Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning about Certified Angus Beef

Julie Boggs of Westbrook Angus
Certified Angus Beef is not the same as Angus or Black Angus which you may see on everything from beef at restaurants and supermarkets to even fast food burgers. In order to be designated Certified Angus Beef, it must pass a strict set of requirements and USDA inspection and approval, and very little of it does. In fact only 1 in 4 inspected makes the grade. That's the main thing I learned when I met with ranchers, chefs and restaurateurs to learn about beef and the Certified Angus Beef brand in particular. The ranchers I met bred breeding stock and they told me they like the Angus breed for a number of reasons, it's temperament, size, and ability to produce.

Over the course of several meals I got a chance to try many cuts of Certified Angus Beef steak including rib eye, tenderloin, top sirloin and filet mignon. It was very well prepared by restaurant chefs from the steakhouse chain El Gaucho and also from Aqua by El Gaucho. It was truly enlightening to try so many cuts at once, and while they were all tender, juicy and delicious, there were subtle differences in flavor and texture. The consistency in quality I experienced is really the reason for the Certified Angus Beef brand. I admit I like the flavor of grass fed beef as well as grain finished beef. But I learned that the health claims made about grass fed beef are somewhat dubious. While grass fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, beef is not a great source of either. Also there is a misconception that grass fed beef is more sustainable, but the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef are increased three-fold in grass-fed cattle versus grain finished. Truth be told all beef is grass fed, it's just how long it spends on a feed lot fattening up on a diet of grain that makes the difference.

My usual favorite cut of steak is rib eye. But side by side tasting many different steaks, I was surprised to find the "baseball cut" top sirloin my favorite of all. It just had the best "beefiest" flavor. The Certified Angus Beef representatives say that fat is flavor. But I have to disagree. Top sirloin is actually a leaner cut of beef, and yet it was still good, even tastier than other fattier cuts, in my opinion. It's not just the fat, but the way the fat is marbled that makes a difference. While I enjoyed all the Certified Angus Beef I ate, I would love to see more availability of Natural Certified Angus Beef and an organic option as well.

When I returned home I purchased some Certified Angus Beef top sirloin chateaubriand to try cooking myself. Sure enough, it was juicy, rich and beefy, somewhat lean but very good. Because I don't eat beef often, I seek out the best I can find and rely on my local butcher to make recommendations. Recently I was buying some skirt steak and my butcher told me the Angus was better than the Kobe because it was the inside and not the outside section. Like wine and chocolate, when it comes to beef, there is always more to learn...

My thanks to Certified Angus Beef for hosting my trip and meals. Please note I paid for the beef I purchased myself.