A few weeks ago, I found myself on the phone with Carrie Oliver (I keep wanting to say “Jamie” Oliver, but that’s another food celebrity). Ms. Oliver, something of a food celebrity herself, lives somewhere in California (isn’t that where celebrities live?) She’s the force behind the Artisan Beef Institute which believes–as do we–that there’s so much more to great beef than the presence of intramuscular fat (“marbling”). The Institute’s site has, in fact, trademarked the expression, “Psst! It’s not about the marbling.” This, of course, completely flies in the face of conventional wisdom (and the USDA grading system of prime, choice, and select which bases its determinations on marbling). Fat does play at least three roles, though. It gives meat texture. It is plays the role of an indicator that a beef animal was “finished” well, and finishing is very important to the quality and flavor of beef. But, in terms of what it lends to the actual taste of the beef–according to one source–it accounts for as little as 10% of the flavor. But even as I disagree with conventional wisdom, I digress.
As Carrie and I talked about beef she sort of offhandedly and parenthetically stated, “Of course there’s no such thing as the best beef.” I love that she just brought that out into the open. Think about it: do you ever hear of a vineyard claiming they have the best wine, or a brewery touting that they have the best beer? No doubt, there’s sub par beef out there (to say nothing of conventional beef which lacks flavor) just as there are wineries and breweries which are churning out an inferior product. But the joy of spending a weekend visiting the wineries of Napa Valley or the Leelanau Peninsula is tasting a plenitude of varietals from a number of different wineries. It’s about tasting the craft of the wine-makers and the terroir of the land. It’s about finding what you prefer. Nevertheless, there are a number of wineries (and breweries) that rise to the top of the heap, that consistently create great product and whose vintners and brewers are masters in their field. Even then, there’s a lot of room for subjectivity and preferences. And, to be honest, we wouldn’t want it any other way: it means that there’s a whole world out there to explore and you’ll never come to the end of it. There’s always room to be surprised and delighted by something you’ve never tasted before, that resonates deeply with you on a personal level. This, I believe, is a fundamental need of the human soul, which is why we need the arts (remember that food and drink can be art forms).
As merchants of heritage meats, Duba & Company is looking to introduce its customers to the best representations of beef from various breeds of cattle and various localities. We want pursuing our site to be something akin to a visit to the wineries of Napa Valley or the Leelanau Peninsula (which is why last week, we introduced our first Flight of Beef, which represents two “varietals”–or breedings–of beef and three different terroirs).
Aside from there not being any such thing as the best beef, another confession I make. And that is that I’m afraid. It was the summer of ’89 that Batman (starring Michael Keaton) was playing in theaters nation-wide. I was poolside at a family friend’s home on one of those hot, steamy summer days that makes your memory of it seem like a dream. Our neighbor talked about having seen the film, about just how good it was, and it stirred a deep desire to see the film as well as heightened my expectations for something ephemeral. Whatever was the golden promise for which I sought fulfillment from the film, it was not granted. I expected the world; I got a really good movie. The gap between my expectations and experience was measured in disappointment. Oh, to have seen Batman without any expectations and to leave deeply satisfied! And that is my fear for those who have been following this blog and visiting our website to absorb its information: that their experience of our beef will be akin to my 1989 viewing of Batman. I love getting reviews of our beef such as the one recounted in last week’s blog (please see “Beef Takes Flight”), comparing our beef to the Glenlivet 18. But they don’t always go that way. Sometimes I hear, as I did earlier this week, that our beef is “good”: “we really liked it!”. Hearing that causes something within me to wilt a little. That is my confession.