by Betty Fussell
There’s no better way to taste steak than to think of beef as wine. Is it full-bodied with a berry aftertaste? Does it have a buttery nose with hints of tobacco?
Today we know a lot more about wine than beef because we don’t know and often don’t want to know how that steak got on our plate — from what kind of cow, eating what kind of feed, in what kind of place, at what time of year? All of this affects taste mightily.
Just as wine depends on the variety of grape — where it’s grown, how it’s fermented and bottled — so beef depends on the breed of cattle, where and how it’s raised and fed, how it’s butchered and aged.
While there are 250 major beef varietals, the American market is dominated by a single type — Angus in one hybrid form or another because this is the breed that gets fattest fastest. But eating commodity beef is like drinking jug wine. It’ll get you through the day, but forget about taste. I mean, let’s talk about pleasure.
The best way to taste anything is to compare — as in a flight of wines. With wines we compare varieties, vintners, vintages. The possibilities are as endless as the degrees of buzz. Awhile back I tried out a heritage beef tasting at Murray’s Cheese in New York City and knew this flight would take off because none of us there had ever tasted 12 different breeds of beef at one sitting. We got to compare Wagyu to Belted Galloway, grass-finished to corn-finished, non-aged to truly aged. A new world opened.
So imagine my excitement when I recently found a person who has made a business of Artisan Beef Tastings through her Artisan Beef Institute. This is Carrie Oliver of Oliver Ranch, an enterprising gal, originally from California, who’s designed a marketing company to educate people about the wonderful world of beef. She’s been doing blind beef-tastings at a number of public events and is even selling “Discover Beef” tasting kits to do it yourself at home.