Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not All Beef is Created Equal

Yesterday, I attended the second beef tasting at Ayrshire Farm, a blind tasting of New York strips of 10 steers of differing breeds. I rarely eat beef (it's nothing political: carbs, vegetables, and seafood keep distracting me) but we serve a lot here at the restaurant and I want to serve the best that we can. Many many years ago I became disillusioned with the USDA grading system and went with small producers who don't grade their beef but who produce top-quality meat. In the last year, I have been buying from Ayrshire Farm and filling in with other grass-fed beef as necessary. Ayrshire is still ramping their production. I am hopeful that we may be able to source all our beef from them in the next two years.

Although I hear from customers routinely that our beef is very good to the best that they have ever tasted, I wanted to take advantage of this tasting to put the beef that we are serving in perspective with a lot of other solid breeds.

The ten steers in the tasting were either raised at Ayrshire or purchased from nearby farms. All were finished identically at Ayrshire and all the strips were cooked identically. We tasted the numbered samples blind and rated them on flavor and texture. After that, we tallied our scores and then among the 80 or so tasters, we determined which breed rated highest on our collective scorecards.

The ten breeds were Angus, Dexter, Galloway, Belted Galloway, Hereford, Highland, Piney Woods, Red Poll, Shorthorn, and White Park.

I have to say that all the samples I tasted were excellent and I would not have been disappointed to receive a steak from any one of these steers at a restaurant. But about halfway through the tasting, there was one sample that was so clearly good that it blew all the others away. In fact, I have only had one steak better than this in my entire life and that was in 1981. What I learned from the previous chicken tasting is that my palate often seeks different textures and flavors from others, so I wasn't at all confident that the steak I rated the highest would find favor with the other tasters.

When we got to voting, however, it was clear that the steak that I liked the best was the overwhelming favorite of everyone there, getting more than double the first place votes of the nearest competitor. And the winner? You see it in the photo above, courtesy of wikipedia.org, the Scottish Highland, the very same beef that we serve here at the restaurant. And now, I think I have our beef in pretty good perspective.

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