08/11/2014 12:26 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Really Good Meat Can Be So Meaningful

In Marcel Proust's epic novel, Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator bites into a madeleine soaked in tea. And suddenly this little buttery cake unleashes an overwhelming flood of delectable childhood memories setting the novel in motion. "An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses," explained the narrator. "I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?" The very taste held the key to uncovering a realm of beautiful buried transcendent remembrances.

My "madeleine" is a succulent, juicy steak. One bite into that nutty, savory and complex richness and I am transported to my grandparent's barbecue at their green trim tudor house on Crawford Street. It is the summer of 1971, and I am a little girl. The air is soft and balmy. I can see my grandmother delicately and lovingly placing pieces of cut up steak onto soft buttery dinner rolls. I am so happy.

Yet few steaks can take me to that madeleine place. Too often, I bite, close my eyes and... nothing. No Crawford Street. No balmy air. No happy grandma and grandpa.

But then I had meat from DeBragga. Even before the bite, just from the rich aroma, I could tell it was special. And the moment I popped it into my mouth, I was swept away back to Crawford Street. Back to a pre-dinner game of patty cake with my grandpa. Back to the balmy summer air. Back to grandma's perfect steak.

For generations, since its inception in the early 20th century, DeBragga has offered high-quality meats including beef, chicken and pork. Known as "New York's Butcher," many of the world's most famous chefs and restauranteurs including Tom Colicchio Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Laurent Tourondel, Eric Ripert and David Chang, buy their meats from DeBragga.

I wondered why this meat was so transport-worthy? DeBragga owners Marc Sarrazin and George Faison say it all starts with how the animals are raised. To that end they are fiercely committed to working with producers who raise their animals naturally and are well treated. "The better the animals live, the better the meat they produce," says Faison. For example, they'll go to a cattle ranch which supplies them with beef to ensure that the animals are raised humanely, have access to open air and fresh water, are never given antibiotics, or hormones, are fed vegetable feed (versus animal by-products), and that " free range" means that they have enough room to graze. All these factors helps create a more complex flavor and often more highly marbled beef.

Also, DeBragga does not sell any factory-raised pork or chicken. They have created industry in New York State with grass fed cattle, and they are raising their own heritage breed hogs, including the rarest breed in America, the Gloucester Old Spot.

I asked Sarrazin and Faison for their guidance about how to find excellent tasting, transport-worthy meat that wouldn't cost a fortune. They believe that there are cost effective ways people can realistically eat better quality meat. To find their tips, click on this story in Parade. And perhaps you'll find your madeleine too.

DeBragga's George Faison (left) and Marc Sarrazin (right)


(All photos used with permission.)