Monday, September 12, 2016

Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef

I didn't care much for beef growing up. If I did have steak, it was mostly as an excuse to eat BBQ sauce. Then I went to Argentina and wondered what I had been mising. Steak was dirt cheap and asado served with nothing more than salt was crazy delicious. When I returned the United States, I went back to my "beef-lite" ways. It just wasn't the same. Reading about Mark Schatzker's adventures made my mouth water for the good stuff. Only, I have no idea where I can find it here. He looks at American feedlots with huge numbers of cattle as well as small operations throughout the world. As is often the case, most of the beef we get in the US has been bread for quantity not flavor. The grading system even discounts "older" cattle and stresses marbleizing that can often be achieved by corn. Beef in the US is viewed as a commodity and treated a such. Alas, his voyage to Argentina finds that they too have gone down the "corn" route, much to the chagrin of beef lovers. (And in cold irony, the government is even subsidizing the grain-fed beef to keep prices down. ARRGGHH!)
Truly tasty beef, is partly in the eye of the beholder. Different people do like different things. The diet and the breed of the cow are important in taste. A good diet of grass will often produce the tastiest steak. However, the wrong grass diet can produce a horrible tasting steak. The stress of the cow and the way it dies can also impact the quality of the meat. "Marbling" is caused by fat visibly mixed in with the tissue. This is thought to produce the tastiest meet (and is part of the grading system). However, it seems that corn can be used to game the system and produce nicely marbled beef without the great taste.
The author travels the world to find the best steak. He visits Scotland, Japan, Argentina and other places to try their "native" beef. He even tries to raise his own cows with some success. (He had the right idea, but after going through with it, realized that he was a rank amateur in the field of grass-fed cattle raising.) He also tried to find out how the cows feel. (The answer is, somewhat surprising, that feedlot cows are generally content - perhaps moreso than the people that have to live near them.)
Alas, ranchers have mastered the art of raising cows that get fat in a hurry by eating corn. Hmmm... And this is part of the food system that helps get children fat in a hurry using corn. What goes around comes around.
I would like to try some of the San Juan Islands beef, or some of the super expensive Japanese Kobe and the like. But, I'll probably just stick with the occasional cheap cut and continue my beef-lite weight. With Argentina going to the dark side, its almost not worth the effort to find and pay for truly delicious beef.

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