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Don't Cry for Argentinean Beef

November 12, 2005; Page P6

Name this country: a South American nation -- think gauchos, soccer and tango -- that has begun selling its grass-fed beef to upscale restaurants.

No, not Argentina. Uruguay. Tierra Mar in Westhampton, N.Y., features a filet of Uruguayan beef for $48. Ola Steak in Coral Gables, Fla., offers a $36 strip loin, and the B.R. Guest restaurant group's 13 New York places, including Blue Fin and Isabella's, serve Uruguayan beef as a special. "It tastes like no other beef; it rivals Kobe beef," says chef Todd Jacobs of Tierra Mar.

The irony is that most imported grass-fed beef, including Uruguay's, has long been sold as a cheap ingredient in fast-food hamburgers. But grass-fed beef is now nearly as trendy among chefs as "sustainable" seafood and organic vegetables. To capitalize on this interest, this year the Chef's Warehouse Dairyland, a major specialty food distributor to restaurants, made a distribution deal with Tacuarembó, a large beef packer in Uruguay. They've sold the product to a handful of New York restaurants and will launch a West Coast sales effort in early 2006. Other distributors are also pushing Uruguayan beef to U.S. restaurants.

Uruguayan beef is grass-fed, so the cows are not fattened up on grain as they usually are in the U.S. Often labeled on menus as "South American," or just "grass-fed," it is leaner than most American beef, and contains more omega-3 fatty acids. Its mild, slightly earthy and less buttery flavor tends to provoke a love-it-or-hate-it reaction in diners.

Uruguay's opportunity to make a name for its beef is due partly to Argentina's bad luck -- its beef is banned here due to a past outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Two other grass-fed-beef competitors, Australia and New Zealand, are busy marketing in parts of Asia where U.S. beef is banned because of mad-cow-disease fears. So, little Uruguay -- a nation of 3.3 million people and 12 million cows -- is grabbing the chance to capture the upscale market.

Cesar Miranda, marketing manager at Tacuarembó, says Uruguayan beef comes from happy cows: "Each one is grazing on two soccer fields" worth of grass.

Write to Katy McLaughlin at

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