CEDAR CITY — Parowan’s Dry Lakes Ranch recently placed fourth overall in a prestigious beef-tasting competition held in Wyoming.
In double-blind taste tests conducted Saturday at the Rendezvous City Beef Roundup held at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, a panel of judges scored Dry Lakes’ meat among the top four in the open division of the “Best in the West” division, which included entries from top beef producers in 12 Western states.
Dry Lakes Ranch was Utah’s lone representation at the event, said owner Kacie Carballo, who attended the competition with her mother, Kay Benson, who works alongside her daughter at the business’s butcher shop.
“We competed in the open division, which meant we were up against anything that was brought, including but not limited to vast differences in genetics, feeding, finishing and processing methods,” Carballo said, adding that the stiff competition included beef from purebred Angus steers, Wagyu from the West Coast and several animals that had been raised on a grass-only diet.
“We were also up against last year’s winner,” Carballo added.
In preparation for their 500-mile road trip to Riverton last week, Carballo and Benson loaded up the mobile freezer in their vehicle with an assortment of Dry Lakes’ best cuts, including two ribeyes from the fifth and sixth rib and graded high prime, two New York strip steaks, two top sirloins and two pounds of ground beef (75% lean).
Meanwhile, Carballo’s husband and co-owner of Dry Lakes, Reyes Carballo, stayed behind in Parowan to take care of the animals and other business at the ranch.
“Just because we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity come up doesn’t mean that the needs of our land and livestock will pause,” Kacie Carballo said. “Our wheel lines and pivots still need to be moved, crops need to be watered and animals need to be fed and checked on. Maybe that’s why we’re so successful: Reyes doesn’t stop. The animals and the land take priority for us.”
Carballo described the enjoyment she and her mother felt on Saturday afternoon as they watched the judges sample the various cuts of beef that had been prepared by professional chefs.
“Neither the judges nor the server knew the origins or any information about the beef whatsoever,” Carballo said. “They knew nothing about breed, feeding program, state and of course the ranch which it came from.”
She said that’s why ranchers were able to sit in and watch the tasting “and enjoy as they tried a wide variety of our homegrown beef.”
After the competition ended and results were announced, Carballo said the slight disappointment of not earning a top-three medal was outweighed by the sense of appreciation they felt in being numbered among the elite beef ranchers in the country.
“One aspect of the competition that I loved was the fact that these judges in high places kept thanking us for the chance to taste the best beef in the U.S.,” Carballo said, calling the competition a “humbling experience.”
“It is a remarkable feeling to grow something that was so honored and revered by people who’ve had the best of the best. It was one of those moments where you are shocked by the reality of what is being said to you.”
Carballo added that the event reiterated the fact that “we’re doing something different, and doing it really well.”
“In fact,” she said, “we met a professional chef who helped with the preparation of our meat. He is taking the industry by storm right now and said he has clients from all over the world who are always asking for the best quality ingredients when he cooks for them. He asked for our contact info and said he’d travel several states over just to get our beef.”
Carballo said the chef told them that it had been a pleasure for him to prepare and cook their beef.
“I want to get my hands on some if you’ll let me,” she quoted the chef as saying.
Carballo added that they talked to the judges afterward, made some great connections and have “a few tidbits of information that we’re going to put in our back pocket and use for next year.”
‘People are wanting to know more about their food and who raises it’
Dry Lakes Ranch is a family ranch with a heritage dating back nearly 150 years. It was known for decades as Mitchell Herefords.
“We’re primarily a cow-calf operation, which means we sell our calves at weaning time each fall,” Carballo said. “We have finished out some steers and have privately sold whole, half and quarter beef shares to locals for several decades. It wasn’t until a couple months into COVID that we were forced to change our operation.”
The pandemic, she said, caused a collapse in the vertically integrated meat processing industry, causing the market for live steers to virtually disappear.
“The packing houses have near absolute control of the cattle market in the U.S., and we came close to being forced out of this business because of that vertical integration,” she said. “Thousands of other producers around the country were in the same predicament and have consequently started to sell directly to the consumer and cut out the middlemen.”
The Dry Lakes Ranch butcher shop, which opened just over one year ago at 73 N. Main St. in Parowan, allows the proprietors to process and sell their homegrown meat directly, from animals that were raised just a little over a mile to the north on the other side of Interstate 15.
“It’s really quite a shift back in our food system,” Carballo said. “People are wanting to know more about their food and who raises it. We’re happy and grateful to fill that void in the meat industry today.”
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