Have you ever wondered why there’s so much more variation in grass-finished beef than there is in grain-finished? Wonder no more – here are the basics on what goes into each of these kinds of beef, and how they affect the final product.
We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. (I would add to that, “you are also what you think”, but that is not the topic today!) That saying also holds true for cattle. Often I kindly tease our vegetarian or vegan friends by pointing out that Sangres Best Beef is simply “grass on the hoof ”
Industrial beef is fattened on grain rations in feedlots for about 120 days, and because of that it has a fairly predictable taste – predictable results being desirable from an industrial point of view. However, that taste is actually a reflection of the grain itself, carried through in the fat, and many people find it to be rather bland (especially after they have tasted our beef!)
Tenderness is affected by the use of growth hormones (which make the beef tougher), rate of gain, breed, and genetics as well as age and temperament of the cattle. Marbling has long been the industry tool for classifying quality beef because it is easy to see – however it is actually the microscopic fat that produces the tenderness and it may be present without any visible marbling.
We’ve discovered that the key to tenderness is to manage the grass so the cattle gain rapidly, finishing at 24 – 30 months of age. Whether marbled or not, the beef is tender, juicy and juicy and comes with a flavor profile that no feedlot beef could ever attain.
Terr-what? Terroir is a French word that has historically been applied to wine and cheese, and even coffee, to describe the taste, flavor, and character that comes directly from the environment in which that product is produced. It includes soil, topography, climate, and many other factors that come through into the grape (for example), and from there into the wine.
Turns out, terroir also applies to grass fed beef, with cattle picking up the flavors of the grasses and browse that they are foraging on (and the grasses pick up flavors from the air, soil and minerals where they grow. Soil, rain, temperatures, all come into that piece of meat – that “vintage” as it were). Last spring we were invited to participate in a Terroir of Beef tasting event in Boulder put on by Charlotte Henricksen and you can check out her video “Tasting Terroir of Beef” https://vimeo.com/98489098 which explains the concept.
Our geography here at Music Meadows Ranch is really unique, contributing to a specific terroir. At 8,000 feet in south central Colorado we have both alpine meadows and short grass upland offering more than 60 varieties of palatable grasses, forbs, and browse for our cattle. The cattle drink from mountain streams, springs, and deep wells, and the air here is free from pollution, high, and thin. It is a short and powerful 100-day growing season that is converted into delicious beef. The most predictable response we get from our customers is a big wow for flavor.
Dry aging is the practice of hanging the split carcass in a cooler with fans to move the air for a period of weeks. It intensifies flavor due to moisture loss and improves tenderness in the breakdown of muscle fibers. Before the age of “boxed beef” introduced by Iowa Beef Processors in 1967, carcasses aged by necessity as they were transported from the slaughter plant to the butcher shop. Though the practice is inefficient from a business standpoint, this is a classic case of, “faster is not necessarily better” in terms of quality.
Don’t Overcook It!
Never, ever, overcook grass-fed beef. As stated in Gourmet News ‘All the experts advise that the worst thing a cook can do to grass-fed beef or beefalo is to overcook it. Grass-fed beef cooks about ⅓ more quickly than grain-fed beef, as do beefalo and bison.’ As the article points out, often when a customer has had a bad experience with grass fed beef or beefalo, it’s a result of overcooking, so keep a close eye on that grill!
Taste the terroir of Sangres Best Beef!