Eggs as Good as Gold
Forget the goose that laid the golden egg. At the Union Square Greenmarket, the bird laying the golden eggs is the ostrich.
Big – the size of coconuts – their shells hard and smooth as porcelain, the ostrich eggs sat in a basket at a farm booth one recent morning. At $30 apiece, they had to be golden.
“Can I make a fried egg with it?” I asked the vendor at Roaming Acres Ostrich booth, Lou Braxton, as I pointed to the largest of the eggs.
“You can make a large frittata,” he laughed, explaining that one egg is equivalent to as many as two dozen eggs from hens.
Ostrich eggs are similar in taste to chicken eggs, only sweeter, he said, and their whites are much lighter. One egg will feed 10 to 15 people.
While the giant-size eggs were doing a great job of drawing crowds, it’s the meat that people tend to buy the most. Ostrich meat is very low in fat and cholesterol and is healthier than most red meat. It is the highest in iron, next to venison.
“It tastes like beef but has less fat than skinless chicken,” Todd Appelbaum, the founder and owner of the 35-acre farm in Sussex County, New Jersey, said in a telephone interview.
An eight-ounce ostrich fillet goes for $15, the most expensive cut of ostrich meat. Ground meat, the cheapest, is $9 a pound.
“We don’t sit on any inventory,” said Appelbaum, who sells about 37,000 pounds of ostrich meat annually.
The birds grow fast on their own, so there’s no need for hormones, noted Braxton. Within of year of hatching, the three-to-four-pound ostrich chicks grow into six- to seven-foot avian giants, weighing 200 pounds. Appelbaum raises them on feed he formulated and makes himself.
“It’s all natural feed,” much better, he said, than what he’d get at a commercial feed mill.
The former carpenter decided he wanted to “stop swinging a hammer” and opened the ostrich farm in 1993. He has close to 600 birds consisting of both ostriches and emus.
“I was looking for a healthy alternative – something else that people would want to eat and wouldn’t take a lot of acreage,” said Appelbaum.
The ostrich farmer has found a very receptive market in New York. Roaming Acres started selling at the Union Square Greenmarket once a week in April of 2010. Now it has five market days: three at Union Square and two others on the Upper West Side.
Appelbaum sells to retail customers and a few restaurants, including the Paris Commune, which has grilled fillet of ostrich on its permanent menu, a $28 entrée served with roasted baby carrots, mushrooms and turnips.
Appelbaum is one of the nation’s two largest ostrich farmers. He’s the largest on the East Coast.
“There aren’t many ostrich growers in the U.S.,” he said, explaining that farmers don’t want to process and market their own birds. In 2007, there were 714 ostrich farms in the United States, down from 1,643 in 2002, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture.
Appelbaum uses every part of the ostriches, from their feathers to their eggs. He makes pet treats from ostrich hearts and livers, and soap from their oil. He also makes wallets and other leather products from the hides, which are soft and strong, said Braxton.
“The only animal stronger is the elephant,” he said of ostrich hides.
Even empty Ostrich shells are used. The ivory, porcelain-like egg shells fetch $20 apiece at the Greenmarket.
In the winter, when ostriches generally stop laying eggs, patrons of the market will likely have to settle for the empty shells.
Ostriches are sun-worshippers that lay eggs only when it’s sunny, said Braxton.
Still, there’s hope, even in the winter, for that golden egg. If there are four to five consecutive sunny days, the ostriches will start laying, said Braxton.
“They lay eggs when happy,” he said.