Grassfed beef rekindles South Dakotans’ interest in hamburger pizza

Staff report

MISSION HILLS, South Dakota: Grassfed beef producer, Jon Gunderson, said his ranch’s “unfair competitive advantage” is his wife’s job as the manager of the local pizza parlor.

Diana Gunderson manages Charlie’s Pizza House, South Dakota’s oldest pizza house, which in decor and food ingredients is firmly stuck in its birth decade of the 1950s.

“Our promise is that our recipes will never change,” Diana said.

For example, you won’t find grassfed beef on the pizza, home-made bread or home-raised tomatoes in the salad at the corporate pizza chains.

The pizza is still cooked in the huge original oven which some say has a “flavor memory” of everything it has ever cooked.

“It seems to release the flavor of whatever is cooked in it,” Diana said.

This emphasis on flavor extends to the beef the restaurant uses.

“Most (corporate) pizza chains use pre-cooked beef ‘crumbles’ on their pizzas so they can cook the pizza faster.”

“In contrast, we use raw grassfed beef and let the beef cook along with the pizza.

“This slows down the process to about 25 to 30 minutes but our customers are willing to wait.” The Gundersons have a small 120 acre farm on the outskirts of town which they recently converted from grain production to grassfed beef.

Much of the farm’s hamburger is sold to the restaurant.

Diana said the switch to grassfed hamburger has made the hamburger pizza one of the restaurant’s favorites.

“People really notice the difference in flavor by leaps and bounds.”

While Jon helps out around the restaurant on a part-time basis, his primary interest is in raising grassfed beef.

Until recently this acreage was farmed as a conventional grain farm. In 1999 Jon attended a three-day grazing school and this started him on a gradual transition to an all-grass based farm.

“I always hated grain farming,” Jon said.

In 2005, this transition was completed and all grain farming was discontinued. By incorporating annuals with his alfalfa-based permanent pastures, he is able to direct-graze for 10 months out of the year.

“The recent drought really proved the worth of alfalfa to me. It got me through the drought when all my neighbors were having to sell out.

“I’m not afraid of bloat anymore.”

Jon is a big believer in using high stock densities and frequent shifts to avoid wasted forage. This is accomplished with temporary electric fences.

He calves his 62 cows in late May and weans in February using Kit Pharo’s fenceline weaning technique.

He said he has had no health problems in his cattle since he moved to late May calving.

He uses Kit Pharo grass-sized bulls.

The farm currently is not irrigated but this is under consideration as is organic certification.

In 2005, 25 of his calves were grown out and sold as grassfed beef to local customers.

He started out selling halves and quarters to patients of several local doctors who recommended grassfed beef to their customers.

He later added vacuum-packed single portions which are sold through a year-round, Saturday-only farmers’ market held in a building adjacent to the pizza parlor.

“I guess I’m different from a lot of farmers in that I love having direct contact with my customers. I just like people.

“A lot of local farmers think the way I farm is too labor-intensive but I am much, much happier now.”

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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