How animals are cared for and handled during their lives has an impact on the quality of the meat they produce. The taste of a steak can be attributed to what the animal ate, it's fat content, stress levels, environment and how the meat was processed after the slaughter. It's easy to see that the lifestyle of beef cattle will have an impact on the taste of your dinner.
So when I was approached by TX Organics to do a taste comparison between California grass-fed beef and Minnesota grass-fed beef I was intrigued. Besides the people that are doing PR for the California Dairy farmers say that "Great milk comes from happy cows and happy cows come from California." Could the same thing be said about steaks or hamburgers?
Also, I couldn't help but think about this past winter in Minnesota. Supposedly one of the coldest winters to hit the Twin Cities in 35 years. I know that the temperatures all over the U.S. were colder than normal but "colder than normal" in Minnesota means something a bit different. There were around 65 days this winter that were below zero temps. Plus the ground was covered in snow and ice. It was difficult to be outside most days. It's easy to see that California cattle lead very different lives than Minnesota cattle. The spring and summers provide some rain usually averaging somewhere between 3 and 5 inches of rainfall per month.
I just had to wonder... How happy could Minnesota cows be? It brought to mind a California dairy commercial with Kirsten...
The Beef Taste Comparison
The point of this was to compare the taste and see if there was a difference. TX Organics is trying to find out if the beef from California tastes different from beef in other regions of the United States. Since steak, and beef in general, is one of my favorite foods I was more than happy to help :)
We get our beef from a local farmer along with other types of meat. It just so happened we had the opportunity to go in on a grass-fed cow from another farm with a friend of ours before the taste test. Good thing too because I had plenty of Minnesota sirloin steaks on hand to compare with the California sirloin cuts I received from TX Organics.
I've never ordered meat from a service like TX Organics. I was interested to see what the packaging looked like. The beef showed up frozen and neatly packed in a normal shipping box that had some nifty insulation and dry ice. I think it's really cool that businesses have the opportunity to share their goods far and wide. Even ground beef can travel across the country and show up on your doorstep without the issue of thawing and going bad. Amazing!
Since the ground was still covered with snow I couldn't roll out the grill. Bummer! So I prepared the sirloin steaks using my "Perfect Steak" oven method. You can check it out here. It's simple and it was easy for me to keep everything consistent. After preparing the steaks I cut them into pieces and got Amelia's help in doing the taste comparison. She didn't have any clue which steak was which and I did my taste test with my eyes closed.
So we had no clue which steak we were eating. We just made our notes. Then we told one another which steak was which. Both steaks tasted great. This isn't a taste test to determine if one tastes "better" as much as it was to see if there was a taste "difference."
I can say that there are a few minor differences. The TX Organics sirloin steak had a sweeter taste with a hint of pepper. The Minnesota sirloin also seemed to have a bit more fat content and had a bit more saltiness to it.
There was also a difference in texture. The TX Organics sirloin had a bit more chewiness in the bite. I attribute this to the fact that the TX Organics steak were noticeably leaner. It could also be that my sirloin steaks were a different cut of sirloin than the TX Organics. The steaks from TX Organics were Top Sirloins which are a leaner cut. The Minnesota steak had a buttery mouth feel due to what seemed to be a higher fat content. I also suspect that cows in Minnesota are not able to graze year-round and eat fresh growing grass. They are probably consuming more hay than California cows. That's speculation but I don't see how it couldn't be the case. Maybe the guys over at TX can provide some insight on this.
Overall, I enjoyed the flavor of both steaks and I can see myself using a service like TX Organics if I need to source some quality, organic, grass-fed beef.
In celebration of the regional beef taste comparison TX Organics is giving away a $500 gift card. All you have to do to have a chance to win is join their mailing list here. You'll also receive some exclusive deals and recipe ideas.
One thing is certain... A grass-fed, humanely treated cow is going to be happier. If you're able to choose grass-fed over conventional beef you're making a smart choice. Supposedly well-treated animals end up producing tastier meals. Here's an interesting excerpt from this article I found:
"Meat's flavour is dependent on many things - the way the animal was fed, the way it was raised, the fat content of its meat, and the way, after slaughter, the meat was conditioned and matured. But chemical analysis of muscle tissue now shows that a key factor is stress. Excite or frighten an animal - or a human being - and blood, adrenaline and other hormones will rush to muscles, getting them ready for action. This will alter the acid levels in the meat, affecting the colour, the taste and the texture. The technical term for beef that's been damaged by this sort of stress is 'dark cutting meat', because of the distinct colour and texture. One cattle farmer told me: 'It's like eating the sole of your boot.'"
Cheers to the crew over @txbarorganics for carrying out this taste test. Really cool.