What do you look for when buying beef
Alison Tuke is both a third generation Aberdeen Angus farmer and from a family of passionate foodies. Her father, the late Nigel Thornton-Kemsley, was instrumental in the formation of the Certified Aberdeen Angus scheme in 1981. Alison now runs Hardiesmill with her husband Robin. Customers include Albert Roux as well as Scotch beef and The Scottish Government, who have both used Hardiesmill Beef this year to showcase Scottish Food internationally.
What to look for when buying Beef?
It's one thing to find a great bit of beef, it's a lot harder to get it time and again. It's even more fun trying to grow consistant quality beef, but that's why we do it. Other people have golf, we have rearing cattle to produce the best possible eating experience that we can - both are fascinating, infuriating and obsessive. Actually after 70 years we've deduced that it comes down to three things: breeding, feeding and handling (where we sort out the breeding and feeding and handling to the point of dispatch, and you take control from arrival to delivery on the plate), but more of that later. In the meantime here's a few tips based on our experience on what to look for when buying beef over a butcher's counter:
- Three things affect flavour: Breeding (just like apples), feeding & handling.
- The cheaper the cut the bigger the flavour but the longer it takes to cook (excluding mince and sausages)
- The darker the meat the better hung (air dried / dry aged) it is likely to be. Hanging uses natural enzyme activity to break down the fibres of the meat, increasing the strength of flavour and the tenderness. 2-4 weeks is sufficient, after that it can become gamey).
- Marbling (tiny white/cream coloured flecks of fat within the meat ) increases juicyness and tenderness.
- Ivory coloured marbling increases flavour and the longevity of taste (white marbling is taste neutral (Rowat Institute, 2009).
- The denser the meat, the lower the water content, the less the shrinkage. If you're not able to handle the beef, you can spot density by the speed a steak takes to topple over when it's been freshly cut. The higher the water content the faster it'll flop over.
- Labels ensure ethics. Scoth Beef, Tractor Mark, Organic, Freedom Foods, LEAF all inspect farms to ensure high standards of animal husbandry.
- Abatoir affect tenderness. If an animal gets stressed before slaughter the meat is noticably tougher. A quality abatoir works hard to reduce stress. In Scotland the quality abatoirs & hauliers carry the Scotch brand.
I.e, We'd say that if you see a rusty coloured bit of beef with ivory coloured marbling and a creamy coloured fat in a good butcher's shop; if the butcher knows the abatoir to be a good one and the beef stands upright when it's cut, then you should have yourself a cracking bit of beef, right the way down to the cheaper cuts.
If that's tempted you to find out a bit more....We run eductaional afternoons, typically on the 4th Friday of each month known as the 10 Steak Experience. It covers everything that affects beef from breeding to feeding to handling and ends with a unique opportunity to try 10 different steaks in one sitting!