Our visit to Cape Grim in Tasmania

Come with us to visit the beautiful farms of Cape Grim Beef in Tasmania, one of Cannings' approved grass fed and finished beef suppliers.
Our visit to Cape Grim in Tasmania

It starts with steak. We were recently invited on a meet-the-producer tour of some of Cape Grim Beef’s producing area in Northwestern Tasmania, but it didn’t start there. It started at a bar and grill in Port Melbourne’s Railway Club Hotel, historic sports bar and watering hole, and proud purveyor of Greenham’s beef - which includes Cape Grim, Robbin’s Island and others. Enjoying a steak dinner is always a treat but for us this was a fact finding mission. Will it taste as good once we've seen where it comes from, who’s stewarding the operation, and how the cattle are processed?

Who are Cape Grim Beef?

Cape Grim is one of Cannings’ select suppliers of beautiful grass fed and finished beef. We spread our sourcing across a number of approved Cannings suppliers to ensure we’re getting the best quality and price for our customers all year round. This means that on any given day, we have a mix of different beef brands on our shelves, including the beautiful beef from Cape Grim.

The day after our delicious dinner, we found ourselves in and around the towns of Stanley, Forest and Irishtown - farming and fishing communities on Tassie’s Northwestern tip - collectively comprising ‘Cape Grim’ - an ominously named, but actually a picturesque (if a little windswept) part of the world.

Stanley, as our hosts explained, is home to a geological formation known as “The Nut” which formed thousands of years ago out of the lava flow from an erupting volcano. Once the lava cooled, The Nut formed, and when the mountain around it eventually crumbled away, this distinctive natural feature was left behind at the end of the peninsula.

Cape Grim cattle are exclusively fed on grass for their entire lives. The bright red volcanic soil in this region is rich in minerals and other good stuff, which makes it exceptionally fertile soil for plants to grow in - including grass.. Our hosts joked to us that they are “not really cattle farmers”, but grass farmers - farming in some of the best soil in the country! Basically - this grass is extra nutritious for the cows which translates to big, healthy cattle. Setting foot in this grass it doesn’t feel hard like lawn, but rather undulating and tussock-like – almost pillowy – as the grassess grow over each other.

The dramatic topography of the area sets the stage for incredibly lush pasture that is grown in a mix of grasses and lucerne (alfalfa) that takes advantage of the rich soil. These hills are the kind where it’s sunny on one side of the ridge, and wind-lashed on the other – as bands of rain clouds roll by.

The lucerne is grown amongst the grasses and is ideal for the drier months, thanks to a ‘tap root’ that reaches down well below grass’s relatively superficial root structure, to access trapped ground water. As the cattle are rotated throughout pastures, any surplus grass is threshed and made into hay and silage to feed calving mothers and the rest of the flock through the drier periods – maintaining that grass-feeding no matter what.

Cape Grim animals are not treated with antibiotics, but this doesn’t mean that if an animal needs medical treatment, it’s denied. The farmers explained to us that if a vet determines that a cow needs antibiotics, that cow will be tagged (as you can see in this picture below on the left), and ultimately will end up as non-Cape-Grim beef when they’re ready for processing. It’s great to know that this way Cape Grim Beef stays antibiotic free, with no welfare issues for the cow. Importantly, even though this cow won’t enter the Cape Grim chain, the farmer is still paid the same amount as if it were - meaning that genuine therapeutic interventions are not disincentivised or concealed.

They also chatted to us about the breeds used at Cape Grim - predominantly British breeds (like the Hereford line), however they “don’t discriminate” as fantastic animals can come from almost any breed or colour cattle – only once the animal is slaughtered and “dressed” (skinned and partially butchered) does it show it’s true qualities and characteristics as beef. They walked us through which superficially visible characteristics can suggest desirable musculatures and fat coverage which contribute to favourable eating qualities. These include plumpness around the dewlap and brisket coming to a point without looking loose, a straight back that sits perpendicular to the ground, and an absence of bony-ness where the base of the tail meets back. Our host farmers also spoke on which age-ranges are ideal for processing and how this can be gauged by the number of teeth the cow has.

We were treated to a lunch of melt-in-the-mouth Scotch Fillet steak sandwiches at one of the farms thanks to the hospitality of a cattle farmer and veterinarian. Over lunch our hosts regaled us with stories of the industry, the area and life on the farm – all with a beautiful view of the pristine Tassie coastline (which the cows enjoy from their paddocks too!).

Finishing the day of farm tours at the local pub, (where Cape Grim and other local fare features prominently and proudly on the menu). Something that is so striking about Tassie food producers and their local communities is how proud they are of what they’re producing. As our hosts told us - “if we’re going to do something, we want to do it the best. If not, what’s the point!”. So much love and passion goes into Cape Grim Beef and it certainly shows in the final product.

The next day, we travelled another 20 mins West to the local processing plant for Cape Grim Beef in Smithton. This state-of-the-art facility handles everything from slaughter through to final packaged product. This plant processes hundreds of head of cattle a day - so efficiency is key. Inside, the processing plant has multiple stations for breaking the carcasses down to their constituent parts and primals. Meat workers work on rotation across multiple stations with regular breaks to ensure the highest quality of work is maintained as well as to ensure the wellbeing of the workers. Nose-to-tail ethos carries through the entire facility as every part of the animal is used and packaged for its respective market, including offal and tripe. The entire process is a choreographed dance of skilled human work and high-tech machinery all with the goal of extracting as much out of every carcass so nothing goes to waste.

Cape Grim uses a number of different approaches to ensure the best beef - this includes marble score and colour grading, ph testing, and lots of inspection points throughout the meat processing chain. Nothing is left to chance and the preciousness of this resource is respected at every step of the process. It was fantastic to see the level of meticulousness that is carried right through the whole process.

We then said goodbye to the beautiful isle of Tasmania, flew over King Island, and back to Melbourne. We knew that this trip to Cape Grim would be top notch just like their product - but we really were wowed by the pristine beauty, clean air, lush pastures of Tasmania as well as the passion and care on the farms we visited.

So, down to the verdict - do we feel great about Cape Grim Beef now that we’ve had the chance to see how it’s produced? The answer is a resounding YES! We were blown away by the passion, knowledge and care that goes into every step of the process. This is a product you can really feel proud to put on your plate.

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