“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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The grand finale – a free Artisan Steak Tasting Pack!
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...
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)