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Manzo Piedmontese: Ultra luxury beef from Italian cattle born and raised in Valleyford, Washington

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Seeing cattle graze in pastures along the Palouse Highway isn’t uncommon, but the herd grazing at Owens Farm is unusual.

The grey-white cattle are 100% full-blood Piedmontese, a breed that originated in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy.

Justin Owens and his wife, Lauren, are raising the herd on his late grandfather’s 200-acre spread.

“I didn’t want to be a farmer,” said Justin Owens. “I’m allergic to alfalfa!”

But he lived at the farm during college and worked with his grandfather, Gary Owens. His grandfather’s dream to raise full-blood Piedmontese proved contagious. That’s not surprising – ranching runs deep in Owens’ blood.

“I’m an eighth-generation cattle rancher,” he said.

The breed is unusual, and so are some of the primary purchasers of the Manzo Piedmontese beef that the farm produces.

Their customer base includes the Denver Broncos and current Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs.

To understand why this beef is making a splash with private chefs and sports teams, is to understand its uniqueness.

“I’ve always considered Italy to produce the best beef in the world, but nobody knows about it,” Owens said.

That’s because the breed was embargoed by Italy until 1979. Italian farmers opened up the opportunity to export live animals by selling five to Canadian ranchers. From those first few animals, a North American herd of approximately 6,000 Piedmontese exists today.

The Manzo Piedmontese herd is the only full-blood Piedmontese in North America.

“To maintain a clear and direct pedigree that is traced back to Italy, my grandfather founded the North American Piedmontese Association in 2000 for American and Canadian breeders,” Owens said.” It’s a respected registry for DNA and parentage verification. In building our herd, we used frozen embryos and semen from my grandfather’s original herd from the 1990s.”

For 10 years, Justin and Lauren Owens and ranch manager Brian Lee cultivated the cattle, not for meat, but exclusively to create a cow that’s incomparable in its genetic composition. It’s only within the last couple of years that the family began processing the cattle for meat.

“For me, it begins with the quality,” Owens said. “When we got started we wanted to cultivate the best possible eating experience.”

The cattle are fed a combination of locally sourced peas, pressed wine grapes, garbanzo beans, lentils, oats, barley, hard red winter wheat, and timothy and orchard grasses. Every cow in the herd was born on their farm, and every calf in the beef program was, as well.

“Introducing the beef to the public is difficult because it’s so different,” said Owens. “It cooks 50% faster than conventional beef due to very little collagen, no fat and much smaller muscle fibers.”

Those smaller fibers make the meat incredibly tender.

“It’s the most tender beef worldwide,” he said. “It’s lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories than skinless chicken, skinless turkey and salmon, and it’s higher in omega -6 and omega -9 than salmon.”

Additionally, Piedmontese beef is nutritionally dense and rich in protein. All these qualities explain its popularity with professional athletes.

Kids enjoy it, too.

The Owens have two daughters, ages 2½ and 5½, and ground Manzo Piedmontese was their first solid food.

At $100 per pound, the beef might be out of the average home chef’s price range, and it’s why you won’t see it at local grocery stores or restaurants any time soon.

“Chad White has had some at Zona Blanca for a limited-time offering,” said Owens. “It’s meant to compete with wagyu and Kobe products.”

Locally, the best upcoming opportunity to taste the beef will be at the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant fundraiser, Dinner on the Farm.

“The dinner is hosted on our farm, at the farmhouse, and features our beef,” he said. “This year, the guest chefs will be Joe Bonavita, Chad White, Courtney Wright and Joe Morris. Joe Bonavita will be preparing a beef course that features Manzo Piedmontese.”

Though the beef is still relatively new to North America, Owens has big dreams.

“I want to see Piedmontese beef available nationwide,” he said.

Contact Cindy Hval at