By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
This past Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of people gathered early in Casper on a Saturday morning so as not to be left out of a big event that was about to take place. An event so HUGE that people lined up for hours to get in.
Now, you might think that I’m talking about the big Harriette Hageman-Donald Trump rally over at the Ford Wyoming Center, but you would be wrong.
Let me take you back to the Friday before and you’ll understand.
It’s late evening when I get a text message from my editor Jimmy Orr and he had an assignment for me. The conversation went like this…
Jimmy: “Hey Tim! How would you like to cover a story tomorrow for Eating Wyoming?”
Me: “Sure thing. What ya got?”
Jimmy: “You know who Jeffree Star is?”
Me: “The YouTube makeup guy here in Casper?”
Now I’m thinking he got Eating Wyoming confused with something else, but then…
Jimmy: “Yeah, he’s selling yak meat tomorrow from his ranch in Casper.”
Me: Yak? Oh cool! This should be interesting. I’m in!”
Are you all caught up now? No? Don’t know who Jeffree Star is? I’ll quickly fill you in and explain how he came to raise yaks in Wyoming.
Jeffree Star is an entrepreneur and the founder of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, a cosmetics line estimated to be worth over $1.5 billion. Star is also a YouTuber and has one of the platform’s largest followings at 16 million subscribers.
A former Los Angeles resident, Star left the glitz of LA and moved to the quiet of Casper, purchasing a ranch at the foot of Casper Mountain.
In my interview with Star, he explained that he always wanted “…a lot of land in the middle of nowhere.”
With all this land now at his disposal, Star decided to take up yak ranching. But why yaks? Even more important, what is a yak?
While traveling in the Swiss Alps years ago, Star came across, as he described it, a sea of yaks grazing on a pasture. It must have been a scene straight out of the film “The Sound of Music.”
Having never seen a yak, he asked “Are these hairy, horned cows?”
Later he explained to me that these animals are the divas of all bovines, and thus he fell in love with yaks.
Fast forward to his new, though animal-less, ranch in Casper. He had all this land to use, yet never thought about raising animals.
But then, remembering those Swiss divas, Jeffree realized how awesome it would be to raise yaks. One problem, he didn’t know anything about raising them.
Quickly Googling “yaks in Casper,” he found the only place in Casper that’s raising them, Prairie Wind Yak Ranch. Star reached out to the owner Sunshine Schultz, who gladly invited him to come on down to her ranch.
It was at this ranch where Sunshine and Star would meet (see what I did there?) and he would intern, learning all things yak. Learning their behavior, how to care for and groom them, even learning to trim their hooves with a grinder.
As he describes it, “It was everything out of my element, but it felt natural and fulfilling.”
Starting out with six yaks on 600 acres, the yaks had more than enough room, but as Star would put it, “Where are they? They get lost in the landscape.” So the Star Yak Ranch was born.
It wasn’t until he tried the meat and looked up its nutritional value that Star started thinking about the meat production side of ranching.
“It’s the perfect meat for people that can’t have most red meat, and it’s really good,” he said.
Today, Star Yak ranch has a full-blown, genetically controlled breeding program, with 120 head in four different pastures.
Currently the ranch has about 40 pregnant cows waiting to increase the herd’s numbers. All the livestock are DNA tested, tagged and entered into an online registry with UsYaks.org.
However, only a few lucky pampered yaks are pets. The rest are destined to be dinner.
This is a true prairie-to-plate operation and 2022 is the first year for the sale of Star Yak Ranch meat products.
If the lines at this first sale were any indication of interest, those 120 cows better get busy for next year too!
Now you should be all caught up.
When I arrived at Star’s warehouse in Casper, there were already cars lining the road, waiting for the sale to begin. I queued up and entered the small room in the front of the building, where four 8-foot chest freezers were loaded with beautifully vacuum-packed cuts of all kinds.
There were about twenty cuts available, ranging from ground yak to ribeyes, tenderloins, roasts and even yak tongue, which Star says is one of his favorite cuts.
I selected a few cuts to sample and patiently waited for an opportunity to talk to Star about his ranching operation. As I waited, the line outside grew longer and longer and longer! The tiny front room was quickly filling up with customers.
Some people were there as much for a meet as for meat, that is to say, to meet Jeffree Star. Star posed for photos with folks who were eager to try what was on sale. Consequently, I had to wait my turn in line. OK, not actually in line, but off to the side as Star expertly worked the crowd.
After patiently waiting, I was given a nod to follow Mr. Star back into the quiet of the warehouse, where I would conduct the interview for this article.
I’ll have to admit, I love people who are passionate about what they do, whether it’s a hobby or profession. Star is obviously passionate about yak ranching, saying he’s really embracing the Wyoming ranch life.
The culture here is much different from his native Huntington Beach, California, but as he said, his neighbors have all been inviting and happy to show him what it takes to be a Wyoming rancher.
After one of the easiest and most fun interviews I’ve ever done — one in which Star was excited to share his new passion for ranching — I returned to the front room. I had expected the crowd would have thinned by now, but to my surprise, it was even bigger than before.
Looking outside, there was a line of people that had to be at least 75 deep! Not wanting to take up more of his time, I thanked Jeffree, paid for my yak, and somehow made it through the multitudes to the outside.
Now I have a box full of yak in hand but what was I to do with it? Like most of you, I’ve never cooked yak. I picked out several cuts to try, eventually settling on making a yak chili with yak stew meat and ground meat.
In the interview, Jeffree suggested cooking yak slowly, and in the case of burgers, not overcooking it. After all, it’s extremely lean, over 90%! I could have used a slow cooker for my chili, but being curious and impatient, I broke out my Instant Pot pressure cooker and really, who doesn’t have one these days?
I used traditional chili seasoning but you should feel free to use your favorite recipe. The seasoning in this case wasn’t as important as the meat.
I loaded up the pot and set it for 53 minutes, with a 15 minute natural pressure release. Most of the time I’ll use beef in my chili and it often comes out dry, but in this case, I was in for a surprise.
At this point, you might be asking, “What does yak taste like?” Well, being in the bovine family, I would find out the meat is much like beef, but then again completely different.
I was surprised how amazing yak is. Even after pressure cooking, it retained an almost sweet flavor. The stew meat I used was tender and not dry at all.
There was no gamey taste, as with other super lean cuts like elk or venison. The yak had a very clean taste that didn’t overpower the dish.
Honestly, going into this article, I didn’t know what to expect, having never prepared yak before, but I would use it again. The leanness of the meat has obvious health benefits and as with other Wyoming ranch products, it’s always good to know where your food comes from.
If you would like to try yak for yourself, and I highly recommend that you do, look for Star Yak Ranch on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news on sale times.