It’s 7:00 a.m. and the sun is rising on the lush grazing fields on Boschendal farm. A content looking herd of Black Angus cattle soak in the morning rays and beside them is their passionate caretaker, Mark Muncer. Mark is the kind of passionate that oozes, it’s heart on the sleeve stuff that makes you want to consider a career in farming. His enthusiasm is infectious and he’s on an uncompromising mission to produce nothing short of brilliant beef.
As far as Mark is concerned, the three ingredients for brilliant beef are: sunshine, rain water and grazing. Luckily sunshine and rain water take care of themselves, leaving Mark to tend the grazing. It’s not a job he takes lightly, as the quality of your pasture determines the quality of your meat. There is no monoculture or single plant type that exists in Boschendal’s fields, but rather a variety of plants such as herbs, legumes, grass and fynbos, all existing together. Every plant, even the weeds, have a part to play in the harmony of these fields.
The farm has a strict all natural approach and that means no pesticides, no chemicals or any nasty stuff. They don’t even use fertiliser and for good reason. A cow is a walking fertilising machine that’s full of living microbes. These microbes go back into the soil and enrich it. The farm uses a ‘constricted eating’ approach, which means the cows are moved from patch to patch around the fields. The patches are grazed on and their hooves work to turn the soil, while the manure fertilises it.
Mark’s philosophy on grazing is that it’s an art form. There is no set time that the cows spend in one patch of grazing. Rather it’s judged by his keen eye and intuition for the fields. It’s a little known fact but grazing is as important to beef as terroir is to wine. Just as you can taste the difference in a wine with impeccable terroir, the quality of grazing and personality of the farm comes through in the beef. Boschendal’s beef is all about the subtle flavours of a pasture in perfect harmony with nature.
As much as quality grazing is important to great beef, so too is cattle health and well-being. The cows at Boschendal are free to roam and be social, as nature intended. Black Angus is a Scottish breed and they’re like the friendly labradors of cattle. It’s this good nature that makes them easy to raise and care for. The calves are born and raised in the fields, and all the cows have access to trees for shade during the hot summer months. There’s plenty of space to lie down and chew the cud. These are social, happy cows and happy cows make for tasty beef.
Unlike commercial beef which is slaughtered at 12 months, Boschendal’s cows are slaughtered later and are done so according to weight and not actually by age. This added time is integral to quality fat development. Cows have four stages of fat gain, and marbling – the most prized fat in beef – occurs last. There is no way to develop marbling other than time. This is why you see so little marbling on mass produced beef, which is essentially baby beef.
The funny thing about beef in South Africa, is that it’s graded according to age and the number of teeth the animal has. So A Grade beef, which you would assume is the best, is in fact just a young animal with few teeth. Grade AB means it’s older followed by B and C. Any beef connoisseur will tell you, that older animals will always taste better due to the time the meat has had to mature. Case in point, Boschendal’s age before slaughter rule.
Boschendal and Mark’s approach to farming these special animals is born from a desire to do things the way they used to be done – the right way. Mark prides himself on purity of the farm and he’s a firm believer in hands-on, regenerative farming practices. For him it’s all about the soul of the operation. To him Boschendal is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and his goal is to make it as incredible as possible.