Review: Meat Share Service Walden Local Meat Is A Cut Above

Walden Local Meat, a subscription meat and dairy delivery service focused on the upper northeast of the United States. With a noble focus on shorter delivery distances and supporting regional farmers and ranchers, the company operates somewhat like a large-scale cow (and pig and chicken, etc.) share, handling the logistics of distributing every part of the animal and its byproducts.

Walden sent us a selection of their products to try out, along with a thermometer and a nifty, handheld, three-ring binder to stow the recipes tailored to each month's distribution. The items arrived in a reusable, sturdy insulated tote that you can leave out for your Walden delivery person if you don't intend to use it. The bags get cleaned and put back into circulation for sustainability.

If you're a carnivore looking for high-quality products and who also happens to live along the New England and New York shoreline, let's dig into whether you'll be satisfied with the premium price of a Walden Local Meat delivery.

Is Walden Local Meat more ethical than grocery stores?

The ethicality of selling meat and animal byproducts won't be settled in America anytime soon. We can say that within the moral framework that justifies humans should eat meat, Walden Local is an excellent option for people who want their food to live a good life and limit greenhouse gases. Similar to ButcherBox, Walden Local directly addresses the problems of commercial meat's premium grocery delivery by putting the humane treatment of its animals front and center.

While both meat box providers prioritize the environment, Walden's advantage is its very short delivery range. It's worth noting that despite individual plastic packaging, grocery boxes and meal kits are still ecologically superior to the average grocery store trip, accounting for the transportation and food waste. With this type of service, you get the exact amount you intend to eat delivered frozen solid with small ice crystal formations, and only ready when you are. Portions are delivered to spec, not general market predictions. That means none of the shipping to a supermarket only for half the product to end up in a dumpster.

Its disadvantage is that industrial farming offers a near-bottom price point, because it's not trying to compete on the very important points of ensuring animal welfare and all but the legally required environmental considerations. For most people, that ought to be worth paying for if they can at all afford it.

What foods does Walden Local Meat sell?

Walden Local Meat focuses almost entirely on whole foods and accompaniments: muscle cuts and sausages, trimmings and bones, broths, cured meats such as salami and bacon, rendered lard and butter, eggs, dairy (including kefir), cheeses, breads and pastas, seafood, sauces, syrups, sauerkraut, soaps, dog food, honey, and even a little chocolate and vanilla. In short: It's everything you need to make the main courses of three meals a day, but it won't arrive in Blue Apron-style no-brainer kits that walk you through every stage of a recipe. It's definitely a box for the more experienced cook who can compose their own culinary concoctions.

If you're in need of a meal kit that renders your dinner dilemma as simple as heat and eat, you probably want something more like Blue Apron's ready-to-eat packs, or Omaha Steaks, which provides a choice of pre-prepped sides to compliment its choice cuts. Walden is solidly for people with decent cooking skills who want to use high-quality ingredients in meals they've planned themselves. But for those people, it offers plenty of options for local(ish), traditionally raised meats have been raised with regard to the animals' condition. It's the kind of thing that used to exist around every non-urban area but is vanishing from many suburban regions.

Where does the company its meat?

Walden Local gets all of its food from over 70 farms in the Northeast. It may be a little odd to consider, but it looks like a few of the supplying farms are actually located outside of Walden's delivery zone, meaning if you want pork from Vermont, you can only get it in points south and/or east.

The company labels every item in its boxes with the farm and its location. Every supplier signs affidavits testifying to the integrity of its products regarding herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, humane treatment, and more. While this food isn't officially organic — because the organic label is a very costly and difficult certification to obtain — more practically, it's the same but without the baked-in expenses. Per Walden Local, its beef is 100% grass-fed, which includes forage. Fish and other seafood are carefully harvested from the North Atlantic within normal population variations under the recommendations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's another sign of Walden's respect for the species it harvests and the ecosystem beyond them.

How much does Walden Local cost?

Box configurations vary, and can range from just grinds to full arrays of roasters, steaks, chops, and BBQ cuts. Walden Local Meat sent Tasting Table a $90 Complete Bag, plus another $110 or so of monthly specials, which included kefir, butter, eggs, two kinds of salami, tortillas, spare ribs, and more. You could order quite a bit of variety throughout the year and still have some items on offer left to try. If you're sticking to the prepared share configurations, your meat will cost about $15 per pound.

That's obviously going to make some people balk when they could buy ground beef and sausage links for $5 per pound or so on sale at the grocery. Fair play. But consider that you're also getting restaurant-quality steaks for $5 to $15 off their current market rate, and Walden's $6.50 stack for ethically farmed eggs is a full three bucks cheaper than recent sightings of the factory version at Stop & Shop in NYC (you're actually getting a discount on your conscience).

Do the products taste good?

Of course, none of this means a thing if Walden Local's product isn't worth the effort. So is it good meat? Short answer: yes, Walden Local meat tastes very good. For taste, we consider Walden well worth the money. Longer answer: it's a little nuanced, and will depend heavily on your tastes. Our broad-spanning box contained a very representative sample of steaks, burger, chicken, pork, and some darn fine cured meats from across New York and New England.

Try a really broad sampler pack or two and then figure out which items are worth it to you to get. Our only NBs were the whole-muscle pork cuts, whose taste was less intense than you're probably used to from factory pigs who get fed hard for flavor near the end of their life (but that's not great for the pig, and not best for you, either). To be extremely clear there was absolutely nothing deficient in flavor or quality; we're tempering your expectations after a lifetime of consuming meat that ate a certain way. The pork we enjoyed tasted fresh and clear and juicy. Its sausages and salamis were exceptional: note-perfect, even.

Eggs, though very tasty, were not richer than you might find at the supermarket. It's worth noting a lot of chain-grocery sausage and eggs are often raised locally and may have traveled much shorter distances to the store. Still, they're currently a good deal, and again, humane.

What are the must-order items?

We adored the sausages and salamis. The sweet Italian sausage was juicy, tender even after a sear, and deliciously porky. It even reheated well for a second life after a cooked stint in the freezer and fridge. Its spicy firecracker sausage counterpart had just the right amount of heat. Its porkiness was manifest at first bite in only the right ways. While some sausage makers go overboard into hot dog or bologna flavor territory, Walden's was a big wow that we would absolutely revisit. The salami was even better, perhaps the star of the entire show. The red wine and garlic edged out the white wine and fennel with a richer flavor that tasted like longer aging or more good white mold. That said, the white wine sausage had beautiful hunks of fat throughout that begged its consumer to let its flavors melt on the tongue. Both were wonderful.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the package of tortillas! With rendered lard folded into the masa, they were head and shoulders even better than that-day fresh tortillas made with just masa and water ... and far easier than making a batch by hand. Make sure not to sleep on those.  

Stuff we liked but could probably beat for flavor: While we expect it would vary from farm to farm or even next autumn's batch, we found the bacon overly salty and the sweet cream butter underly so. Both had rich flavor otherwise, but with so many cultured butter varieties out there from grass-fed cows, you've got options.

Is delivery fast and safe?

Yes, Walden Local Meat is very fast. Our box of meat (flash-frozen for its integrity) and dairy arrived in less than a day after the request. Each dry-ice-preserved piece was painful to the touch, which is a desirable sign when you're shipping icy packs of meat. And hey, bonus: Our freezer has been running at unbelievable efficiency ever since.

Unless it's 33 F in the shadow of your house, it would be criminal to thaw these meats in anything other than the fridge, maybe even at the bottom, to come to temperature as slowly as possible. Once your dinner's thawed, you're holding something that's all but farm-fresh.

The short travel distance definitely helps. Walden delivers to Southeastern Maine, the eastern half of Massachusetts, most of Connecticut, and New York City along with neighboring commuter areas (Westchester, Rockland, western Long Island, Northeastern and Central New Jersey, and a few outlying areas). 

Is Walden Local Meat worth it?

Walden Local Meat is definitely worth your dollar. It may not replace all of the meat and dairy in your month, but it's a worthy substitution that, in current circumstances with the supply chain, may even save you money with a boost in quality and peace of mind about where your food comes from. As Walden itself says on its FAQ page, it could charge more, but exists to charge what's fair. Its foremost goal is to make local animal products more accessible and elevate the level of quality in what's on offer to everyone. Three-quarters of its offerings come from a radius of 150 miles, and the rest originate within 250 miles.

All of that makes it a different sort of company and a cut above most of them. There's a genuine sense, from the founders to the savvy packaging that's largely reusable and/or compostable, that it's not just marketing, and everyone involved in this company cares about a better way of doing things. For its target audience, that kind of experience is worth a markup.

And of course, the food is delicious. From burger grinds that elicit grunts of primal satisfaction to absolutely banging bangers and kefir that kicks, this is a reasonably priced way to live high on the hog. But don't worry, Walden will sell you its trotters, too.