Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quest for the Holy Grail of Steak

Where can we find the Holy Grail of Steaks? Assuming that price is absolutely no object, where can we purchase top loin (aka New York, Kansas City and strip) steaks or even the entire short loin subprimal, with all the following information about the steaks' origin:
  • Farm(s): What are the names and addresses of all the cow-calf, backgrounder, stocker, feedlot and other farms where the cattle was raised?
  • Breed: What is the breed (or hybrid) of the cattle?
  • Sex: What is the sex (e.g. steer) of the cattle?
  • Medication: What are the names and dates of administration of all vaccines, worming, antibiotics, hormones, etc.?
  • Feed: What are the names and dates when the cattle was fed grass (exaclty what types of grass and foliage), grain and other feeds?
  • Grade: What is the USDA grade, if applicable?
  • Age: What is the age of the cattle at slaughter? (As you know, USDA Prime Grade means that the maturity (estimated age) is less than 42 months, and if graded Prime0 or higher, the estimated age is less than 30 months.)
  • Marbling: What is the marbling score or IMF% at Rib 12/13? (As you also know, USDA Prime Grade means that the marbling is slightly abundant (SLAB00) or higher, but we want the highest possible -- knowing that only a very few (1 out of 10,000?) attains a marbling score of AB50 or higher.
In summary, can we purchase the highest-quality steak and know everything that the cattle farmer knows about how our steak was grown? Our goal is to be able to replcate a steak's taste, time after time (at least during a single season).

The best analogy (with all due credit to Carrie Oliver, of the Artisan Beef Institute) is with wine. In the "old days", we Americans bought "jug wine", produced from grapes from different farms, different varieties, etc. Today however, we demand wine from a known farm, grape variety, vintage year, etc. Thus, with wine, we can duplicate the taste from bottle to bottle, because each bottle is filled with wine from the same farm, same grape variety, same vintage year, etc.

Is this impossible with steak? Whether we purchase the most expensive steak from our local butcher or order the best at any steakhouse, we cannot replicate the taste. Next time we purchase or order, the odds are overwhelming that our next steak will be from a different farm, a different breed, etc. The reason that we cannot duplicate a great steak today seems to be that the producers sort them only by grade and not by farm, breed, etc.

The branded beef program doesn't work, because none of them limits its sales to only the highest quality steak. Most range from mid-choice to low-prime. As far as breed, many (like CAB) are not limited to a single breed but only to hair color (e.g. CAB and black hide color).

We know that there are some farmers who sell steak directly, but we know of none that is either USDA-graded or privately-certified marbling scores.

Perhaps our problem is insoluble becuase of statistics. That is, if the very highest quality steak comes from one-in-a-thousand or one-in-ten-thousand steers, then only the very largest producers may be able to match their farm/breed information with their high prime grade steak.

Is our quest for the Holy Grail of Steaks doomed to failure? Please post your comments/feedback. Thanks in advance.


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First posted to CattleToday.com on 122810@2136

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