I've said it before and, no doubt—especially if I'm drunk and mouthy—I'll say it again: Buying half a steer is among the best things I've ever done.

It's tricky because the thing has to be cut in half and then, preferably, into even more manageable portions. A propensity for skilled slaughter and butchery is as lofty as musical genius in my book and—for me—almost as unlikely.

Fortunately, there are professionals throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado who can accomplish this task to your specifications.

Once you have a freezer (or two) full of all the roasts and ribs and brisket and loins and steaks and cheeks and tails and organs and ground beef you could ever want, you get to bask in the glory of beefy variety.

If, like me, you hate eating hamburgers in restaurants because you have the terrible knowledge that one burger may contain bits from more than 100 cows (thus exponentially increasing the odds of encountering E coli or bovine spongiform encephalopathy), having your own stash changes everything.

Just the other night, I enjoyed a burger better than I could buy in any restaurant in town, made from the ground round of only one steer—my steer—happily cooked rare because I felt no need to cook out potential contaminants. Of course, it helps to have a friend on hand who happens to have made ketchup, mustard and pickles from scratch.

Combine that with fresh lettuce and heirloom tomatoes from the garden, and you're looking at a very good hamburger. Add fresh-made buns (a fairly simple no-knead process following Jim Lahey's excellent book My Bread—we used the stirato recipe but shaped it into a bun-like round) and there is hardly a more enticing thing on Earth to put in your mouth.

But what if you don't have half a steer? Where can you get equally high-quality beef and meat for your own devious and/or delicious purposes? Over the past year, when I've forgotten to thaw something in advance and needed a bit of beef for a dish, I've been grateful for the recently formed Sweet Grass Cooperative that retails products out of La Montañita Co-op. Most New Mexico and southern Colorado ranches are too small to provide a consistent supply to major grocery chains or busy restaurants, but Sweet Grass represents a group of ranchers bound by similar pasture, principles and practices.

When you grab a steak or a burger from La Montañita, you won't know exactly which ranch it came from—or whether you're getting New Mexico or southern Colorado beef—but you will know it's grass-fed, hormone-free and that the husbandry ethos and techniques for raising and selecting quality beef are the same.

If you're seeking bounty beyond beef, Talus Wind Ranch has recently started the Talus Wind Heritage Meat CSA (community-supported agriculture). Unlike the traditional fruit and vegetable CSA, which includes the occasional meat share, the Talus operation is meat-specific. Each month's share ($210 per month, half shares available) is a combination of lamb, beef, goat, whole chicken and eggs. Each member receives a heritage breed Thanksgiving turkey as well. Beyond the monthly take from each share or half-share, special cuts are available, as is dog food.

You don’t have to buy all your meat in the form of one animal, but knowing from whom you’re buying makes a big difference.

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