Marshall, Minn. – Randy Brandt’s seasoned beef sticks aren’t just slim, they’re lean. R & P Smoky Meat Sticks are made of Piedmontese crossbred beef – an extremely lean breed from northern Italy.

Brandt, 46, is one of about a dozen Minnesota cattlemen raising the Piedmontese crossbreed, and he has been direct marketing the meat since 1999, when an AURI-sponsored meat class sparked an interest. This spring, again with AURI’s help, he began selling his own brand of lean beef sticks, franks and other specialty meats. Brandt started raising Piedmontese cattle in 1994. A third-generation farmer, he grew up on a dairy farm and followed his father into the business, milking cows for 17 years. In 1998, after a number of setbacks, he switched from dairy to beef cattle. He feeds out 100 head a year and direct markets under his own label, R & P Gourmet Beef.

A breed apart

Selling directly to customers allows Brandt to promote Piedmontese traits, he says. The breed, introduced in this country about 20 years ago, produces “the lean but tender beef American consumers want.” Piedmontese cattle are heavily muscled with little marbling. Yet the muscle fibers are finer than those of other Continental breeds, he says, making the meat unusually tender.

These distinctive traits have helped Brandt win 15 retail meat accounts in southwest Minnesota. He works with Cannon Falls processor Lorentz Meats and distributes the products himself in a second-hand freezer truck. Brandt also sells frozen beef directly to consumers at farmers markets in St. Paul, Sioux Falls and Sioux Valley and over his Web site.

Seven on the way home

Several months ago, Brandt came to AURI for help in developing his Smoky Meat Sticks, now one of his best-selling products. The extra-lean Piedmontese sticks leave “no aftertaste or greasy film on the roof of the mouth afterwards,” he says. “The first time I tasted them, I thought, ‘These are fabulous.’ I ate seven of them on the way home.” AURI also helped Brandt develop and test recipes for brats and franks and a ground beef and bacon mixture requested by one of his restaurant accounts.

For now, R & P Gourmet Beef is a one-man operation. Brandt hopes to grow the company enough to bring his two sons into the business – if they want careers in agriculture. “There’s lots of competition,” he acknowledges, “but I distinguish my products by taste and quality.”

For more information about R & P Gourmet Beef and Piedmontese cattle, visit www.rpgourmet.com