Until last fall, one of the top complaints at Shipshewana’s Farmstead Inn was the lack of refrigerators in the room.
Guests were shopping at Yoder’s Meat & Cheese Co. across the street and couldn’t store their purchases in the room, said general manager Mark Engle.
Perhaps it’s because the Yoder family has been in the butchering business for five generations. Perhaps it’s because there are few stores that have this kind of selection. But it’s also because the meat from Yoder’s is different than most of what is on the market.
This store at 435 S. Van Buren St. with more than 100 cheeses and 150 cuts of meat is a tourist attraction. People are driving hundreds of miles, spending the night, and taking home what they buy at Yoder’s.
Bob Yoder is a cattleman. He’s spent years working on genetics and how to feed a steer. He’s proud of his herd and the 400-plus acres where they roam on two family farms north and south of Shipshewana. “I’m a fanatic about taking care of these pastures,” he said as he drove a four-wheeler through them near the docile animals that will become the product he sells.
Bob and his sisters Fern and Roseanna have carried on the butchering business their great-grandfather Amos started east of Goshen. Amos’s father had been a butcher too and Amos butchered animals for Midwestern farmers when they needed it.
Bob realized that fewer people are raising cattle and the family business needed something else to survive, so he started a market in 2001. “To this date, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Dustin Yoder, one of Bob’s four children who is in or soon joining the family business.
Yoder’s Meat & Cheese Co.
435 S. Van Buren St., Shipshewana
8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 Saturday
“People were wanting all natural,” said Dustin. For them, all natural means no added hormones, steroids, antibiotics or animal byproducts. It has come to mean feeding the animals corn and roasted soybeans that are GMO-free, as much as possible.
The Yoders are breeding cattle that’s a cross of Red Angus and Limousin to get the balance they want of flavor and leanness, two things that are are usually at odds when it comes to meat.
They aren’t able to breed enough of their own cattle to meet growing customer demand, so they buy 500-pound calves and put them on pasture and then grain. The process takes about 15 months from birth to burger, another three or four months if the animal is grass-fed. Bob and Dustin check on the cattle several times a week in the rolling pastures.
They rely on what they call a three-legged stool to get the great-tasting beef they want: animal comfort, nutrition and genetics. They aren’t animal rights folks, but they take care of their animals by making sure they can lay down and have access to water, Dustin said.
Not all meat eaters want to know the backstory of where it came from. “Our customer does. That’s why they come to our place,” Bob said. “We have an informed customer.”
They come from Chicago, Detroit and Grand Rapids. They load up on frozen meat and head home, Bob said. Engle said he encountered three couples this week at the inn who had come from Michigan to stock up at Yoder’s and E & S Sales, a giant bulk food store nearby.
When you walk into Yoder’s, it feels like a Cabela’s store, only the animals are wrapped in butcher paper and not taxidermied. There are cases full of meat handled with care, double-wrapped and blast frozen.
Yoder’s sells beef from 25 to 30 steers a week, all of it from their own farms or farmers who raise animals for them. The Yoders sell some grass-fed beef, but recommend the grain-fed beef for its sweeter flavor. “We don’t do organic beef here, but if you’ve had organic beef, they’re not fed like this,” Dustin said.
In addition, they sell meat from five to six sheep a week, Bob said. The meat from 35 or so pigs sold a week is raised by a Michigan farmer who follows the Yoder’s standards and doesn’t give them feed with Paylean, a steroid that’s common in nearly all the pork raised in the United States. Yoder’s also stocks chicken from Miller’s Poultry and bison from Cook’s Bison Ranch, both of which are also raised at higher standards than most of the meat industry.
What makes the Yoders unique is how they’re raising their own meat for more and more people, year-round, on a scale that most small, all-natural producers can’t. More than 80 percent of their sales are retail. Because they control the processes, they can offer meat near conventional retail prices. Yet as Bob said, what they do is a tiny dot in a large industry.
He’s proud of what they do and those who buy it. He’s proud of the quality of the meat. He should be. It’s remarkable. If cooked properly, it’s full of flavor and tenderness, not to mention offering peace of mind for how it was raised.
You can find good quality meat a lot of places, but there aren’t many where one family is raising it and selling retail the way the Yoders are. The story and the quality are both rare. Their steaks are best medium-rare. And the cheese they smoke in their old smokehouse is amazing too.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.