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November 9, 2008

I’ve attached this Toronto Star article on beef as I feel that it is important to get back to real food and grain fed cattle is where its at. Corn fed on feed lots are environmental nightmares for the earth and to our internal environment.

To pack cattle in produces a severe waste impact (no sewage treatment) and the addition of large amounts of antibiotics and hormones is terrible for us. And besides its bad for the cows as unhappy cows make bad beef.

The Limousin beef is available at Sanson. I have bought the ground and steak and just love it. The ground is so good that I will only use it for Bolognese sauce. It would make a great burger but I wouldn’t feel right.

Now what wine to serve with a nice piece of beef.

For a roast my choices would be Bird Dog or Barncat from Sanson (saves a trip) or the Cab-Merlot from Crew. Any of these would be a joy and work great.

Steak– grill it and add a smoke bag with hickory chips. Please do not marinade or add steak sauce. These meats will have enough flavor, just salt and pepper, but salt just before cooking otherwise it will dry out the meat and  do not overcook. OK go for something a wee bit bigger like a Cabernet Sauvignon from Crew or Viewpoint or maybe a Syrah. Try Smith and Wilson’s or Aleksander’s.

Burger…well go for a good beer. Go for an Anchor Steam or Pilsener Urquel will work well.


Quest for the Divine Bovine


Sirloin steaks from grass-fed cows went head to head in a taste-off against each other and one grain-fed spy.

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You can lead a grass-fed steer to pasture but does it taste better? We give the issue a good grilling

Nov 05, 2008 04:30 Am

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Autumn's here, and there's a crispness in the air as the grill smoulders up to heat. Dusk descends, and guests start arriving for the latest in an ongoing series of "taste-offs." They're early, and no wonder. Tonight, they're in for five varieties of mouth-watering, grilled-to-perfection New York striploin steak.

Not just any steak, mind you – grass-fed beef. The clouds that dropped rain all summer had a silver lining; it's been a banner year for grass, and for pasture-raised livestock.

So, what's the fuss about grass-fed? Taste and health – for you, and for the cow. For eons, ruminants (that would be your cud-chewing types, like cows) evolved eating various grasses. Their multi-chambered stomachs are designed for the task. Recently, farmers found supplementing feed with grains and corn produced larger cows, with a richer, more abundant marbling of fat. Western consumers liked that – the steaks looked sexier, the marbling added tenderness and moisture, and subsidized grain and corn kept costs low. It came with a cost, though. A ruminant's stomach is not designed to digest grain. The stock can suffer digestive difficulties and the quick solution is to use antibiotics to control the health issues. Those drugs end up on your plate.

More careful practitioners (the organic world, for example, where drugs and hormones aren't welcome) use breeding to adapt their herds to grain, so that breeds like Angus are adjusting to mixed feed.

Some breeds of cattle, though, thrive on pure grass. They come from parts of the world where grain supplements are expensive, or not available. Scotland is home to the Galloway, bred to graze in the Lowlands. Rocky fields in France kept the Limousin in play as a cow not requiring expensive feed. The Welsh are used to adversity, and treasure the Welsh Black. New Zealand, blessed with abundant grass and little grain, hosts the Murray Grey. These provide the bloodstock foundation for excellent, naturally raised, additive-, hormone- and drug-free beef that is, indeed, 100 per cent grass-fed.

The leading characteristic of all grass-fed breeds is leanness. Don't tell the kids or the boyfriend, but the main attraction is that it's healthy. Lower fat content makes for less traffic in the arteries. An added bonus is distinct flavour; pastured cows take on the character of the land they graze on. Literally, they are what they eat, and a verdant stretch of pasture adds subtle nuances to their taste.

But which grass-fed breeds are your best bet? I've assembled four different types for a blind taste test, plus a grain-fed imposter to round out the field. The guests have been chosen to taste thoughtfully, and fairly rate the plate. They're fans of local, healthy food, leavened by a few educated supermarket shoppers. They come with open minds and healthy appetites.

I take identical cuts of beef ("butcher's cut" striploin, 1 1/4 inches thick), seasoned lightly with sea salt and pepper, and grill them over high heat to medium rare. On my grill, that's roughly four minutes a side, followed by four minutes' rest on the side under tinfoil to let the meat relax, and assure an even, tender texture. Each steak is identified only by a colour code. They are rated on taste, texture, appearance and overall appeal, with a final rating from 1 to 10. Homemade gooseberry sorbet serves as a palate-cleanser between samples.

Tonight, we have Limousin from three different farms, including Top Meadow near Georgian Bay, where they're rumoured to soothe the herd with classical music to enhance tenderness. Galloway's on board. Organic Angus is the grain-fed spy in the house of beef. Any one of them is a possibility for Best in Show.

Silence falls round the table as the meat arrives. Three leading contenders emerge right off the top. The steak with the red flag is described as "looking good and juicy" with great marbling and "nice colour inside and out." Knife and fork go to work, and a different pattern emerges. The green and white are clearly the most tender; "soft, easy to cut" and, the ultimate accolade, "melty." As the taste buds kick in, flavour differences come into play. Some are described as "strong, earthy, and intense," others as "gentle, fresh, and light." In the end, we have a dead heat for overall enjoyment, with the same breed triumphant.

Limousin rules. At least in strip- loin form. For fork-tender steak, tasty and moist, the best of the grass-fed has a fancy French name. If you're looking for flavour intensity (very important in different cuts), you might look to Scotland. Any way you cut it, it's a good time to be on the grass!


The Healthy Butcher

Ask people on the street, and the breed of beef you'll hear most about is unquestionably Angus. Originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, the Angus is the ideal beef cow, with rich, textured marbling, and intense flavour. It's a large, robust breed favoured by most high-end steak houses. It has, however, been bred for generations to thrive on grains or corn supplements (Americans, in particular, love the fat content and colour of corn-fed Angus beef), and rarely appears in grass-fed form; on hay, they struggle to maintain, let alone gain weight. Our grain-finished entry from Field Gate Organics (The Healthy Butcher) certainly won for looks, "reddest," with "the best marbling," and "great colour inside and out." It won praise for texture; "very tender," "moist," "very good and juicy."

Taste garnered praise as "good," "nice, gentle flavour" that "stayed well." Faced with the distinct flavour of the grass-fed competition, Angus came up short. Despite one ringing first-place endorsement as "the richest tasting," the judges' overall response is best summed up by Tom: "Tastes like a regular steak. Normal, average beef."

On this night, that wasn't enough. Faced with so many similar competitors, the grain-fed, odd cow out, came last despite a lack of glaring deficiencies.

Average score: 6.8


Whitehouse Meats

Top Meadow Farm's operation, producing both purebred Limousin and their "Lim-Flex" crossbreed, has such an excellent reputation that when several butchers heard Limousin was included in the festivities, Top Meadow was assumed to be the source. They didn't disappoint, and garnered compliments for texture – "melts in your mouth," "easy to cut," "soft," with "the best texture." Flavour was also praised as "very natural," "grassy," "lighter, refreshing," and "gentle," with several citing its excellence even once cold (another popular visit for seconds). The gentleness on the palate seems to be this steak's undoing. The "very savoury, but not very intense flavour" didn't have enough pop to bring any ratings higher than second. None lower than fourth, mind you, either.

Average score: 7.25


The Healthy Butcher

The Galloway is an ancient breed from the Scottish Lowlands that thrives even in damp, cold conditions, and is one of the few breeds to gain weight eating only winter hay. It's been raised in Canada since the Graham brothers of Toronto first imported them in 1857. Our contender from The Healthy Butcher was darker than the other candidates – too much so for some judges who found "the colour alarms me," and that it "looks a little old." On the plate, the flavour garnered high praise, described as "strong, "buttery," with a "nutty, smoky flavour" that lasted well, "even better as it cools." Texture was a stumbling block, though, as several described it as "firm," "not as tender as expected," and the dread "chewy." The texture issues suggest its flavour would best be exploited in roast form, or in braises and stews.

Average score: 7.1


Cumbrae Farms

Originates in the Limousin region in France, an ancient line bred to thrive on grass. This candidate from Cumbrae Farms clearly flourishes in the verdant microclimate of southwestern Ontario. Praise was nearly universal for "distinct flavour," "very light," "unique taste" and "by far the best on flavour." Two cited the term "peppery," and several the enduring quality as it cooled. Texture was called "easy to cut," and "most tender" (twice). Three judges came back for seconds after the sampling was done.

At the end of the night, the distinctiveness of the taste, combined with superior texture, carried the day. On average score, this steak actually tied for first, but four first-place rankings break the tie and gives us the winner on this night.

Average score: 8.3 


The Butchers

These cattle arrived in Canada in the late 1960s (France had been subject to restrictions on stock importation to North America for some time), but it's definitely thriving locally. This candidate, bred by Larry Zehrs for The Butchers on Yonge St. is clearly enjoying life on the grass, and can count itself on the winning side this night. "Good flavour," "a fresher taste," was called "musky, firm, farmy" to the palate. The taste held up well, growing "more complex as it cools," and on the fork it was praised as "medium tender," "very juicy," (three times), with a "nice, soft texture." One judge placed it first, calling it "real beef, rich, juicy, and very nice." Many ranked it second, and all scored it relatively high, bringing it in for a first-place tie overall.

Too many seconds and not enough firsts break the tie, dropping this selection to a very respectable second place.

Average score: 8.3

 Keith Gordon slings meat at The Healthy Butcher.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 19, 2008 8:21 pm

    Hi Jim…

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