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Getting to Know: Virginia Beef

One of my summer interns, Chelsea Rivera, shares what she's learned about the Virginia beef industry along with a fabulous beef fajita recipe containing a nod to citrus, since she's a Florida girl through and through! She's also sharing a recipe for a great side, ranch elote (Mexican street corn). So tasty!


If you didn’t get the chance to meet me while I was riding with Dr. Harris, my name is Chelsea and I am a fourth-year veterinary student from the University of Florida. But first before we get to the food, I’d like to share what I am learning about the beef industry in Virginia.

One of the first things I learned is that, like Florida, Virginia is predominately a cow-calf state. This means that producers breed their cows and allow them to have their calves by their side on pasture until about 6 months, or weaning age, and the calves then get sold to the next step in the beef production process. I was a little surprised to learn that the average herd size in Virginia is only 30 head! But it was no surprise that most farms (97%) here are family owned, not unlike most farming across the U.S. No factories here. (I really hate the term “factory farm!”) Beef is Virginia’s second largest commodity, contributing over $700 million to the economy through 675,000 head of cattle. In terms of raw numbers, this is slightly behind Florida, which comes in with about 885,000 head.

I learned a little about heritage breeds that can be found here, such as the Devon; a small, hardy breed used for both milk and beef. But of course, there is a wide variety of types of beef farms, from certified angus to certified grass fed and organic herds, all of them producing wholesome, nutritious beef and beef products to you and your family. I wish I had more than just two weeks here to learn more about the ins and outs of day to day beef farming, especially the increased use of technology and how it’s helping producers keep an eye on their herd!

Unfortunately, I did not spend time here with Dr. Harris during the peak beef season by any means, but I have had a wonderful experience getting hands-on time with a private cattle practitioner and gaining further appreciation of another state’s robust beef industry.

Speaking of beef, let’s get to that recipe!

Citrus Marinated Fajitas (Serves about 4 people)

5 ounces orange juice, fresh squeezed or bottled, plus another 3 ounces reserved Zest of one orange 1 tablespoon cumin 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar ½ tablespoon minced garlic ½ teaspoon salt

1 pound skirt or flank steak, cleaned of gristle and silver skin. 1 red bell pepper, sliced ½ of one yellow bell pepper, sliced ½ of one small onion, sliced

Flour tortillas Desired fajita toppings

  1. Whisk all ingredients but the steak, peppers, onions, and reserved juice together in a small bowl.

  2. Pour about ¾ of the marinade in a ziplock bag with the steak and let sit for at least 2 hours (I personally make mine ahead 24 hours to get the maximum flavor!)

  3. Pour the rest of the marinade plus reserved juice in another bag with the sliced peppers and onions. I allow this to sit for only about 2 hours, otherwise they get soggy.

  4. Grill or pan sear steak to desired doneness. Let rest at least 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain.

  5. Sauté veggies

  6. Serve with warmed tortilla shells and any other favorite fajita toppings, such as fresh cilantro, lime juice, sour cream, cheese, etc.

Ranched Elote

2 ears of sweet corn, husk on 1 tablespoon each of butter, sour cream, and ranch dressing ½ teaspoon chili powder ¼ teaspoon cumin ¼ teaspoon garlic salt ½ cup of cotija cheese (shredded Mexican blend works well too)

  1. Cook corn in the microwave (~5 minutes). You can also grill corn husk off if desired (and skip to step 3.)

  2. Cut cob at the bottom and squeeze ear out of the husk (No cleaning necessary. It really works!)

  3. Combine butter, sour cream, ranch, and spices together in a small bowl.

  4. Slather corn all over with butter mixture

  5. Coat with cheese and enjoy!

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