Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's a Food Fete - Artisan Beef Institute Presents "Rare Vintage" Beef

I had the honor yesterday to offer a very unique artisan steak tasting at this year's Food Fete New York. Hosted by founder Jeff Davis, Food Fete has to be the best non-trade show trade show in the food industry.

The Artisan Beef Institute (tm), which I founded a few years back, offers a series of steak and burger tastings called The Provenance of Beef (tm) (also affectionately known as #MeatCamp (tm)) to help people discover that beef is like wine - flavor, texture, and overall quality vary by farm, breed (grape variety), growing region, diet, husbandry, aging time & technique, and talent!

Those at Food Fete were treated to Top Sirloin steaks from four unique farm, slaughter, and butcher teams. While all are reasonably hard to find, I would classify two of these beefs as the equivalent of rare vintages.

First up was 100% Grass-Fed & Finished Galloway beef from the Beechy Family Farm in Elroy, Wisconsin. Discovered and offered to meat lovers by Grass Fed Traditions (whose parent company is Tropical Traditions, led by Brian Shilhavy), this beef is from a heritage breed whose heavy coat is well-suited to the growing region. Finished on a diet of native pasture including buffalo grass, switch grass, and bluestem, this beef was dry-aged 7 to 14 days by the team at Edgewood Locker.

Using the Artisan Beef Institute's tasting guide, this beef has a fabulous chew, adventurous personality with layers of flavors including notes of baked clams (think umami), and offers a light though lingering impression on the palate. I classify this beef as The Thinking Man's Date for someone seeking an intriguingly flavorful yet approachable grass-finished beef.

Next up was a beef that has never been tasted outside of the family who raises it, their close friends, and their butcher, Tracy Smaciarz. Gleason Ranch is an 800-acre ranch managed by siblings Tracey and Ted Baker in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State. Originally homesteaded in 1859, the Bakers are 5th generation ranchers who specialize in raising 100% Grass Fed & Finished Angus & Angus Cross beef.

This is another example of outstanding artisan quality grass-fed & finished beef. While I was too busy handing out samples to the wonderful people from O, The Oprah Magazine, Slashfood, New York Daily News, Ladies Home Journal and others to take formal tasting notes, I would classify this beef as Outdoor Adventure Date. Finished on a diet of native white clover, rye, and other grasses grown on the ranch and then dry-aged 26 days, this beef has a texture between like butter and nice chew, a deeply adventurous personality with earthy, rich, loamy vegetal flavors and a long luscious impression.

If you like reserved, classic steakhouse steaks this may not be your favorite but if you're like me and like complex yet harmonious flavors, this one's for you.

If you'd like to try Gleason Ranch beef, please send me a note at carrie [at] oliverranch [dot] com
as a few steaks and burgers will be available in August. If you're in the Pacific Northwest, you may be lucky enough to score a 1/4 or 1/2 that will become available in Fall 2010.

The third beef we tasted was brought to us by Meyer Natural Beef and personally presented by the charming Wayne Aiello, who recently completed a launch of the company's online marketplace. Bob Meyer founded the Meyer Ranch, a 43,000 acre Red-Angus breeding operation in the Blackfoot Valley, Montana, in 1990. The first ranch to be Certified Human Raised & Handled by the Humane Farm Animal Care Program, Meyer now works with over 250 others to offer beef to retailers, restaurateurs, and now directly to consumers.

Grain-Finished Angus and Angus Cross beef comes from cattle with provable Angus genetics [many rely on the color of the coat to determine breed] and thus offers a more consistent flavor and texture than other programs of its size. I was excited to taste this beef as I'd participated in some of the company's focus groups. I call this beef The Guy (or Gal) Next Door, the handsome/beautiful one you grew up admiring and secretly wanted to kiss. It offers a great chew and straightforward beefy flavor with some lovely roundness especially in the fat and leaves a medium, mouthwatering impression.

Last up was one of the beefs in my current home artisan steak tasting kit from The Oliver Ranch Company. This Grain-Finished Holstein-Friesian beef is a consistent crowd pleaser and offers a strikingly different profile than the other three. Raised and finished by Bob Beechinor of 3 Brand Cattle Company in California's Imperial Valley, this beef was wet-aged 21 days.

I call this beef
Prom Date for its fine grained, like butter texture, elegant, reserved classic beef flavor with hints of baked potato and its short, refreshing impression. You (hopefully) have fond memories of your prom date and would love to see him or her again even after all these years. This beef would pair with just about any sauce but would be overwhelmed by jammy or high tannin wines.

Now you're probably wondering which beef "won" the taste test. If you know me, you'll already know that I never pronounce a single winner. The truth is, most tasters told us they enjoyed all four beefs so it was just a matter of degree which one they identified as their favorite. Plus, the tally I kept had all four beefs running neck and neck, something I have seen time and again with my live tastings and home tasting kits.

I hope to offer all four of these beefs in future tastings. Please let me know if you'd like to have a tasting in your neighborhood or be qualified by my Institute to host tastings for me!

Note: All tasting notes, descriptors, and comments are copyrighted by The Artisan Beef Institute (tm) and The Oliver Ranch Company (tm) and cannot be used without express permission. The images are copyright Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen and the respective farms, ranches, or companies listed above.


Hannah said...

Hey Carrie,
I actually didn't read this post but just happened to read a comment you had posted about pastured pork on Molly irwin's blog.
I am in southwestern ontario and just attended a FarmStart workshop this past weekend about pastured pigs (& poultry). There were a bunch of people there who WERE pasturing pork. Someone at FarmStart MAY be able to put you in touch with someone who is raising pastured pork. You can tell them that I sent you! Good luck!

Diana said...

Wow, what a cool experience. My mouth is watering just thinking about all that steak and it's only 5:30 in the morning!

Carrie Oliver said...

Hannah, thank you, this is great! I was lucky to be treated to so pastured pork during a visit to Shaw Island in Washington. Neal Foley aka @Podchef is a very entrepreneurial farmer and chef who raises Hampshire pigs in his wood and pasture lands. It was delicious and had a hint of tart apples from his finishing diet of heritage apples. I will be looking for something from Ontario now through FarmStart!

Diana, than you for stopping by! You are not the only one who occasionally craves steak in the wee hours of the morn. Steak and eggs after all is a great excuse to nibble on the leftover beef :)

Anonymous said...

This artisan steak tasting sounds wonderful! I haven't done a tasting like this yet and hope to do one in the near future.

Thank you so much for your comment on my White Barn Inn review. The main reason why the sirloin there was boring was because of the preparation. We would have probably been happy (minus the fatty pieces) with the dish in a steak restaurant but in the Mobil 5 Star we usually expect an innovative approach with a wow factor rather than something that I can cook myself at home. Unfortunately, I didn't ask which farm the beef was from and the menu just specified "local" so I'm assuming it's a farm in Maine. Thanks!

mahill510 said...

Love the site - I am in the process of building a gourmet meat market that will sell organic, natural, and commercial grades (still have to market to my audience) of beef, pork and poultry.

This is a complete 180 for me, as I have been apprenticing at an old time butcher shop in North Dallas for about a year, with the hopes of buying the business when the couple owning the shop retired later on this year. The deal fell through, so I am starting from the ground up and being able to draw on seasoned professionals is an added benefit.

2 of the ranchers I am working with are 100% grass fed, 1 other rancher has grass fed beef, and then finishes the last few weeks with organic grain and feed.

1 producer I am in negotiations with is raising steers that are grain and grass fed dairy cows/steers, with less fat, supposedly comparable in texture, tenderness, juiciness, and flavor to Kobe and High Grade Certified Angus Beef.

This group has been working with the University of Colorado, and the meat is supposed to be very good.

My question, is have you ever had a commercial/natural dairy cow? Are there any things I should look for when we start the sampling process?

Carrie Oliver said...

I love that you're opening a specialty meat shop and I am more than happy to help you with that. We need more people looking beyond simple labels such as natural or organic or grassfed or USDA Choice Grade to offer meat lovers the opportunity to discover the real world of beef, which is full of variety in texture, flavor, and overall eating experience.

I am quite sure I've eaten dairy cows but not on purpose - either thru McDonald's or grocery store ground beef, since that's what they make their "beef" with.

Well, actually, I did taste a 6-year old Shorthorn cow, grass-fed and have tried other dairy breeds raised by cheese makers who finish their male calves on grass. Each had their own unique flavor and texture, tho' I wouldn't personally go back to any of them soon.

I do know of group of producers who raise and finish Holstein steers cast off by the dairy farms in the LA area. They have a very good slaughter facility (Bropack). With the right butcher aging and cutting the beef, I have seen this beef do extremely well at my live artisan steak tastings or through my Oliver Ranch Company home artisan steak tasting packs. The program is not the penultimate on the sustainability scale (while they don't use growth stimulants or antibiotics they do use ionophores and the cattle are corn fed in feed lots).

Why don't we connect through email or by phone. Maybe I can qualify you to use my beef tasting guide, this could be an interesting twist to your new business.

Carolyn Jung said...

"Note of baked clams''?? Wow, I definitely want to try that. Sounds incredible!

Paula - bell'alimento said...

Ciao Carrie! WOW looks like an amazing event. Would have loved to have been a taste tester ;) & as always so informative!