Naturally Artisanal

Passionate About Natural & Organic Food with An Artisanal Twist

Archive for December, 2009

Environmentally Sustainable Beef Practices Producing Delicious Steaks

Posted by smfierro on December 30, 2009

As a fairly new East Coast transplant to the Bay Area who is highly carnivorous and wants to be environmentally supportive, I have faced a bit of a challenge given my love of beef and some evidence that beef is a major cause for global warming.   I want to feel good about what I eat, so imagine my excitement to learn about a movement for sustainable beef!

What?  …..sustainable beef…???  And even better, it tastes good! So for me, it is great to know that beef production can actually be good for the environment, as we only seem to hear from organizations that are diametrically opposed to the eating of any meat, period. Enter The Artisan Beef Movement.  I want to share this with you, my fellow beef enthusiasts, so you can join me.

Recently I participated in an “Artisan Steak Tasting” led by Carrie Oliver, the pioneer of the Artisan Beef Movement, and Founder & CEO of  The Artisan Beef Institute (ABI, and The Oliver Ranch Company ( in what many might consider to be one of the most unlikely places in the country to find highly carnivorous, beef lovers….San Francisco!  The term ‘Artisan Beef’ is synonymous with supporting sustainability.  Yes, it’s true, California is even leading the sustainability movement in beef…..

ABI defines ‘Artisan Beef’ as like a fine wine.  At the minimum you know the name of the farm(s), breed, growing region, and aging time & technique.

Oliver says “Flavor and texture vary by ranch. It’s time that we celebrate this rather than try to hide it.”

She emphasizes having picked-up where the natural and organic meat movements left off.  Oliver’s focus is not just on production standards, but also on flavor, texture, and the emotional benefits of knowing what’s on your plate and how it got there. For this, she only begins at the ranch.  Great beef requires Care and talent at all steps from farm to fork figure into flavor and texture, including in transportation, at the slaughterhouse, butcher, retailer, and at home.

Oliver has spent half a decade studying the beef industry in all its forms and built ABI from scratch, which at the risk of oversimplifying, is the unprecedented and surprisingly logical set of standards created by Oliver which define what is required to produce delicious beef in an environmentally sustainable way.  Just as fine wine has a set of guidelines, terminology and standards set forth for tasting and selecting excellent wines, so has ABI created these for beef.  As a participating ‘beef taster’ at an Artisan Beef Tasting, participants take on the role of ‘beef sommelier’, so to speak.  Oliver has taken a set of principles followed by a minority of ranches around the world and has for the first time in the beef world, created a tasting guide and the terminology used in it, and pulled the entire process and standards required, which combine to produce the concept of Artisan Beef.

Under one umbrella she provides a logical and detailed set of standards that she defines as Artisan Beef.  She will be the first to tell you there are ranches and other beef industry artisans who have been following these standards for years, however, few have documented, organized together or produced a way to champion this environmentally sustainable art of producing great product.  Oliver, through ABI, is the first to present everything under one roof.  She does it in a way that consumers and all other involved parties can understand it and even participate in the movement as students, beef tasters or beef tasting hosts.  And she makes it possible for the consumer to identify ranches that follow this philosophy.

At a beef tasting, you might hear from guest panelists such as Artisan ranchers and/or butchers, who in combination with Oliver, provide the attendees with education around what Artisan Beef is, and the factors and complexities combining to give each steak its flavor and texture….the ‘field to fork’ process, if you will.  And believe it or not, there really is a difference in taste and texture between not only different cuts of beef but between the same cut of beef from different producer teams.  At tastings, participants have the opportunity to learn why that is and to pass around terms describing their tasting experiences, which sound surprisingly similar to the kind of banter you might experience in a wine tasting environment.  Oliver takes care to keep things fun rather than too serious, asking guests to imagine sitting next to this beef at a dinner party and figuring out what kind of personality they have.  Are they Reserved? Or more Adventurous, likethe life of the party? She even categorizes beefs based on her tasting notes & overall evaluation, such as Gateway Beef™ (grass-fed that tastes like grain-fed) or Marriage Material™ Beef.

For example, my dry-aged, grass-finished Angus Cross New York Strip Loin from one ranch cut like butter, had a harmonious personality, a long-lasting impression and sweet notes reminiscent of caramelized vegetables, while a dry-aged, grass-finished Black Angus-Cross New York Strip Loin from another ranch had an interesting bite and adventurous personality, with ocean notes, a tanginess and mushroom undertones.

So why might two steaks have noticeably different tastes and textures?  It is all in the process and the Artisan Beef Institute in conjunction with The Oliver Ranch Company, which offers a home Artisan Steak Tasting kit, makes it possible to learn about the ‘why’ and to purchase beef from ranches practicing environmentally sustainable practices.

Find out more at or follow her on Twitter (#meatcamp, @CarrieOliver).  Carrie Oliver, despite her many commitments and a challenging travel schedule, somehow finds time to stay connected with her fellow Artisan Beef enthusiasts through social media, email, and phone.  Your questions are welcome always and you will get a response.  If you want to have a home beef tasting or just purchase great beef online, I highly encourage it,   Spread the word about ‘environmentally sustainable’ and delicious beef.


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