Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Purveyors Steak Tasting Event, The Best of the Best, and THE WORLD'S BEST BURGER

Together with a group of experienced beef lovers, I helped to organize a tasting of the best beef supplied by what most consider the best beef purveyors in Toronto, Cumbrae's Meats and Olliffe's. I chose the best of what the 2 purveyors supplied. From Olliffe's, I chose pasture raised, dry aged about 8 weeks, Prince Edward Island, prime grade beef; pasture raised Ontario graded prime beef, dry aged about 8 weeks. Both of these 2 pasture raised cattle were finished on a mix of grains and corn. Olliffe's also supplied feedlot raised, dry aged U.S. prime and wet aged, feedlot raised Australian wagyu beef. Cumbrae's supplied their own pasture and feedlot raised ontario grade prime angus cross beef as well as their own dry aged pasture and feedlot raised wagyu beef. All Cumbrae's beef is raised hormone free and finished on their own proprietary mix of feed. Unfortunately, Cumbrae's owner mis-timed our event and his wagyu beef was only dry aged about 3 weeks, when normally it would have had at least 6 to 8 weeks of dry aging. 

We originally ordered pure pasture raised beef from 2 suppliers but one supplier cancelled at the last minute because we were advised by the owner that he did not consider the beef that we had preordered months prior, good enough for the comparison tasting. Farmer, Mathew Von Teichman was kind enough to supply us with his beef that was only pasture raised and in the last it's 60 days of it's life, also fed a diet of apples, starting with a few a day and working up to 60 apples a day at the end of term. This beef was dry aged about 6 weeks.

All steaks from from each purveyor were bone-in rib steaks cut to a weight of about 22 to 24 oz. Six steaks of each varietal were prepared for the tasting event, 3 for each tasting flight and 3 as a back up for the flight comparing the winners. All beef was tasted blind. the beef was delivered to the restaurant and the chef sorted the beef and was responsible for cooking the beef between medium rare and rare, slicing and assembling the beef on the plate in the kitchen in 2 1/2 oz pieces and the beef arrayed on the plate in positions, depending on the number of pieces, like a clock, ie, 4 pieces would be arranged at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions. All beef was assessed using the following standard criteria used by our different professional and serious beef amateurs at other tastings over the past 9 years. These criteria are taste, texture and juiciness. The ratings range from 1 to 10, 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.

Flight #1 consisted of tasting the Cumbrae's Ontario prime, the Ollliffe Ontario prime, the Prince Edward Island prime and the Von Teichman pasture raised beef. In this flight the steak voted #1, by a very small margin, was Olliffe's Ontario prime; close #2 was the Cumbrae's prime; the #3 and again fairly close was the PEI prime. We all agreed, if tasted on their own, all 4 varieties of steaks would be considered very good, but the best were truly an experience!

Flight #2 consisted of the Olliffe supplied U.S. prime, Australian wagyu and the Cumbae's wagyu. This comparison was extremely close all around with the differences in fractions! The #1 steak was the U.S. prime by a very small margin, the #2 steak, the Australian prime, again by a very small margin and the #3 steak the Cumbrae's wagyu, again, by a very small margin. It was my expressed opinion that, having tasted the Cumbrae's wagyu at it's best on several occasions, that this steak would certainly have either tied for first or second place if aged fully.

Flight #3 was the taste off of the best of the best: the Ontario prime and the U.S prime and we  were all very surprised by the result. The Olliffe prime beat out the U.S. prime by a significant margin. I attributed this difference primarily to the wonderful nutty complexity (layers of flavour) that proper and adequate dry aging lends to the taste of beef that is adequately marbled.

We had a lot of left over steaks that did not make the final taste off, so, I took them all back to one of the butchers who removed the bone, and here it is, my personal recipe for the best hamburger patty you will ever eat, as some butcher's know it, "Josh's prime burgers" (of course the best starts with the best, properly aged and absolutely prime beef). All beef is trimmed of every visible bit of cap fat or extramuscular fat of any kind. The only fat used is the beautiful intramuscular fat (the fine fat between the fibers of perfectly prime grade or "super" prime beef). No extra fat is added to the grind. All beef is coarsely ground and only put through the grinder once. The beef was cooked between medium rare to rare, on the rare side (this is my preference) and specially ordered brioche hamburger buns are requested from my face baker are requested slightly denser than usual brioche. Another "must": when the burgers are grilled, they are only salted and they are generously salted, but only on each silence formed. Do not muss around with the ground beef. Handle the beef as little as possible. Remove it from the package in clumps that will allow you to directly form a 6 oz burger patty. Ravida Sicilian sea salt is preferred for seasoning. We have tried the burgers with different condiments such as ketchup, mustard, onions, relish etc and we all preferred the burgers with NO condiments or extras.

Now you serious beef lovers can find the best beef, do your own tastings and remember, beef is not like sheet steel which can have perfect quality control of material. Beef can never be perfect and possess the same taste, texture and juiciness each and every time because of animal variability for the most part, but also seasonal feed variability as well as the feed mix itself. If you like to experiment try adding about 25% prime and well aged ground skirt or hanger steak (or both) to your mix, for even more flavour. And now, you have the makings for some fabulous tasting juicy burgers with great texture. Please do not use previously frozen beef.

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