Friday, August 15, 2008

The Provenance of Beef - Let The Steak Tastings Begin!

Sometimes dreams do come true, and this one was mine.

60 people were on hand - we sold out twice! - as we formally launched our Artisan Beef Institute to the public in tandem with the highly regarded Commonwealth Club of California's 3rd Annual "How We Eat" series.

In the planning for nearly 3 years, The Artisan Beef Institute's(r) "Provenance of Beef(tm)" series combines an interactive expert panel discussion and comparison steak tasting.

Now mind you, this wasn't about tasting different cuts of "Choice" or "Prime" steaks. Designed to appeal to those seeking to support great ranchers and sustainability, this was something entirely new, was one heck of a lot of fun, and as one guest commented, "made me smarter about beef than anyone else I know, how cool is that?!"

The evening began with an interactive expert panel discussing how individual ranchers, butchers, and chefs influence the taste and texture of beef to create connoisseur quality on the plate.

Then, participants were taken through a blind taste test of four different “styles” of beef from different natural ranches, each representing a different breed, region, diet, and aging technique. Guests were encouraged to use a brand new tasting guide developed by ABI (let's face it, meaty, beefy, juicy, and tender pretty much sums up our vocabulary when it comes to beef).

Q&A with members of the panel follows along with a full four-course meal, including wine pairings from Napa’s Atalon Vineyards.

Importantly, panelists stressed how low stress management techniques and sustainable land management aren't just the right things to do, they contribute directly to beef flavor, quality, and texture. (I argue that connoisseur quality beef is by definition raised with care and respect.)

The main takeaway? Relying on USDA Grade or labels such as organic or grass-fed is not enough. No different than with wine, to enjoy genuinely natural or organic, connoisseur quality beef, you need to know the source and to know the details of what is on the plate: the breed, diet, growing region and the husbandry, harvesting, processing and aging techniques.

The other fun takeaway? I just love this as I’ve seen it anecdotally over three years of blind steak tastings but this was a big enough crowd to gauge the statistical probabilities.

When asked to vote for their favorite, the scores were evenly distributed between the four ranches / beef styles.

So there you have it: There is no such thing as the perfect steak!

But there IS a perfect steak for you.

Here are the styles we tasted. Three are in our marketplace and the other, from the fabulous Mac Magruder in Potter Valley, CA, can be found at Café Rouge in Berkeley, Woodlands Market in Kentfield, and on the menu at Oliveto in Berkeley.

  • Dry-Aged Charolais, grain-finished, Elliott & Ferris Families, Front Range Region, CO

  • Dry-Aged Black Angus-Shorthorn Cross, grass-only, Mac Magruder, Potter Valley, CA

  • Wet-Aged Wagyu-Angus Cross, grain-finished, Kobe Beef America, finished in Holdrege, NE

  • Wet-Aged Holstein-Friesian, grain-finished, Bob Beechinor, Bakersfield, CA