Driving down McCourtney past the fairgrounds, scattered subdivisions and horse ranches, the road becomes like a gentle roller coaster ride with stunning vistas at every curve. Eventually, the pine trees nearly disappear, and it flattens into radiantly green valleys where cows and goats graze amid rocky outcroppings. Aging barns and dry stacked rock walls are reminders of the long agricultural history of this valley.
David and Barbara Gallino live on a 160-acre ranch in the McCourtney basin where, since 1978, they have raised grass-fed beef. Black Angus, Hereford and Short Horns are their primary varieties of cattle. In the late 80s, they counted Alice Waters as one of their regular clients. For several years their grass fed beef won first place in blind taste tests by customers at her restaurant, Chez Panisse.
David Gallino has Santa Claus cheeks and a broad smile under his dusty black hat. (And, yes, he still herds those steer on horseback.) He has been a longtime member of the Commodities Advisory Board for the Farm Bureau and participates in the public lands committee. As a third generation rancher, he has seen many changes in Nevada County land issues. As more and more ranches were subdivided into small estate parcels, the available range land dwindled. Every winter the Gallinos truck their herd to a 1,500-acre parcel of rangeland outside of Redding. In spring, they flood irrigate their own pastures with a ditch system to encourage grass growth before the herd returns.
“Last year the United States imported more food than we exported. That is a milestone that we ought to be shocked by and pay attention to,” Gallino commented. “Producing our own food is one of the hallmarks of a strong economy/society.”
David grew up working for his grandfather who started a dairy in 1917. It was located in the Brunswick Basin where the 49er Fun Park and Gold N Green are now. Until the 1960s, there were several large dairies in the county near Rough and Ready and Penn Valley. The Gallino Dairy was one of the few that had Grade A milk”which was refrigerated. Other dairies delivered unrefrigerated Grade B milks used for yogurt and cheeses.
Barbara Gallino also has a long history with Nevada County agriculture. At a very young age, she and her sisters began helping their dad, Clyde Hunnicutt, a meat processor in a plant located behind what is now the Hospice Thrift Store (and for many years was the Coach House). He worked for Joe Dilley, owner of the Purity Market in Nevada City. Dilley was the D in the original owners of SPD.
Until the mid 20th century cattle were always pastured. Their natural food was grasses. As agriculture became more industrialized and centralized, cattle were taken to feed lots and fed grain, mostly corn, to develop flavor and fat marbling. In recent years the health benefits of grass fed beef has caused a tremendous resurgence in its popularity. E.coli, a bacteria that’s been associated with beef has many strains. Most are considered normal digestive flora for many mammals including humans, but many “bad” strains are associated with illness and death. A study by Cornell University determined that grass fed beef has approximately 300 times less E. coli than their grain fed counterparts. Also, in the same study, they found that E.coli in grass fed beef is much less likely to survive our human stomach acid and to cause infection. That is because feeding animals grain, over time, makes the “bad” E. coli more acid resistant.
Grass fed beef has higher amounts of both vitamins A and E. They are not fed growth hormones and rarely require antibiotics. Simply stated ” fewer animals in a larger area reduces disease. Most grass fed cattle are leaner than feedlot beef which lowers the fat content and caloric level of the meat. Meat from grass-fed cattle has higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Omega-3 fatty acids. Although this has not been proven in humans, research is showing many positive effects with animals in risk reduction for heart disease, obesity and cancer.
After a wonderful visit with the Gallinos, I stopped my car along the narrow lane through their ranch. A symphony of cow bells played as the herd meandered through rain soaked meadows. Frogs croaked in a nearby ditch in base line harmony. A scraggly oak tree silhouetted against the setting sun. I inhaled a deep breath of crisp winter air. Is this lifestyle and the food it provides a fading dream of Americana or is it a step back to the future?
Gallino Ranch Beef is sold directly to consumers either as a whole or half steer. Most harvesting is done in the spring and fall and reservations can be made by calling them at (530) 273-5978 FAX 530 273-3516
Gallino Ranch Risotto
This Gallino family specialty makes a generous meal with plenty of leftovers for another day.
One pound grass fed hamburger meat
Two medium onions, chopped
Six stalks celery, chopped
One small can tomato sauce
Three cans chicken broth (about 42 ounces of another source)
One can clear beef broth ( 14 ounces from another source)
One large can mushrooms with juice
Two cups Arborio rice
One cup Parmesan cheese
In a medium stockpot (about 6 quarts), brown ground beef, celery and onions together adding a little olive oil or butter, about 6-7 minutes. Add the can of tomato sauce and one can chicken broth; simmer about twenty minutes. Add the two cups of rice along with the beef broth, remaining chicken broth and mushrooms (with juice). Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until liquids are absorbed and rice is softened. Stir in the parmesan cheese and mix all ingredients together and stir in the parmesan cheese.
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