A nutty idea between Harris Farm Markets and a Bathurst beef operation to feed cattle and sheep a diet of chestnut and almond byproducts has been so successful that plans are already under way to expand the program.
The concept from Harris Farm Markets' head of meat, seafood and small goods, Antony Williams, and Lee White of Llandillo Beef to offer a meat product with a point of difference will be showcased during a Farm to Table dinner on Friday.
Two years ago the pair began discussing the prospect of custom feeding cattle on a chestnut based ration after Mr Williams had seen the rise of speciality fed concepts like acorn-fed meat while travelling in Europe.
Last year Mr White fed 10 steersover three different time periods from 90 to 120 days and also tested two different feeding techniques to understand the alternative fodder.
About six of those carcases were offered in limited Harris Farm Markets stores and were met with such positive demand that the concept was expanded to include sheep and also an almond meal ration.
This year Mr White currently has 34 steers on either chestnut or almond diets along with a portion of lambs on the almonds.
"We got talking about people looking for a point of difference at the moment and the restaurant market is saturated with the word Angus in their menu that people are going to be wanting something different and not a gimmick," Mr White said.
"We started doing some research and we found that there is pecan flavoured Prosciutto and things through Spain, and it was sort of becoming a thing in Europe so we said let's try to find something and do something here.
"We were able to source the chestnuts, get the seconds, from a few of the chestnut farms at harvest and it all kicked off from that.
"When that worked last year we were like, let's do that again and try something different.
"As far as I know this will be the first almond fed product in the world."
The almond fed lamb hit stores about a month ago and will be served to guests at the celebratory function on Friday while the first almond fed steers will be processed on-farm through the portable processing plant, Provenir.
While they are yet to taste the impact of the almond on the beef product, Mr White said it softened the fat, added marble and changed the smell of the lamb product while the chestnuts added buttery flavour with extra texture to the beef.
As chestnuts are only available from May to August, the alternative feeding program could help put beef on the Christmas lunch table of consumers.
The end product is timed around the end of November, making it a timely premium product for the festive season.
"Beef isn't really something renowned for christmas or December, we sort of all turn off beef a little bit, and it's all about pork and turkey," Mr White said.
"So to have a point of difference at a limited time right at Christmas will be good. Almond fed we are going to try and do it a couple times a year."
To celebrate the success of the product, invited guests will be treated to a night of education and dining at the Llandillo property, Aspley Downs.
Mr White will give visitors a tour of the property while Mr Williams and Chris Du Plessis of food service provider Origin Meat will deliver their insights on the product.
Chefs will serve up the meat to guests who will also learn from Chris Balazs of Provenir about the first mobile processing unit where the meat will be processed.
Mr Williams said it was an opportunity to meet, eat and discuss the product and gauge its potential from the entire supply chain.
"If we think customer response is going to be fantastic, at a chef, customer, food service and at retail level, then let's and start getting these lambs and getting the almond meal right up and we will turn into a program," he said.
"It might be 30 or 40 lambs a fortnight but this could be 100 or 200 lambs a week. We are looking forward pretty ambitiously with it, we just need to start talking about it now."
With 26 shops currently open and future plans to expand interstate, Mr Williams was willing to take the alternative feed concept further afield to other industries like pork and chicken.
"I would definitely look at different things especially if you can have some sort of positive environmental impact," Mr Williams said.
"If there are these excesses out there that are being created by other industries that we can utilise, that's where I would like to attack because it's just a better story."
Mr White currently runs about 200 Hereford breeders and not only markets their own beef product but also buys steers from bull clients for the program.
But, the lamb venture was entirely new and sheep were sourced by local agents and processed at 40, 60 and 80 day feed times.
The almond meal is fed at about 30 per cent of a feed ration incorporating barley and corn silage along with lucerne hay while the chestnuts are given as a dry feed with each animal receiving about 500 kilograms of chestnuts across 120 days.
The animals graze pastures as well with a small portion of the alternative feed also incorporated into their drought relief ration.
"It took a bit of time, but once we worked out which way was going to work best they went crazy for it," Mr White said.
"They went nuts for it. In the chestnut steers, they are always looking like two-week-old calves. They are jumping around, they are fresh, they are super shiny."
The steers range from 11 to 13 months of age and average about 450 kilograms.
During a scanning about a month ago, the steers measured six millimetres of fat with a 70 square centimetre eye muscle area.
This was also conducted at the start of the feeding with the information to be used to compare the results of the two alternative feeds and also place it against their standard feedlot lines.