Home on the Range – Part 1
Steak sizzling on the grill, brisket cooking in the oven, hamburgers in the summer – beef is a meat that takes on many forms, from the elegant to the everyday. In order to be a true beef connoisseur, you need to know more about the meat than the fact that it comes from a cow. What the cattle were fed, whether the beef is natural or organic, whether the beef is dried or not, and where the cattle were raised, all affect the ultimate product that ends up on your plate. The biggest catch in this equation is that you must be familiar with all of this information within the realm of kosher-certified beef. Is this mission "impossible"? It doesn’t need to be.
First, know what the cow has eaten. Cattle can have a range of diets over their lives such as:
Grain-fed (or corn-fed), grain-finished (or corn-finished), grass-fed, or grass-finished.
- According to BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com, grain-fed cattle eat grass in pastures for most of their lives until they move to a feedlot and eat calorie-dense grain for three to six months, becoming grain-finished. Americans usually prefer this grain-fed beef because it’s more tender than grass-fed beef and has flavorful marbling. Allison Aubrey, NPR, says since it doesn’t take up the space that grass-fed cows on pastures do, more grain-fed cattle can be raised at once. This means that grain-fed beef is cheaper for not only the farmer, but also the consumer – you.
- Grass-fed, and then grass-finished beef, eat grass on the pasture for their entire lives rather than moving to the feedlot like their grain-fed cousins.
According to Aubrey, this beef has a different taste than grain-fed and grain-finished beef because it has more muscle tone as a result of the cows constantly moving. With this muscle tone, grass-fed beef does not have the same marbling as grain-fed beef, making it leaner meat.
In addition to what the cow eats, whether the beef is natural or organic also plays a role.
The United States Department of Agriculture describes natural beef as when the meat is "minimally processed containing no additives." Under this definition, all fresh beef is natural. On the other hand, organic beef must meet stringent USDA regulations and carry the USDA Organic Seal. When comparing natural and organic beef, organic undergoes much heavier examination than natural beef.
Devora Kimelman-Block, the founder of KOL Foods—producers of 100% grass-fed, organic, kosher meat— has given KosherEye an exclusive interview on the grass-fed beef market.
Beyond the feeding, regulation, and preparation of beef, it also matters where the meat came from. One notable beef supplier is the country of Uruguay in South America. Most Uruguayan cattle are grass–fed, resulting in a leaner beef with more omega-3 fatty acids than the typical American beef. Sometimes called “South American” or "grass–fed"on restaurant menus, Uruguayan beef has a "slightly earthy and less buttery flavor" than its American counterpart. This leaner beef results from the grass–fed cattle roaming in pastures. Clint Peck at Beef Magazine says most Uruguayan beef also contains no antibiotics or growth hormones and is advertised as being free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease).
Wagyu beef originated a little farther from home, in Kobe, Japan. Wagyu cattle are genetically predisposed to intense marbling, and produce a higher percentage of unsaturated fat (the healthier fat) than any other breed of cattle known in the world. The "Wagyu beef" designation can legally be applied to the meat from any cattle of the Wagyu breed; it's a genetic label and does not reference how the cattle were raised and fed. A few American cattle ranchers have imported this breed cattle, and some is now available as kosher. Wagyu meat is legendary. Its marbling produces beef known for its tenderness, juiciness and flavor. It is also one of the world's most expensive types of beef; at the kosher restaurant and butcher Le Marais in New York City, Kosher Wagyu beef sells for $85 on the bone and $80 off the bone. Bay Gourmet points out that Wagyu beef's extremely high price tag is due to its scarcity in the U.S. market, most of it selling in the Japanese mass market. Many consider Wagyu beef, with its tremendous degree of marbling, to be a succulent beef dish.
From grass to grain-fed, natural to organic, and Uruguayan to Wagyu, beef can vary tremendously. There is no "right"type of beef; it is based on whatever the occasion and what your preferences and budget demand. Whichever beef you prepare, remember that not all beefs are equal; recipes can be tailored for specific types of beef so you get the most delectable flavor out of your meat.