in Iowa City whose specialty is the elk meatloaf.

Another restaurant in the area that uses elk is Vesta in Coralville. Their meat comes from another elk producer out of West Burlington, Iowa.

The owner, Seth Hershey, said that he wanted to go outside of the box with his menu items, and there is a gentleman he knows who raised elk, and so the decision was to have it on the menu.

One item you can find is the Elk Rueben.

The reasoning was, “[The gentleman] was doing a product he wasn’t selling a lot of, that was the pastrami,” said Hershey. “He was trying to do cold cuts, and I wanted to do something else with it, so, I like ruebens, and Elk Rueben it was then!”

The Nutrition Value of Elk Meat

One thing that Karen and Hershey both agreed on is that elk meat tastes a lot like beef, but is actually healthier and leaner.

Dr. Kathy Mellen, a Registered Dietitian and lecturer in the Department of Human Physiology at the University of Iowa said that elk is indeed a healthier option than most other types of meat.

This data is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It refers to how a 3-ounce cooked portion of elk meat compares with other lean meats in the nutrition department.

This data is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It refers to how a 3-ounce cooked portion of elk meat compares with other lean meats in the nutrition department.

“Elk is typically considered a game, or wild meat,” said Mellen.”And, the more an animal moves, and the leaner that animal, the leaner the meat. Meaning, less fat, and in particular with meat it’s the saturated fat that we are concerned about.”

The meat is lower in fat and cholesterol, and higher in protein and iron. The fat doesn’t marble through it like in beef.

Karen said that she uses elk meat in all of her recipes that ask for beef because of the similar taste.

The taste of the elk meat has a lot to do with how the meat is prepared as well. Because it is so tender and moist, Karen suggested to cook the meat at a low temperature to avoid a leathery product.

The Future of the Elk Industry

Elk meat is still a foreign thought to many consumers around the area, but because of the health benefits and increasing availability, it is something that could be making a known presence on menus and in farmer’s markets.

The Antler Ridge Elk farm owners said they love what they do, and have every intention to grow their business even more.

“It’s really a lot of fun, and it’s something different all the time,” said Karen. “It’s kind of funny when I walk though the stores, because you hear ‘Hey mom, it’s the elk lady!’ and all you do is laugh.”

 

Contact Information:

Bob & Karen Thuerauf

194 Rogers Grove Rd. Ely, IA 52227

319.848.7653 or 319.360.3701

thueraufelk@southslope.net

 

Seth Hershey

849 Quarry Road Suite 100, Coralville, IA 52241

319.33.VESTA or 319.338.3782

www.vestaiowa.com

 

Kathy Mellen, Ph.D., R.D.

Department of Health and Human Physiology

E128 Field House Iowa City, Iowa 52242

319.384.4568

www.uiowa.edu/~hhp

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Formosa Iowa City

Living in the Midwest, it sometimes seems like you can never get the fresh sushi you oh so desire. I searched around the downtown area to find a sushi restaurant that doesn’t cost you your week’s pay. I came across the very social-media-present Formosa, and can say for myself that their food not only looked great, but it tasted even better!

I sat down with manager Vita Liya, who has worked there over 5 years, in the restaurant’s lounge area just after close to talk a little about the restaurant. There was upbeat music with no words playing in the background – something you would hear in a high-end fast-paced restaurant. There are two entrances – one through the ped mall, and the other from Hotel Vetro’s lobby.

The look of Formosa may imply you would be paying big bucks for the food you’re getting, but don’t be fooled by the fancy appaulstry and folded napkins. They are very aware their biggest percentage customers are college students from the University of Iowa, and their prices reflect that. They have a lot of great deals, such as $4 rolls, to gain more customers who will then see their already low prices and want to come back.

I asked Liya how Formosa tries to keep their connection to the study body, and her answer didn’t surprise me because they are constantly popping up on my Facebook account and Twitter already.

Liya said to keep their social media presence constant they host a lot of contests, posts on “how to” on their Facebook, and encourage interaction with followers by asking questions. Their “how to” posts consist of things such as how to use chopsticks, how to do a saki bomb, or how to eat sushi properly. They try to post educational things on their page as well, for example, they will give information on why fish is healthy for your diet.

Another way they connect to the student body is by giving some of their profits as donations for student organizations, events, foundations, and greek houses. One way they do this is by creating a roll for a specific organization, such as Dance Marathon, and a certain percentage of that sell goes directly back to that organization.

What Formosa has to offer that most similar Iowa City restaurants don’t is a fun and young atmosphere that also is welcoming to families, and is more upbeat rather than relaxing.

A unique factor about their menu items, more specifically their sushi selection, is that they incorporate things that are familiar. Names of their rolls are informal, but they are used to create a visual of what the roll looks like. If you order the caterpillar roll, your sushi is going to be designed to look like a caterpillar.

Sushi is not the only thing found on their menu. They also carry common appetizers, fresh asian wraps, spicy crab salad, entrees with chicken, baked fish, soups, drinks, and more.

Liya insisted that a lot of people are intimidated by sushi or afraid to try sushi, but a lot their menu is first-timer friendly. They have cooked sushi options so you’re not going to eat a piece of salmon right away. There are a lot of options to ease your way into it.

Some great news for lazy college students or those who are stuck at work is that they just began a delivery service at the beginning of March. (319-338-8880)

So, for those of us who are craving some sushi, want a fun place to go to, and are in the Iowa City area, Formosa is the place to be.

Moonrakers & one.twenty.six : A profile on meat done right.

It’s somewhat hard to miss – the narrow entryway leading up steep steps to a city-like restaurant called Moonrakers. The circular purple and yellow sign hanging just above the door. Next door you find small windows, and the words ” one twenty six” spelled out. Twin doors reflect each other, one going in, and one going up.

One twenty six, which opened it’s doors in 2000, is owned by the same person, Mathew Chackalackal, as Moonrakers, which opened in 2011.

They are two separate restaurants, but share the same quality of food: vegetarian fed meat, local produce (when possible), and homemade bread.

I sat down with Mathew and talked about his restaurant’s concept, and why he does things a bit different than most restaurants in the Iowa City area. His meat is vegetarian fed, it’s hormone free, it’s antibiotic free. His reasoning?

“We can verify the source,” says Mathew.“I got into this largely because when I take my kids out I make sure it meets all this criteria, and it’s really hard to find.”

He stated that when he opened up Moonrackers he still wanted to keep those standards.

“I was hoping that I could get young people to be able to differentiate. Not just purely by the taste, but by what goes into it and the reasons for going with that. Even if you look at our hamburger buns they are made in-house fresh. All it has in it are eggs, canola oil, flour, yeast, salt, and sugar, that’s it.”

Mathew explained, “When we get it, we get meat that has met all this criteria – no hormones, no antibiotics.We know what goes into it, we butcher the meat in-house, and we grind it in-house fresh.”

To provide clarity as to why this is so important to him, Mathew came up with a possible situation.

“If there is some sort of outbreak, and if you know that this came from one particular farm, I can tell with certainty to my customers “Don’t worry you can eat this.” But usually what happens is meat comes from so many different places. So let’s say you go to the local meat locker, they sell all the nice cuts of meat you know the tenderloin, your rib eye, your round steak- all those they are taking out, and then they take what you cannot use for anything and it all goes into a meat grinder, and it comes out looking like ground beef. And it could be local, it could be all those things, but it could have come from 20 different farms, they don’t know what cut went into it, and out comes this burger which when you taste it if you add enough stuff to it you can’t even tell. That’s most of the burgers you find in most places.”

Mathew encourages people to ask questions about the meat they use, and one of his number one goals is to have students ask more, and not just his restaurant but in all other restaurants they are consuming food in.

“I kind of want students to ask “What is this meat and why does it have to be vegetarian fed?” That’s my goal,” Mathew said. “To have young people try it and ask. When they go to other places they should ask “Where did this beef come from?” “Which cow did it come from?” “Which farm did it come from?” “What if there is a recall?” “Am I going to get madcow disease from this?” he encouraged.

He stated that what he would like to do is to serve healthy, high-quality, tasty food, preferably local if available. That his restaurants try to be organic, natural, and local whenever possible.

“When my kids come in and eat it it is no different then what they would be eating at home. So it gives me a certain comfort,” Mathew said. “To me, that means I can say with certainty, there’s nothing bad in our meat.”

Moonrakers and one twenty six both decline any advertising opportunities. Mathew explained that they highly rely on word-of-mouth. He wants to attract a younger crowd, and to do so, he keeps his prices as low as he can.

During dinner, a burger and fries is only $8, but if you are wanting lunch, the price is lowered to $6.