Monday, 22 February 2016

Beef Flavour Notes


Raising cattle one expects sudden unplanned death to occur, mainly young calves from gastroenteritis or pneumonia or during prolonged labour, probably about a 5% death rate if one is lucky, this is now improved on our farm due to summer calving.  Occasionally an old cow will die from natural causes but the real bummer is when a young cow dies unexpectedly for no apparent reason which happened last week.  I debated doing an autopsy , decided to wait and see if any other deaths occur; in the meantime it was sent to a nearby rendering plant probably end up as pet food (there is no cost recovery with this, apart from a complete financial loss there are expenses incurred moving the carcass).

This winter is certainly better than last winter, the ideal weather for the animals would be slightly below freezing, sun and no wind, recent fluctuating temperatures especially above freezing with rain makes a mess of the pastures so they have to be corralled until the ground freezes again, not their choice nor mine.  It will be touch and go with the hay this year and I will probably have to cull some old cows for the benefit of the rest of the herd.  The two cows I have in mind are 15 years old, any cows that old and remaining in your herd are ones best cows and have given me lots of calves.  A humane dispatch will be preferable than a cow getting progressively weaker and having a lingering death, in this case I am just bringing forward what I planned to do a few months earlier....still I feel kind of sick about it having known them for 13 years.
Life and death are constant features on a livestock farm.


I am obviously biased for grass fed beef and I will continue to promote the numerous advantages to your health, the environment and animal welfare when choosing grass fed beef.  From the farm and studying the subject of grass fed beef I am aware of misleading statements, studies and opinions expressed or produced by others on the pros and cons of beef which fails to differentiate grass fed/finished beef, where cattle grow in their natural state compared to industrially raised feedlot beef which is 99% of beef in N. America.  Many generations have now grown up only tasting feedlot beef so it would be inappropiate for me to judge somebody for their preference for feedlot beef as food preference is highly dependent on lifetime taste conditioning . However, I firmly believe that any food grown slowly with care and respecting the environment it is grown in is best.  Food is best when you can taste the nature that nurtured it.

The inappropriately termed quality grading of feedlot beef i.e. Canada AAA and US Prime is based solely on the visual inspection of marbling ..... the small flecks or streaks of inter-muscular fat
between the 12th and 13th ribs.  Meat industry scientists state that marbling is responsible for flavour and tenderness with juiciness aiding mouth lubrication other food scientists independent of the meat industry provide conflicting evidence re flavour and tenderness in respect to marbling.

Tenderness is a reflection of genetics, animal husbandry, carcass conditioning with marbling responsible for only 10% of tenderness. The most tender meat has generally moderate to low marbling. Tenderness can be mechanically increased by knives/blades during industry processing, this generally occurs with older animals up to 20% of meat and is generally found in cheap steak houses or bargain wholesalers, unless labelled you can not detect these steaks (these need to be cooked to at least medium rare and should be flipped a number of times on the grill to kill E. Coli driven into the interior of the steak by the mechanical tenderizer).

Most foods grown quickly have lesser flavour, feedlot beef is finished at 14-16 months, grass fed beef at 18-30 months.  In France the preference is for 3-4 year old animals.  As cattle mature they develop more muscle myoglobin producing a redder meat and more flavour. beef like wine, cheese and whiskey needs time for flavour development.

Grass fed beef's more interesting flavour depends on soil minerals and different grasses and therefore is a location specific product compared to grain or corn fed beef.  Grass fed beef can have a subtle 'gamy' flavour which in reality is the real taste of beef and partly produced by increased omega 3 fatty acids.  Flavour primarily comes from amino acids, sugars and up to 25 different fats in combination with heat produce up to 340 different flavour compounds, some only in beef (medium rare is probably the optimum in enhancing flavour).  Fat extracted from feedlot beef in lab studies is white; fat from grass fed beef, Kobi beef and bison is much darker.  Alphalinoleic acid, one of the unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids found in grass and grass fed beef when combined with heat, sugars and other proteins forms complex compounds associated with a beefy flavour (Maillard reaction, caramelization on the meat surface).  Grass fed beef also gets its flavours from terpenes created by micro-organisms in cattle's rumen from chlorophyll.

Quantity and quality are two opposing goals, whether it is hormones, drugs or genetics increasing quantity there is a price to be paid in quality.  Feed lot beef industry specialises in quantity but tries hard to convince the consumer that quality is their sole concern deliberately ignoring the inconvenient presence and quality of slowly grown flavourful grass fed beef.

I understand that based on life-long taste conditioning that feedlot beef will be the preference for some over grass fed beef.  I also understand that not all grass fed beef is the best eating experience as it is much more difficult to manage and finish cattle in their natural pasture environment compared to the formula driven grain or corn diet in a feedlot.
However, I firmly believe that the best grass fed beef is always better than the best feedlot beef.

1 comment:

  1. 2 part blog about life on the farm and discussing the taste of beef