Like Old MacDonald’s farm, which had a duck duck here and a duck duck there, the web of artisanal-meat sources has been spread pretty wide. There’s no central terminal, no Union Square Greenmarket where the best small-farm beef, pork, and lamb congregates; and the lack of infrastructure has been gumming up the works as New York’s best restaurants move from generic commodity meat to the Haute Barnyard versions preferred by chefs. Now, though, Pat LaFrieda, the city’s most progressive wholesale meat supplier, is quickly becoming the source of “boutique” meats.
LaFrieda is already famous for his ground-beef mix, which is the basis for the burgers at Shake Shack, the Spotted Pig, and Stand, and which was recently celebrated in Men’s Vogue of all places. But burgers are a sideline compared to the business’ role as a purveyor of product from far-flung farms and ranches, several of which have been touted here on Grub Street. For the past six months, they’ve handled Cesare Casella’s custom crossbreed Stonewall pigs from Thanksgiving Farm upstate; they have just become the sole New York distributor for American Justice host Bill Kurtis’s ultra-healthy Tall Grass beef; and vice-president Mark Pastore says that it “looks like we’re going to start handling Brandt Beef from California.” Brandt Beef, one of the best and most innovative meat products in the country, has been handled only through a Boston-area distributor, a fact which has kept it out of our hands too long. “Every product line that comes from a small family-owned farm has different characteristics and different flavors,” Pastore says. “There’s a market for all of it. People are getting the fact that this is just better than mass-produced, untraceable meat.” All that remains now is for LaFrieda to start selling this stuff to the general public; Pastore says that might be in the works soon too.