Not so long ago retail customers and diners where happy to purchase meat that was described by a cut name and little else. Minimal consideration was given to animal welfare, farming practices or butchery processes. Consumers placed their faith in the vendor and put the rest out of their minds.
As the population grows and we become more aware of how our consumption choices effect the environment, our community and our own health I have seen people discussing farming practices, feed regimes and processing methods that only industry professionals would have previously been aware of or even discussed.
Buyers now crave information. Producers and everyone on the distribution chain is aware of it. Information is great. You do however need to be able to pick the relevant from the hyped. We live in the #hashtag age. Terms become buzzwords and can be thrown around to make something seem more appealing than it otherwise would be.
A single fact in isolation tells you little about the product, yet it can often sway a consumers decision. Terms like Angus, Wagyu, organic, free-range, grass-fed, grain fed or free range have been hijacked and are often used to give products a little more kudos than they deserve.
Food is big business. Farming groups and food distribution companies market their products and listen to consumers. They know what sells. The hard work of the Angus and Wagyu beef farmers to promote their breeds, has the names automatically associated with quality in the minds of many. Australian beef ranks among the best in the world. Seeking out top quality Wagyu or Angus can be a rewarding experience.
Unfortunately every time you see breed labeling there is no guarantee that it is going to be high grade product. Many other factors contribute to the final quality. Knowing the breed is a good start, but not sufficient on its own to justify a price premium. Crossbred products are often marketed the same as full blood, cashing in on the name.
I find it especially disappointing when a consumer pays a premium due to a buzzword to then avoid the real deal following a less than satisfying experience. The more information you are given the better the chance you have of making or replicating a good purchase. If you are going to pay a premium I suggesting seeking no less than three pieces of information relating to region, producer, farming practice, breed, feed type, dry aging or butchery process.
The more the vendor is prepared to tell you, the less they have to hide. If they have sourced a truly premium product they will be proud to exult its virtues loudly.
Organic, as defined by a big supermarket is a very different classification to that given by smaller farming associations devoted to the practice. Free range can describe idyllic pastures or crowded sheds with a small outdoor area. If you see these words ask about them, seek out independent endorsement, if it exists for a product it will be clearly displayed on packaging and promotional material.
The paleo eating crowd seek out grass fed meats, as it is higher in beneficial fats, and lower in the saturated. Quality grass fed meat has a sweet quality and the meat is reflective of the terroir of the farm. It can be extraordinary.
Much of the beef we grown in Australia is grass fed, the quality of the final product varies substantially, and not all of it is worthy of a premium price. Simply seeing a product badged as grass fed should not preclude other quality assessments.
Grain feeding can be a way to increase yields on scrawny cattle, or it can be a purposeful practice to produce highly marbled rich beef.
If you are told a steak is grass or grain fed, ask where it is from. If they can’t tell you the producer, I would argue it is questionable they really know how it was raised.
Get to know the people behind the places you buy your meat from. The good butchers and chefs of the world put a lot of thought into the products that they sell, and they will be pleased and proud to share the reasons they selected the range they sell.
There is a lot of information available about meat. Take control of the information you receive , ensure you don’t only know the facts the vendor wants you to know. A little research and you will find quickly that you will begin to recognise places that sell a product you are pleased to spend you hard earned money on.