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.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Would Robert Parker Rate A Wine On Appearance Alone?

This is how we grade our beef.

When farmers participate in my artisan steak and burger tastings, they are like kids in a candy store. Why? Because in
the conventional system, farmers are given little feedback on the flavor and texture of their beef.

when the USDA grades beef as Prime or Choice they don't actually taste it. The basis for Prime or Choice is based instead on the perceived amount of marbling (fat speckles) between the 12th & 13th rib bone and the bone structure to estimate the cattle's age.

Here's the rub: Marbling actually only accounts for 1/3 of taste & texture. What about the other 2/3rds?

Do you love to eat absolutely fabulous beef? Are you a farmer? Do you work in a slaughterhouse or are you a butcher? I am writing a more comprehensive story on what I'm doing to help farmers get the feedback they need and the consumers the opportunity to support those who raise the best tasting, cleanest beef.

But I'm looking for feedback here - what would YOU do to help create a feedback loop between farms, slaughterhouses, butchers and those of us who eat the food? What questions, complaints, opportunities do you see?