There are occasions within agriculture where you get to try new things. You may be thinking that I got to run some new piece of equipment or experience an innovative technique which could make life a bit easier and more profitable. While I wouldn’t scoff at either option, the truth of the matter is that in farming, nothing compares to the stimulation of one’s taste-buds.
American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Love of beauty is taste and the creation of beauty is art.” When I saw Jean O’Toole from the New York Beef Industry Council cooking a grill-full of strip steaks at Drover Hill Farm for the 2015 “Meat Your Beef” Tour, I got what ole Ralph was saying despite my carnivorous nature.
Jean was grilling these delectable protein treats as part of a blind taste test for 25 of us who participated in a farm tour of how your beef is raised for folks like retail food service distributors, restaurants owners, chefs, culinary instructors, dietitians and even the grazing guy. She took care to perfectly cook the meat to a medium-rare finish and was silent as to the origin of the cuts. I knew this was going to be great but what I didn’t realize is how my palate and mind would react to the eating experience.
Knowing the neutral nature of the council and the finishing regimes of beef, I surmised I would be scoring grain and grass-finished beef as well as my clients, William and Stephanie Lipsey’s beef. Admittedly, I put undue pressure on myself and was a bit nervous because of my grass-fed bias. Unbeknownst to the nice ladies at the council, I have already tasted the best steak in the world produced right at my own farm without a lick of grain. This would be my standard by which I would judge. How it would play out in this tasting experiment was anyone’s guess.
I was committed to the task as the tender morsels would be judged on juiciness, tenderness, connective tissue and flavor intensity. Wild card descriptors that might place one sample over another in a tight race ran the gambit from livery taste to a peculiar term called “soapy”. As the toothpicks eased into the samples without effort, it was clear that this was going to be a hard decision.
Noises of gratitude and perhaps even lust began to fill the tent as people savored the scrumptious slices of joy. My sample A was relatively juicy and tender but didn’t really excel in the flavor department. Sample B was like biting into a juicy, ripe peach that melted in my mouth with no disparaging connective tissue, and had decent flavor. Sample C was a bit drier with more fat content and much more beef flavor than the first two samples. Sample D also excelled in flavor and was pretty juicy and not as tender as sample B. As my tasting concluded, the meat quality throughout was above average and would make almost everyone I know pretty happy.
Based on my personal preference, I chose the extremely juicy and tender sample B over a more flavorful slightly less tender sample D. Another day, I might flip-flop the contestants. Upon the reveal, (And probably much to the chagrin of my grass-finishing friends), I chose a pure commodity grain finished steak over the local Drover Hill Farm dry-aged steak as did most of the other guests. Sample C was a local grass-finished steak and surprisingly the lowest point getter was a branded certified Angus beef (CAB) grain finished steak. I felt I was fair in my assessment which were corroborated by the other guest judges.
Judging beef is a tricky business. I equate this process to tasting wine whereby the term “Terroir” reinforces that the taste comes from one’s particular land and the environment you manage. My palate likes a sweeter wine but my wife likes her vino pretty dry. We normally pick a wine we both enjoy with subtle notes from both perspectives. It’s the same with beef although I’m kind of a snob when the meat has too much chew factor.
The comments from participants was an interesting cross-section of opinions about flavor profiles, price points based on quality, finishing regimes, nutrition claims and knowing the farm(er). Most did not know the average U.S. beef operation was only 40 head. It’s certainly a challenge for the beef industry to make a diverse sampling of farms fit neatly into a cohesive box of beef.
The overall message of this blind taste test was how education and transparency teaches the consumer about the many choices of quality beef they want to buy. Couple this with exciting new recipes and more home cooked meals and you realize nutrient dense protein is refueling the appetites of America. Beef is safe, healthy, and delicious and supports a nation of farmers from pasture to plate. As the summer grilling season moves forward, “Meat your Beef” today!
Previously Published By Lee Publications