The Heartland of Belize: Blue Creek, Orange Walk and My Visit with Reinland Meats
Less than 50 miles away (as the crow flies) from Ambergris Caye is an area so different, that I almost felt like I was in a different country. And I almost was…
Just on the border of Mexico and Belize, lies that village of Blue Creek. A town founded by Mennonite settlers over 50 years ago (who had left Chihuahua, Mexico to find land even more remote). The Mennonites have a long history of moving, looking for open land and governments that will leave them to their own way of life.
It’s estimated that there are about 15,000 Mennonite citizens of Belize – and they vary, generally, from village to village with their practices. From the most strict, the “Old Colony” who speak Low Country German and use only horse and buggies for transportation (going as far as to put steel tires on their tractors) to a town like Blue Creek. Where many people are indistinguishable from the average visitor from the US or Canada.
But this is not a post about Mennonites…it’s about gorgeous farmland, a town with some very quirky features, about animals and meat, about how this one town provides an amazing amount of what we eat in Belize and about great beef.
YES. GREAT BEEF IN BELIZE.
Quirk #1: When we drove into town, I noticed that the river seemed to be dammed. So I asked…
Apparently, in the 60s, a large cargo plane made an emergency landing at Belize City International Airport and sustained some damages. Because of the damages and the length of the runway at the time, the owner decided to sell the plane.
To a gentleman in Blue Creek. Who used engine parts to fashion a power generator – and he built a dam and ran lines to parts of the town. Power! That is still generated today.
The remains of the plane are set up on a hill and used as a storage shed.
On the one road into town, you pass a guard station.
No animals are allowed in…they must go into strict examination and quarantine. Blue Creek is the only area of Belize that is certified disease free for farm animals.
We were about 40 minutes drive north of Orange Walk town…through a few small villages and along the road by the old colony Mennonite town of Shipyard.
Once through the gate, the road is beautiful, there is no litter at all…green pastures. Much of that has to do with Quirk #2: Blue Creek Village is all private land. The roads are all built by the community and maintained by the community. Speed limits and traffic regulations of Belize don’t apply here – they set their own.
I asked if they had ever considered running the country of Belize. Joking. Sorta. Well…not really joking at all.
I headed over to Reinland Meats which is under new ownership for the past four years. Albert Reimer, the owner, is a man passionate about the beef and this land.
I really enjoyed spending time with him…seeing his huge operation and asking about 1000 questions.
I first went through the processing plant. I am from suburban NJ and NYC…my knowledge of animal husbandry and meat production was pretty close to zero.
Wednesday is pig day. Friday is beef day – and while I was VERY interested in the operation, I’m not sure I was ready for slaughter day. Here are the pigs chilling…
And lovely smoked bacon.
And the meat, all packaged and vacuumed sealed in the freezer. Everything from sausage to rib eye steaks. Just about every single part of the animal is used in some way.
Everything is pretty much spotless.
But how do we get here? And why is Reinland, now served in higher end restaurants, sold in specialty shops and even made into the gorgeous burgers at Riverside Tavern in Belize City, considered the best in Belize?
Belize has always been a chicken country. In fact, Blue Creek is also the home to Caribbean Chicken which produces 30% or more of the chicken for Belize.
For years, the beef that was eaten (and still is) came from a can (potted meats) or was considered “stew meat”. Tough and requiring long periods of cooking. Grilling or roasting still is quite rare.
Mr Reimer wanted to change that. And with beef – that means focusing on two things.
Genetics. A black angus from Wyoming or a waygu from Argentina may produce gorgeous meat in those areas but in the tropics? Those steer are going to be miserable, sick and will find it hard to gain weight. Instead of eating, they will be suffering heat stroke under a tree…
Reinland found that the Nelore breed, primarily from Brazil, works best.
Rations. It’s not about the least cost food. It’s about raising hearty, healthy animals and helping them gain weight.
Age is also important. In the US, the top 2%, is graded PRIME. Only young beef are graded prime. The next level is CHOICE. Reinland beef is young and would fall into the prime category.
All of this is taken into careful CAREFUL account at Reinland.
Reinland grows all their own feed to feed the cows and bulls from beginning to end.
We eat the bulls…but all of the animals are in the pastures on specially planted grass from the beginning. They live here with their moms for their first 8 months. At this point they already weigh 600 pounds.
They are then moved to the feed pen. Where they eat corn, hay, soy and molasses…all non-GMO. GMO seeds are illegal in Belize.
All (but the molasses) are produced on the Reinland land. And it’s absolutely gorgeous. Soy for acres…
Picture perfect corn.
Serious machinery is involved…
Even crop dusters…Blue Creek flies all of the crop dusters for the whole country. The runway is HUGE and there are lots of small planes.
Which brings me to Quirk #3: Flying is a course that you can take in High School in Blue Creek. I watched one of the Flying Club planes practice overhead on Wednesday afternoon. Interesting. I took drivers’ Ed in New Jersey…here you can learn to fly.
Back to the cows. They then have 4-5 months in the feed lots eating this fermented mixture…
These guys get no hormones, no antibiotics, only vaccinations when they are young.
Once they are over 1000lbs…and about 12-14 months old…well…it is their time.
I had my first grilled steak in Belize at the Reimer’s home – a New York strip, Quickly grilled over the fire…a few minutes on each side…salt and pepper and it was delicious. Really really good meat.
I had to take some home. And I did. A few T-bones, 2 rib-eye steaks (the most popular) and a few packages of bacon/hamburger mix…one with habanero in it.
I will be sure to tell you how they all are.
BUT, if you love beef of any sort, you must try Reinland. Other beef in Belize is raised on native pasture…and can take up to 3 or 4 years to reach the full weight. It makes for a tougher meat.
You are starting to see Reinland more and more at stores. And restaurants. It’s really good stuff.
And the product list, both pigs (that are raised and slaughtered in Shipyard but processed by Reinland) and beef, is over 150 items. Everything and anything you can think of. From skirt steak to star steak (that’s a cross section of the neck.)
For direct sale information (or information where you can buy it), call the sales manager David Varro at 323-0038.
In San Pedro, you can buy Reinland at Island City Supermarket, Island Depot in Boca Del Rio and Beach Basket at Grand Caribe.
Quick #4 I will save for tomorrow. From Blue Creek, you can walk across the border to a small town in Mexico. It too is pretty interesting…