Chef Charles' Beef Tour Day Two
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
We enjoyed breakfast in Austin Tuesday morning and then went on to College Station to learn about the Texas cattle industry and production systems. There’s a lot to learn about this industry and we covered a ton today!
We got started right out with a class by Dr. Ron Gill, Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist at Texas A&M. We learned about the history of American cattle, from when they first came to the Americas around the time of Christopher Columbus, through where we are now.
Dr. Gill went over different breeds, from the most common to rare breeds, and how they’ve been bred for different living conditions, disease resistance, and environment. We learned the difference between cattle that thrive here in Texas and those that do well in northern states and Canada.
Then we went on to learn all about grading steaks: standard, select, choice and prime. A cow has to be less than 30 months old to be considered choice or prime. Older cows are used more for dog food, etc. Cows are first grass-fed and then they move on to silage, corn, and various grains for their last 80 – 120 days before slaughter. They “fatten up” in stages: first they build internal fat, then they get their back fat, and finally the last stage is when marbling in the muscles happens. A solely grass-fed cow can’t develop the marbling that a grain-fed cow does.
Another cool thing we did today was participate in a tasting panel. We tried 7 kinds of steaks and evaluated them for juiciness, muscle fiber, connective tissue amount, beef identifiability (beefy flavor), fat (taste and feel), green (plant/freshness), musky or earthiness, and sour.
We participated in a cutting demo where we broke down a whole side of beef. First came the forefront and all the steaks were portioned out. We went through the muscles to find steaks “hidden” inside the bigger pieces, like the flat iron, which is way inside the chuck on the shoulder. Then went through the ribs to get ribeyes, tomahawk ribeyes, and more.
Finally we made it to the back end of the cow and got the tenderloins and strips. You can’t get all the cuts of beef out of a single cow. If you want porterhouse and t-bone, then you sacrifice the option of a whole tenderloin or a whole strip. The industry is constantly evaluating demand to determine what cuts to make.
In the US, about 300,000 cows are butchered every week, and we export about 17%, including a lot of hide and intestine to South America and offal (heart, kidney, etc) to Asian markets.
Oh -- and we ate too! At a place called Christopher's, a restaurant in a very old house built in 1913. They have restored to outside and modernized the dining areas and kitchen inside, as well as added on some banquet/meeting space. The decor was french and very beautiful. The food, again, looked fresh and ready to jump off the white plates. They served warm, fresh bread with a ball of pesto surrounded by olive oil in a small bowl. I liked that. Each entree had its own personality, being paired with something that matched the protein. I really could feel the thought put into every dish. All of the staff that we came in contact with was polite and professional, and they were all wearing the same style shirt, pressed and looking sharp.
Our group talked about what we each thought of our day, what we learned, and how we could incorporate it into our work. It was a very pleasant dinner.