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Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Artisan Steak Tasting

Artisan Steak Tasting
“So, have you ever thought about doing a steak tasting?” was the start of the first emails I’d gotten from Carrie Oliver of Oliver Ranch Company.

I was intrigued, but wasn’t convinced that the taste of steak could go much more beyond the grades of tough Select, affordable Choice and out-of-my-budget Prime. I’ve also been able to pump up the taste and tenderness of Choice steaks by my salting method, a popular post which has swung around the internet several times.

For the next couple of weeks, Carrie and I emailed back and forth, and in each email, she would slightly turn the faucet, letting a small stream of new ideas trickle my way. Opening the floodgates with beef information would have completely overwhelmed me and knocked me over.

I pay as much for a good steak as I do for a bottle of wine, so why not care about its taste, where it’s from and the quality of my beef? If I care about where my vegetables come from, why not my beef? If I care about what chemicals were sprayed on my produce, why not know what the cows were injected with and how they were treated?

Cattle
Cattle drive at a Colorado ranch

Simply put, the taste of beef is influenced by:

  • REGION: A chardonnay from Napa Valley has a different flavor profile than a chardonnay from New Zealand. Climate, geology and soil all influence the grass and grain that are fed to the cattle.
  • RANCHERS: Like a winemaker, the quality of pride and skill in producing the best product matters. A small rancher who treats his cattle humanely will have better tasting beef. And like a winemaker’s art of blending and aging, a rancher’s special blend of feed and aging matters.
  • BREED: Doesn’t a pinot noir taste different from a cabernet? Well, a Holstein tastes different than a Black Angus.

Artisan Beef

If the wine analogy doesn’t ring with you, let’s talk coffee. In the pre-Starbucks days, there was regular, decaf and Juan Valdez. Nowadays, we’ve got Fair Trade Certified, Sumatra, shade-grown, Kenyan, Ethiopian and Indonesian. Same with beef – flavor and quality go way beyond Select, Choice and Prime.

Okay, so I get that steaks taste different and hey, now that I’m thinkin’ about it…maybe that’s the reason I consistently buy my steaks at one market and not the other. Hmmmm…..

But my biggest revelation was yet to come. (Keep reading for a free drawing of an Artisan Steak Tasting Pack)

Artisan Steak Tasting

Last Thursday, Carrie flew down from Toronto and treated a group of 15 of us to a fabulous artisan steak tasting. Carrie led us through tasting six different steaks from small ranchers.

Each steak only seasoned with kosher salt and was quickly grilled rare. The steaks were numbered and it was a blind tasting held at Chefs On The Loose, a brand spankin’ new cooking school in Tampa, Florida.

A big thanks to Chefs On The Loose for hosting us.

Carrie asks if anyone is a vegetarian to raise their hands. Okay, maybe not, but she’s seen here enlightening the group on why being conscious of where your beef comes from matters.

This is just SOME of the steaks. 15 of us ate ALMOST ALL OF IT. omg, we are such fat pigs cows.

Carrie, Jeffrey and Chef Eddie wonder how in the heck we are going to drink 22 bottles of wine at our artisan steak tasting.

Yeah, we opened every single bottle of wine, but only had the wine AFTER the tasting, as wine would affect the taste of the steaks. To clear the palate, we had slices of green apples between each steak. The steaks were seasoned only with kosher salt.

Chefs Laura and Eddie whispers, “who invited the goofball who keeps snappin pics of the steak, telling the meat to ‘work it, baby. look good for the camera. come on beef, gimmee some attitude!'”

Carrie leads the group on how to rate and describe each steak by singing a hymn ;-)

In the foreground, food writer Greg and Ritz Carlton restaurant manager, Laurent, discuss changing their careers to become professional steak tasters…as host Laura slices the next round of steaks. James is in the background stealing bites of steak.

Artisan Steak Tasting Language

To help us find words to describe the sensory experience of steak tasting, here is a chart from Carrie. She started the Artisan Beef Institute to educate consumers and industry professionals:

The Artisan Steak Taste Test Results

N-Bar Ranch, Dave Workman from Montana

  • Breed: 100% Black Angus, dry aged minimum 14 days
  • Tasting Notes: Well balanced, tastes like a good steakhouse steak, interesting but no big wow. Straight-forward, nice bite.

===============================================

Kobe Beef America Ranchers from Holdrege Nebraska

  • Breed: 50% Wagyu, 50% Black Angus. Wagyu is the famous Japanese beer fed, hand massaged cattle. It was brought to the U.S. in 1976 and crossbred with Angus. Wet aged minimum 21 days
  • Tasting Notes: Sweet, savory, umami, dark, robust, bold. Melts in your mouth, hands down the group’s favorite. This stuff retails for $50+ a pound and would be considered Prime-Plus. It’s really a superb meat, but personally not my favorite. I’m not melt-in-mouth steak girl – I’d rather have a beefy good sirloin instead of a buttery filet mignon. Even though it’s expensive, if you’re looking to try Kobe beef, Oliver Ranch does sell it much cheaper than any other retailer.

===============================================

Robert L. Beechinor, 3 Brand Cattle Company from Bakersfield California

  • Breed: Holstein-Friesian
  • Tasting Notes: Meaty, pleasant, subtle, softer flavor. No big wow. Flavor faded quickly, didn’t last throughout chew.

===============================================

Elliott & Ferris Families from Front Range Region, Ft. Morgan, CO

I must have missed photographing their beef, but here’s a photo of the families!

  • Breed:Charolais/Charolais Cross
  • Tasting Notes: Bright, sweet, balanced, full-flavored and filled mouth. I loved this meat – flavors changed throughout chew, it was rich and savory. This was one of my favorites and definitely Carrie’s favorite – she described it as “fabulous umami, gimme more!”

===============================================

Amazin Grazin from Manatee, Florida

  • Breed: Braburn (crossbreed between Brahman and Hereford), very young cattle, less than 10 months old, fed only milk and grass, no grain
  • Tasting Notes: Feral, complex, very gamey, like mackerel. This steak had a very distinct flavor, characteristic of only grass (no grain at all) fed cows. Grass fed beef is also much more lean than grain-finished, perfect for people who are concerned with fat content. This is definitely an adventurous steak, fun to try.

===============================================

Estancia from Uruguay

  • Breed: Hereford, only grass fed, no grain
  • Tasting Notes: Deeply complex, broody, mushroomy, earthy, iron, roquefort. Again, because it’s only grass fed, it’s a very lean meat. HOWEVER, lean DOES NOT equal tough and chewy. This grass-fed beef tasted incredibly different from Amazin’ Grazin. I would have never guessed that this steak was this lean – on the traditional USDA rating, this would have been graded as Select, but wow, the tenderness and big, deep flavor of the meat really surprised me.

My big revelation

I didn’t care for the big-super-fancy expensive Kobe-style, Wagyu beef. It was good, don’t get me wrong. I’d never turn down a Kobe-style steak. But my style is big, beefy, nice chew. Heh. Makes me a cheaper date. But guess what…these were some of the very best steaks that I had ever tasted in my life. None of them were rated Prime. They were all Choice or Select cuts. So my big revelation was that quality was not just about Prime, Choice or Select. Flavor had so much to do with region, climate, diet and care. Knowing where your beef comes from is important – wouldn’t you rather support a small artisan rancher who takes pride in their beef?

Oliver Ranch Company is out to carve a new map for the beef industry, catering to people who enjoy discovering the specific flavor profiles of what they enjoy in steaks and connecting consumer to small ranchers.

If you’re interested in having your own artisan steak tasting, Oliver Ranch Company has a Taster’s Pack that includes 4 steaks, each from a different rancher. You can try this tasting test yourself – and include 1 or 2 steaks from your local supermarkets just to compare. Make sure your tasting is a blind taste test, so that your feedback is absolutely fair! I think you’ll be really surprised with what you’ll experience. If you have any questions, you can ask them here in the comments, or email Carrie at [email protected]

The grand finale – a free Artisan Steak Tasting Pack!

Grand Finale

Baby, all you got to do is comment below. Carrie is giving away a free Artisan Steak Tasting Pack. We’ll do a random drawing of unique commenters on Sunday, November 9th. I apologize to my dear international friends, this contest is only for U.S. and Canada residents, as international shipping of beef would be too difficult.

The four styles included in the Artisan Steak Tasting Pack
Dry-Aged Charolais-Cross, Front Range Region, CO, Elliott & Ferris Family Ranches
Dry-Aged 100% Black Angus, Russell Country, MT, N-Bar Ranch, Dave Workman
Wet-Aged Holstein-Friesian, Imperial Valley, CA, 3 Brand Cattle Company, Bob Beechinor
Wet-Aged Wagyu-Angus Cross, Select Kobe Beef America Ranches, directed by R.L. Freeborn

pack normally sells for $84.95, you get a 8-12 ounce NY Strip cut of each style.

Just comment below and I’ll enter you in the drawing. If you want to Tweet or blog about this contest, I’ll give you an extra entry – just come back and comment again for your bonus entry!

Contest over! Come see the winner...

***

Steak How to turn cheap “choice” steaks into gucci “prime” steaks (yes, it really does work – Carrie tested the salting method with us on several of the steaks)

Skirt Steak Tacos and the Adventures of La Taqueria



477 Responses to “Artisan Steak Tasting”

  1. OliverRanch — 10/30/08 @ 1:33 pm

    Kat, if you’re serious re: x-mas party, I will set you up for this :-) Carrie

  2. Tim — 10/30/08 @ 2:05 pm

    This was great info. Like mine with a little resistance, meaning not the super tender cuts like kobe, etc.

  3. Marci — 10/30/08 @ 2:12 pm

    Since we are big beef eaters in our household and the choices aren’t always good where we live to buy meat, this would be a good way to try something good so that we could have another option.

  4. Janice — 10/30/08 @ 2:42 pm

    There’s nothing like a great steak, some kosher salt and my Weber!

  5. dolores — 10/30/08 @ 2:54 pm

    when growing up in mexico, the beef was delicious and never tasted quite as good in later years, stateside. i think i now understand why. i love your information. by the way your no knead bread piece inspired me and i am on loaf number 5. your helper convinced me i could do it also! and i kiss the bread good night just like cutie does.

  6. Sean — 10/30/08 @ 4:06 pm

    I’ve ordered grass fed beef online and really couldn’t tell the difference. I blame my lame palate.

  7. Misty — 10/30/08 @ 4:19 pm

    What an interesting idea. I’m veggie, but the hubby would love to taste test some steaks!

  8. maureen curtis — 10/30/08 @ 4:59 pm

    I ADORE a good steak! These sound over the top of what I could ever have.

    thank-you
    m

  9. Connie — 10/30/08 @ 5:34 pm

    I love steak. This is a great idea.

  10. Jimbeau — 10/30/08 @ 5:38 pm

    Great Idea. I’ll get the Webber ready…..

    j-

  11. scrapper al — 10/30/08 @ 5:49 pm

    I have to say that this is the first time I heard the term “Artisan” steak. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing it with us (and I hope I win so I can have my own steak tasting).

  12. Linda — 10/30/08 @ 6:55 pm

    What a great post! It took me a few minutes to stop drooling on my keyboard. :-)

  13. Scott — 10/30/08 @ 8:24 pm

    This is the best article on beef tasting…I’d steak my reputation on it!

  14. Ann Marie — 10/30/08 @ 8:25 pm

    Some girls have all the luck! You have the coolest job :) I can’t wait to have one of these on my own.

  15. Betty — 10/30/08 @ 8:47 pm

    Oh, that was an awesome post!! I’m going to try and find that Bakersfield steak,I want to support local, but I would love to try them all.

  16. Tessa — 10/30/08 @ 10:29 pm

    Beef. My grandma has always thrown hunks of raw beef slightly salted in my mouth as I ran through the kitchen. That is how beef should be eaten. I crave that taste just as much as a crazed woman can crave chocolate. I am pretty jealous that I didn’t get to experience this event. Sounds delicious. Gotta love the beef!

  17. Stacy — 10/30/08 @ 11:12 pm

    You would make my husband soooo happy.

  18. Becci — 10/31/08 @ 12:18 am

    Yum….my mouth has been watering just looking at all of the photos. Love steak.

  19. Shasta — 10/31/08 @ 3:33 am

    Oh, wow–doing this at home would make a perfect date night!

  20. Nicole — 10/31/08 @ 10:12 am

    YUUUMMM! Do you have any suggestions/resources for finding local artisanal steaks? Thanks for another amusing and informative post!

  21. cleek — 10/31/08 @ 10:32 am

    cleek demands beef!

  22. el3btrs — 10/31/08 @ 12:05 pm

    I’m drooling already and ready to fire up the grill and chow down. I guess I’d better invite my very best friends to share with.

  23. Wookie — 10/31/08 @ 2:52 pm

    Great info re: the salting technique…can’t wait to try it.
    Loved the education on different beef sources. I always thought what you had thought, marbeling=tender&flavor. I always wondered what was the big deal about Argentine steakhouses…must be the grassfed cows. It’s great to know that there are some dedicated folks right here at home raising great steaks…I must get my hands on some. Thanks for the education. oh, and the contest…great prize!

  24. kitchenhag — 10/31/08 @ 3:08 pm

    Thanks so much for the salting technique! What a difference in the taste . Iam anxious to try out the chart too. Fun stuff, alot better than an olive oil tasting party for sure.

  25. teri — 10/31/08 @ 3:50 pm

    ok, I’m “game”/Just returned home from Kansas City without eating any brisket or steak though I’m certain it’s the bomb there. In rural Indiana many of us raise our own for market but we don’t and I never, never see any stores featuring local raised product but i think we’re about 20 years behind the times. Thanks for posting this unique event. My last tasting was roasted heirloom tomatoes so this would be a great treat!

  26. Barry — 10/31/08 @ 5:35 pm

    Slap the horns of ‘em and put ‘em on a plate! I loves me a good rare steak. I remember learning that despite all of it’s promotion at restaurants as the premier cut, Filet Mignon, while tender, was only “eh” in flavor when compared to my fav cut, rib-eye.

  27. betty q. — 10/31/08 @ 6:23 pm

    Thank you for the crash course on beef sources..breed, etc. … and most of all for sharing your salting technique. I wonder if that’s what restaurants use as well!….will surely try it this week-end!!!!…rain. sleet or snow!!!!

  28. Dan B — 10/31/08 @ 7:59 pm

    It is simply amazing to me that in this day of specialized this and gourmet that, that this prime factor in our food supply had been ignored and neglected for oh so long. People will agonize over the smallest of details. You need to learn a new vocabulary to order a cup o’ Joe, or a glass of wine, Heck even beer has gone gourmet/imported/microbrewed, and yet steak, glorious steak, the icon of a weekend BBQ has remained just a hunk of meat. Thank you Carrie for spreading the word, and thank you Jaden for sharing this article. Since more than one cook works at your favorite restaurant maybe it’s more about what steak they are cooking than who’s cooking it. Maybe an event like this can help each of us decide what makes “great steak” to each of us.

  29. Robin — 11/1/08 @ 3:21 am

    Steak = yum. Artisan steak = YUM!

    And the good conscience from supporting humanely treated animals doesn’t hurt, either. ;)

  30. lk — 11/1/08 @ 3:43 am

    Excellent post! So informative to me!

  31. Lisa K. — 11/1/08 @ 6:48 am

    If I wasn’t busy drooling, I might have learned something from that post. I’m a better hands-on learner anyway. ;)

  32. Barbara — 11/1/08 @ 7:50 am

    I’m with you … sirloin over filet any day. Too soft is not what steak is about.

  33. Regina — 11/1/08 @ 9:27 am

    I’m a ribeye girl myself, but i totally agree with what, where and how for beef, i have been telling my friends that for years! i turned my BF onto grass fed, not only for its leanness (is that a word?) but for the almost gameyness (again word?) of it. It has such a sweet, earthly taste and the texture….. any how even if i don’t get picked i might have to pick up the tasting pack anyway!

  34. birdseyechili — 11/1/08 @ 9:54 am

    Don’t know too much about steak, so would love this opportunity :) Thanks for your post!

  35. shannon — 11/1/08 @ 12:58 pm

    My husband loves steak — please pick me!

  36. Tessa — 11/1/08 @ 2:36 pm

    Who wouldn’t love a steak tasting? I’m so jealous you got to attend a steak tasting, it’s practically my dream come true! I love the website!

  37. lisa — 11/1/08 @ 6:05 pm

    I’m excited to try the salting technique!

  38. B. Elder — 11/1/08 @ 7:53 pm

    We love steak! Thanks for having a contest.

  39. Ginny — 11/1/08 @ 9:10 pm

    Oh cool, what an amazing contest!

  40. Ginny — 11/1/08 @ 9:12 pm
  41. Yvonne — 11/1/08 @ 10:11 pm

    Interesting! Who would have thunk there was such a thing as a beef tasting event?

  42. Jo — 11/1/08 @ 10:20 pm

    …lick..yummmm…sorry keyboard sunk in drool …cannot type more. Interesting idea steak tasting who would have thought of that !!!

  43. Elis — 11/1/08 @ 11:21 pm

    That is a great idea — way more exciting than cheese or chocolate or another tasting. Steaks all around!

  44. Jill H — 11/2/08 @ 12:30 am

    Very interesting. When I worked for one of the major cereal companies I was on the first sensory panel (that’s what taste testing was called) started in the manufacturing facility. We used similar terminology and, as with this test, explained it during training to people joining the panel using a similar wine and/or cheese analogy. I must admit that I’d never considered it as relates to beef, before. I’ll have to keep your checksheets on hand for future use. Cereals and grains, wine, cheese, and now beef… my palate is certainly becoming educated.

  45. Amy — 11/2/08 @ 8:25 am

    You make the steaks saound to die for. My mouth is watering.

  46. OliverRanch — 11/2/08 @ 1:06 pm

    Regarding the tasting guide, if anyone’s interested in a copy, please send me an email at carrie (at) oliverranch (dot) com.

    We also provide the tasting guide with our artisan steak tasting party boxes.

  47. Gina — 11/2/08 @ 1:38 pm

    WOW! good blog prize! can’t wait! TFS….gina

  48. Chip — 11/2/08 @ 5:36 pm

    Oh, please, please, please – pick me! This sounds like a blast.

  49. Kari — 11/2/08 @ 6:38 pm

    I first found your blog because a friend sent me the link to salt your steak before cooking. I bookmarked you that day and read regularly ever since. Wouldn’t it be cool to invite that friend over for a steak tasting!

  50. Emily — 11/2/08 @ 9:21 pm

    OMG — Wow do I want to try a steak tasting! Crossing my fingers and toes you’ll pick my name!

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