What’s the Beef?

A unique event proves the culinary diversity of 10 cattle breeds while demonstrating the need to conserve rare breeds.
By Don Schrider, ALBC
August 1, 2008
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The Randall Lineback is king of the taste test.
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Pittsboro, North Carolina – It’s all in the taste buds. A group of food professionals, chefs, food writers and food connoisseurs discovered the tasty truth as they participated in a blind-tasting to compare beef from eight rare heritage breeds and two widely available breeds of cattle.

The mission of the event, at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virignia, was to make a flavor comparison of beef from these 10 breeds to demonstrate the culinary diversity they represent, as well as the value of conserving rare breeds. “We have to eat them to save them,” says Sandy Lerner, the host for the tasting. “When we eat them, we are giving farmers an economic reason to conserve rare breeds and the important genetic diversity they represent.”

This unique event presented meat from the chuck section of each breed roasted simply, without spices, and cut into bite-sized pieces in covered dishes at numbered stations. Numbered toothpicks and scorecards were provided to aid in evaluating the beef. The meat was scored based on flavor, texture, tenderness, smell, and appearance.

The breeds tasted were: Ancient White Park, Angus, Dexter, Galloway, Highland, Milking Devon, Pineywoods, Randall Lineback, Red Poll and (beef) Shorthorn. Many of these breeds are endangered and are considered important reservoirs of genetic diversity by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. As examples of critically rare remnants of landrace cattle that helped found the United States, Pineywoods cattle are adapted to the deep South and Randall Lineback cattle are native to New England.

After tasting the beef, the crowd was asked to vote for their favorite number before the breed identities were revealed. The winner of the popular vote in this ground-breaking tasting was the Randall Lineback, with second place going to the Galloway and third to the Dexter. The top three favorites each received nearly twice as many votes for first place as any of the other breeds tasted.

Though some breeds had few supporters as first choice, it should be noted that many of these breeds garnered second and third placements on individuals’ tally cards. “I was amazed how different people preferred different breeds to such an extent that there was no obvious winner.” Says Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen of Edible Chesapeake.

All but three of the breeds – the Milking Devon, the Randall Lineback, and the Red Poll – had been finished on Ayrshire Farm, fed an organic finishing feed, and raised and processed humanely, following Humane Farm Animal Care’s standards. The Randall Lineback was grown and finished on Chapel Hill Farm. The Milking Devon and the Red Poll were grass-finished as there were no steers available to finish on grain due to rarity and herd reduction following the drought of 2007.

This event was the largest comparison of beef breeds in North America to date and it successfully demonstrated that each of these breeds is valuable for the unique culinary experience it offers. One attendee, Lina Burton of The Mercer House, says, “And the beef – who would have thought that they really did taste different, and were so much better than what is available commercially in the supermarket?”

What’s the Beef – An Historical Event was produced through a partnership of the American Livestock Breeds ConservancyHumane Farm Animal CareSlow Food USA and Ayrshire Farm.

For more information on the beef breeds, placings, hosting organizations or cattle facts, visit the farm’s Web site.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, founded in 1977, is a non-profit membership organization working to protect more than 150 breeds of cattle, goats, horses, asses, sheep, pigs, rabbits and poultry from extinction. It is the pioneer organization in the United States working to conserve heritage breeds and genetic diversity in livestock.

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