Sunday, January 18, 2009

Natural and Unnatural Meats

When Charles Giunta opened his Giunta's Prime Shop at the Reading Terminal Market his goal was to offer strictly organic or hormone-free meats. Though his signage suggested he'd be carrying USDA prime grade meats, he did not.

Now, Charles' products happen to be of excellent quality; I think his wet-aged beef, particularly the steaks, are about the best value you can find in red meat protein.

But the signs are misleading, and only a portion of the beef he carries is hormone-free, let alone organic. You have to ask whether a particular cut is hormone-free before you buy it, and the staff is not uniformly informed. Although I prefer hormone-free meats, I don't have hard-and-fast rules about it – if the beef tastes good. But I don't think he signs should suggest otherwise.

As for the "Prime" moniker, while that is also deceiving, I don't have as much of a problem. When USDA changed its grading standards more than 20 years ago, the difference between Prime and Choice became a lot fuzzier, as far as I am concerned. There's plenty of Prime out there that isn't, and, likewise, it's not that difficult to find Choice that tastes like Prime. And I won't even get into how most of the prime rib roasts (more properly called standing rib roasts) sold in this country are not Prime grade beef.

Likewise, only some of Charles' poultry products are hormone-free organic. He initially carried a lot of Eberle product, but now he focuses on Bell & Evans, which is a natural bird, i.e., no additives, non-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones. The all-natural ducks from Joe Jurgielewicz & Son of Shartlesville, about half an hour north of Reading, are superb.

When I recently asked Charles about this issue, he observed that he simply couldn't have survived on just organic and natural meats because they are more expensive; his customers just didn't purchase them in high enough quantities to justify basing the business on them. While there are a few customers who will pay $18 or $23 for a steak, the vast majority of shoppers, including those at the Reading Terminal Market, look for the least expensive product that still offers reasonable quality.

A tip of the hat to fellow blogger Gaetano of Philly Market Cafe for refocusing my attention on the signage discrepancy.

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