Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just What Is Angus Beef - Part 1

The answer might surprise you, especially if you're a wine aficionado.

To be marketed as Black Angus* beef, the USDA requires one of two things:

  1. The cattle must have at least 50% provable Angus genetics -or-

  2. Have at least 51% black hair

There are some minor exceptions but for the most part, the good folks on the slaughterhouse line can check each cattle’s papers as they pass on by, call in CSI to do a DNA test, or eyeball the hair color.

By comparison, a US winemaker must meet three criteria in order to label his or her wine as a particular varietal, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

  1. Grapes from a designated appellation (i.e. Napa Valley) -and-

  2. At least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes -and-

  3. The entire 75% grown in the designated appellation

Now, I think most people would agree that said wine with 25% Merlot grapes would taste different than said wine with 25% Pinot Noir grapes.

So with wine, at minimum, place, grape variety, %’s matter.

Heck, wine drinkers have been known to argue mightily over vintages that come from the same appellation and grape variety but are grown in different pockets of that appellation. Have you ever read the Squires / eBob board (as in Robert Parker)?

Why wouldn’t we celebrate the fact that 50% Black Angus – 50% Limousin beef might have a different flavor and texture than 50% Black Angus – 50% Hereford? With the right paperwork, they’d both qualify as Black Angus. But they'd surely taste different. Especially if they were fed different diets in different regions.

I for one think it would be great to have folks be arguing as passionately about beef origin and style as they do about wine.

Why? At minimum, if we actually know what's on our plate, we can choose the style of beef we like best.

Even better, the very best beef -- artisan beef -- comes from producers, truckers, and butchers who raise cattle in low-stress, clean, drug-free conditions.

It's the next logical step in the move to support natural and organic, humanely raised meat.

* The Certified Black Angus program is more stringent than the USDA criteria. You can check out their additional requirements, here.

ps The cattle in that photo are 75% Black Angus - 25% Limousin cattle from Peace Valley Ranch in the Hills of the Headwaters region in Southern Ontario.

pps Special thanks to three charming gentlemen on Twitter @mmWine, @eljefetwisted, and @randyhall for helping me find the wine criteria from the Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau.


denise rich said...

Great information, I didn't know that about the beef or the wine.
Guess any black cow I paint I can certainly call a Black Angus if I want to!

Carrie Oliver said...

Denise, but as an artist, you'd be so great at showing the nuances :-) Thanks for your comment and best to you!

Brooke said...

this one was a real shocker.

Wayne Aiello said...

It's great to see information like this making its way to the public. We are a Natural Angus ranch and beef company and we use genetics as the only way to ensure our cattle our real Angus. We compete against others that use hide color, and while you can luck out and get some good beef that way, the consistency is just not there. One other beef I have with the USDA standards (pun intended) is that the definition of "natural" is so loose that it allows cattle to be fed with growth hormones and antibiotics on a withdrawal program. Maybe you could write about that sometime.