Messinger Meats Makes Piedmontese Beef a Family Affair

Every weekday morning, Mercedes Messinger drives from her meat processing plant in Mirror, Alberta (about a half hour east of Lacombe) to the Italian Center Shop in Calgary.

Her company, Messinger Meats, has a large display counter near the front of the store, stocked with sausages, pork roasts and chops, bison, elk, and perhaps most importantly, a variety of cuts of Piedmontese beef.  Every morning, Messinger personally drives product down from her plant to fill the counter - a necessity since by the next day she is almost always greeted by a near empty case.

"Sometimes I'll put out 10 Tomahawks and go back to the cooler to get more meat, and what I've just put out is gone by the time I get back," she says.  "But it is a joy to come here every day because I meet my customers.  I come here every day, and meet people and hear what they say, and I just enjoy it."


Messinger and her husband Joe moved to Canada from Germany (they worked in butchery there as well, but wanted to try something new) in the early '00's and bought their meat processing plant in 2004. After experimenting with various business models (including operating a store front right out of the plant, drawing in a dedicated clientele despite their remote location) and experiencing a relative degrees of success, Messinger Meats shifted gears in recent years.  Through a partnership with the Italian Center Shops in both Calgary and Edmonton, the label is rapidly developing a cult following.  While everything Messinger sells is made with the same level of dedication (the company is dedicated to healthy, hormone and chemical-free meats, and takes pains to slaughter the animals as humanely as pssible), the aforementioned Piedmontese beef has made them one of the most unique meat producers in the province. 


Piedmontese beef comes from an Italian breed of cow - a few were shipped over to North America in the '70's and there are currrently about 15,000 head in North America, making up less than one percent of the cattle on the continent.  After tasting it for the first time a few years ago, Messinger instantly fell in love and decided it was the only beef she wanted to sell.  She sources the Piedmontese solely from Peony Farms, a Lacombe farm owned and operated by Peter DenOudsten and his family.   

The cows themselves have a gene that creates something called "double muscling," which affects the length of the fibres of the muscle and the texture of the meat, and is also low in cholesterol and calories, and is higher in protein and Omega 3 and 6 fat.  The flesh of the meat is a darker colour than you'll usually find in Alberta, and also cooks about 30 percent more quickly. 

"The double muscle gives them a finer muscle fibre, so when you eat that meat you don't have to chew the big fibres," Messinger says.  "It's naturally more tender - there's no tenderizing necessary.  And we don't have to hang it; there's now this big trend with dry-aging, but that's not necessary with the Piedmontese beef, it's just perfect the way it is."

If the Piedmontese is what makes Messinger Meats' product line special, it's the company's commitment to maintaining a small family business and building relationships with their like-minded partners that makes their business equally as special.  Messinger closed her shop in the plant after she was invited to open a meat counter at Sinnott's Independent in Red Deer, which she figured would be more convenient for her customers.  From there she developed a deal with the Italian Centre Shop's Teresa Spinelli and now Messinger's meat (and by extension, Peony Farms' Pidemontese) is available exclusively in Edmonton and Calgary at Italian Centre Shop locations (Red Deer customers can find it at the newly opened Messinger Meats Artisan Butcher Bistro and Cafe located at 2067 50 Gaetz Ave South).


Messinger also recruited her three adult children, who left their existing careers to help with the business (just as Messinger drives to Calgary to stock the shelves each day, her daughter drives up to Edmonton), and that family connection is central to her business acumen.  She knows that she could have gone with a larger grocery chain, hired non-family staff, and put her meat on a truck every day, but it's just not how she wanted to do it.  With her current model, everything stays in the family, she's able to keep costs down, get her product to the people, and feel good about her contributions to the community. 

"The Piedmontese beef goes from the farm family to our family to the Spinelli family to your family," Messinger says.  "I want people who have normal families to be able to afford the healthiest meat available.  Teresa has the same philosophy, we are both agreed on that."

Author: Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a Calgary-based freelance writer, and co-founder/co-editor of RollingSpoon.com and Wapawekka.com.  She enjoys exploring the connection between music and food through interviews with musicians and chefs.