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.

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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

Comments 477

  1. Jenna

    Ok my mouth is watering and all I want is a steak! What i wouldn’t give for a steak to magically appear in front of me. Looks like a lot of fun!

  2. Carla

    This blog was so interesting – especially since my husband & I raise cattle in Nebraska. I can’t wait to share this all with several of our beef producing friends – especially over a steak testing!

  3. Cathy Curtis

    I didn’t eat meat for the longest time because I didn’t like what I found in the supermarkets…and all those stories about the feedlots and horrible conditions for the cows! But, then I started to discover good beef…not too hard here in Northern California. But it wasn’t until I decided to try one of Carrie’s Oliver Ranch taste packs that I felt ok about eating meat again on a regular basis. The taste pack is fun , we tried it with friends and had a blast (also got very full). Then I met Carrie and talked to her about the beef, she is so amazingly knowledgable…a true beef geek! I had never met one before! Try it you will love it.

  4. David Asarnow

    Was every steak the exact same cut of meat? Also curious about the influence of aging on the meat.

  5. Kellette

    I tried your salting method a week or two ago on a cheap steak and it worked fabulously. I haven’t been cooking with steaks much lately but this article makes me want to dig into one now!

  6. JudyH

    I’m with you. I much prefer a NY Strip to filet. Can’t wait to try your salting method.

  7. KristinaYellow

    Wow–this would be so much fun. My husband and I recently started to learn more about grass-fed beef vs. grain-fed beef and it’s really interesting. We’re hoping to order some locally raised beef this spring–and can’t wait to visit their farms to see exactly how they are raised. Crossing my fingers!

  8. Susan Ackman

    Interesting article! I am interested in trying dry-aging beef at home, looked around and found your blog. Now I am a fan!

  9. Joseph Yu

    I love steaks. I particularly like your post on salting the not-so-prime steaks. I hope I can still join the raffle for the steaks. Thanks..

  10. Alicia

    I’ve never been a big fan of steak, but that could be because I’ve never had one that actually tastes like anything. Wanna change my mind? I’d love to win that pack… my husband would be especially pleased. ;-)

  11. Kaylee

    Actually, your salting techniques was how I discovered your blog some time ago- I think I’ve forwarded that link to most of my friends once I discovered how well it worked!

    And this is perfect timing: I’ve been curious about how grain fed compares to grass fed, and how the different types of aging affects the flavor.

  12. Maria

    I have iron deficiency and it’s one obvious reason why I love steaks so much (that’s what my dr. said) . I’ve always wanted to try Kobe Beef. Maybe one of these days.

  13. Kasia

    Ooooh! Definitely sign me up for this! I am a new(ish) foodie and would love to try these!

  14. Dennis

    Sounds like a great time, my wife and I just purchased a 1/4 of side of beef from a small ranch near Fresno. Black Angus grain fed, it would be great to compare with the tasting pack?? I am new to your site and like what I see,
    Thanks

  15. Jessica

    Wow, I’ve never tried all sorts of beef at the same time so that I could compare like this. Must be really cool!

  16. Stu

    Wow, who knew there were so many choices. I like to think I have a somewhat sophisticated palate…but…WOW.
    I have always wanted to try Kobe beef, and this just may be my chance.
    Pick me, pick me!

  17. Kelly S.

    I love cow. Strip steak is my current favorite, but I am easily swayed by filet…or anything with herb butter on it. yumm.

  18. CarolG

    Wow! They all look so good. I have been trying to find locally raised grass fed beef with no success. I have in fact had better luck in finding bison. Still, I feel sure I would enjoy the more complex flavors.

  19. Jennifer Hoffmeister

    This sounds so fabulous! I love steaks and have some preferred cuts but would love to be more educated in the ways all different factors affect the flavor and texture.

  20. Victoria

    Wow, I’m envious *drools* This is just more confirmation that I could never become a vegetarian ;)

    Ooh, I hope I can win the tasting pack!

  21. Leslie

    I found your blog on a link from Pioneer Woman. Beautiful photos. I’ll be back to check out more. I’d love to be entered in your steak tasting giveaway

  22. donna

    found your site yesterday while looking for no knead bread, rising in oven @ moment! am getting tired of eating lobster every nite, (husband a lobsterman, and price is very low these days) how about i try those contest steaks?

  23. dorkette

    Yum!

    Great blog and great recipes. I’m off to try the eggs with oyster sauce and chilis.

  24. FatCap

    Re: the wagyu-black angus cross — it would be nice to know what type of Japanese cattle was crossed with Angus. The word wa-gyu translate to “Our (meaning Japanese) cattle”. But there are different breeds of cattle in Japan, and Japanese foodies are hyper-interested in every detail of what-where-when-how about their beef, so much so that, in restaurants serving high-priced beef, diners are shown the certificate which accompanies each beef carcass as assurance of authenticity.

    And, yes, the various Japanese beef differ from each other.

    Thanks for the great article!

  25. John

    Very entertaining and informative article… I’ve been wanting to try to find some different sources for steak.

  26. Angela Chin

    I love your posts! They are so funny, I love this post especially. I love steak and totally agree with you on why not finding out how the cows are raised, their breed and how the flavor and texture develops with steak because of it. Especially when we are willing to pay for it.

    I’ve taste-tested dry age steak and regular choice steak in class before. That’s as far as I’ve gone with taste testing steak. My chef was the one who dry aged the steak himself. It was pretty neat. I have to say that after I tasted it side by side. I definitely can tell the difference with dry aged. I craved it after that class.

    Have fun and continue the good work!

  27. Michael F. Stout

    This was a great post. Enjoyed reading the results and hope that I get the chance to taste them. :>)

  28. marissa

    wowwie! exciting. Hope to win. We live in a good beef country but around here no one ages their beef leaving it a bit tough and lack of true flavor

  29. Annemarie

    What a great event!! Great pictures and review. I love steak and would love to try this.

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