In 1983, Jim Herr, the owner of Herr Food Inc., most famous for its eponymous line of potato chips, had a problem to solve. The state of Pennsylvania was beginning to tighten enforcement of waste-disposal regulations, and Herr found himself with no way to dispose of thousands of pounds of potato chips, pretzels, and cheese curls, among other products that, for whatever reason, weren’t good enough to sell.
So Herr bought a farm, and 300 cows, and let them snack away—though he did work with a nutritionist to determine the best mix of chips, grass, and other feed. Thirty-four years later, the meat from the farm’s cows is now being sold directly to restaurants and consumers. According to chefs and others who spoke with The Philadelphia Inquirer, the chips, pretzels, and cheese-dusted snacks are helping the flavor of the beef.
“The party-mix finishing feed lends the more subtle things,” one local chef, Charles Parker, told The Inquirer. “For example, it has an unusual toasted cheddar note, and it’s a little sweet.”
Until last year, the beef was sold lumped together with meat from industrial-scale farms, until a neighboring farmer convinced Herr Food Inc. to sell it on its own merits—riding the wave of the farm-to-table craze.
Now it’s served in two Philadelphia restaurants and sold at a farmer’s market, with the best cuts fetching up to $30 a pound, and ground beef going for $6 a pound. That means that snack-fed beef can cost more than a lot of grass-fed beef.