We’ve had several customers mention “Paleo” as a reason why they’ve bought Grasspunk Beef. They want 100% grass-fed beef since that’s in the Paleo style of eating. If you aren’t anywhere near us there are other grass-fed beef farms around but they are difficult to find. I only know of one other. Ask around and use the internet. And I can’t think of a good equivalent term to grass-fed here in France.
Then they continue and ask, “Can you help us with other kinds of Paleo meats?”
Lamb is the easy one. Locals finish their lamb with cereals. I’ve tried it and I like the flavor, but it isn’t Paleo. Now there is a solution and it is a good one – you can find grass-fed lamb cheap in France if you look in the supermarket freezers. Get lamb from New Zealand. Cereals are expensive there and their lamb is finished on grass alone. The packet will not say “grass-fed” although it might have a pretty picture of New Zealand.
Pork is a different matter. Pigs are not ruminants and can’t live on grass alone, so you don’t look for grass-fed pigs. They eat a lot of cereals. What you want are pigs raised outside where they get all sorts of other interesting things in their diet to supplement the cereals. Cheap pork (and pork can be really cheap here) is raised intensively in buildings with very fast growing pigs. This is as far from Paleo as you can get while still eating meat. Label Rouge pork is better – you can find a type with the pigs “élevé en plain air”, raised with outdoor access. This means they have a big building but also a run outside. The run isn’t great because the pigs are on it all the time and it is either a dust bowl or a mud bowl, but it is a step above intensively farmed pigs. Label Rouge also use hybrids of pigs that a hardier and slower growing than the intensive type.
[Yes, that’s the fat layer of a slow-grown Gascon pig left too long.]
If you can, try to find a farmer that sells direct. Not only do you cut out the middlemen, you can also see how the pigs are raised. This means more than any label you might see. “Plein air” can be a deceiving label. The ideal would be to find a farm that has pigs outside and also rotates the location of the pigs so as not to overuse one area. Another good thing is to find pigs that have access to oak trees since they like the shelter and love the acorns.
If you work with a farmer you often have to get a pig or a half pig at a time but you can see where the pigs live and how they are raised and build a relationship with the farmer. There are often people in your village who buy pigs direct from farmers and get together to do the slaughter and butchering to save on costs. It is a social event, so ask around.
Chickens are also not ruminants. You can’t get grass-fed chickens, but the Paleo equivalent would be to find chickens that spend time outside with access to fresh grass. There are many ways to go. You can find “plein air” chickens in the supermarkets but these are raised in large buildings with a run of dust outside. I like the idea behind Label Rouge, which goes for a traditional method, but still you get chickens with dusty runs.
There’s no easy solution. If you have a fixed run it turns to dust, but if you let the chickens run free their meat turns to rubber. The Label Rouge folks move their houses periodically, which is a good thing. I’ve heard of producers elsewhere using electrified nets which they move frequently but I have never seen someone here do it that way. We’ve tried it for egg chickens but not meat ones. On our farm we’re trying a chicken tractor approach to give them fresh grass each day, but we’re still at the experimental stage.
Chickens vary hugely in size and growth rate, which affect the economics and therefore the price. Fancy slow-growing label rouge and Bresse chickens cost way more per kilo than the industrial ones, but their outside life is what Paleo folks are looking for.
Often the best way to guarantee you get what you want is to raise your own. It is possible to buy young chickens, ducks, geese or even larger animals like lambs and pigs to raise on your property. You don’t need much space to raise chickens or ducks in small numbers.