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Beef: Understanding Your Choices

A t D'Artagnan we believe in choices, especially when it comes to beef. Some swear by grass-fed beef, relishing its leanness, nuanced flavor and extolling its nutritional value. Others prefer their red meat with a pale network of fat marbled throughout, adding flavor and succulence. Americans have been eating grain-finished beef for some time now, and our palates are used to the milder flavor and tender texture. Still others prefer a truly luxurious beef experience like rare Wagyu beef with glistening veins of pure fat. At D'Artagnan, we love quality beef of all kinds, so we have a cut of beef for every palate.

Beef Backgrounder - Our Products – Dartagnan.com

Domestic Beef
Some years ago, in the hills of central Oregon, a group of cattle ranchers formed a cooperative called Painted Hills Natural Beef, focused on humane care for their animals, and high quality of the finished product. Just imagine if you could raise a beef animal from birth in your own back yard on grass, then feed it locally grown alfalfa hay, barley and corn for a few months, and never any animal feed, hormones or antibiotics. That’s exactly what our ranchers do –but in a 10,000 acre backyard.

Each rancher in the cooperative knows exactly where each animal comes from, and can track it from birth to processing, all of which takes place in the great Northwest. Each animal comes with an affidavit that proves it, and that the rancher followed strict natural protocols. The Black Angus and Angus cross cattle range over pasture land for most of their lives, and are then rounded up and fed a supplement of alfalfa hay, barley and corn for a few months in a spacious, low-stress feeding facility, before processing (usually around 2 years of age). To the ranchers, humane treatment is of paramount importance, so every care is taken, even in transporting the cattle short distances. The 100% vegetarian feed is supplemented with vitamin E and A which helps strengthen natural immunities. Each member rancher works with Soil and Water Conservation District and utilizes range conservation practices to ensure the long-term health of the streams, springs, grasslands and eco-systems. The Choice-plus beef of Painted Hills has enough marbling to ensure juicy and tender results, and the 21 days of aging creates a distinctive flavor.

Australian Grass Fed Beef
Australia has vast pastureland, clean rainfall and abundant sunshine. Sounds like a great recipe for raising cattle. Our grass fed beef comes from another group of ranchers that want to keep things natural and humane when it comes to raising cattle. The Angus and Hereford cattle are born and raised completely free-range in grass pastures of alfalfa and rye, high protein grasses which convert to soft-textured muscle, not fat. All the exercise the cattle get in the pasture contributes to a firm, yet springy texture in the beef. The lean and tender meat has a mild flavor profile, and offers high protein, minerals and B-group vitamins such as niacin, thiamin and zinc. Grass fed beef tends to be lower in fat, and ours has about 30% less than conventionally raised, grain-finished beef. At D’Artagnan, quality and consistency are important to us and our clients, and Australian grass-fed beef offers both.

Domestic Wagyu
The Wagyu cattle are an extraordinary breed, native to Japan, where they developed in isolation with a unique genetic propensity to high marbling. Feeding programs encourage the cattle to put on fat in all the right places, and the Japanese have evolved special regimens for their cattle. At D’Artagnan, we work with ranchers who raise Wagyu in Texas, where the cattleman is still king. East meets west with Texas ranching know-how and the influence of Japanese feeding techniques.

Cattle begin on pasture land and are then introduced to a gradual feeding system, with seven different feed variations, free-choice minerals, and fresh water. Our ranchers produce high-quality Wagyu beef without the help of hormones or antibiotics. No animal by-products are ever fed to the cattle, and they are fully monitored at every stage of their growth. The resulting delicate and rich Wagyu beef is graded Prime 90% of the time, and then is graded according to the Japanese Beef Marbling Standards (BMS) system, which scores the amount of marbling in the meat, ranking beef from 1 to 12. Scores from 8 and up indicate levels of abundant marbling, and the top of the BMS scale (12) would be mean that the fat marbling was extremely abundant. The Japanese further rank beef on overall quality from 1 to 5 (being excellent), which takes into account the marbling, yield, color and texture as well as fat quality.

Australian Wagyu
Building on a tradition of raising fine beef, Australia has taken to raising Wagyu cattle; outside of Japan, the Australian Wagyu Association is the largest breed association in the world. Our ranchers raise Tajima Black Wagyu stock, a breed that in Japan used to pull carts and ploughs so it developed large forequarters but kept a small frame. The Tajima cattle grow slowly but produce excellent beef, with plenty of white marbling. The intramuscular fat in Wagyu cattle is different than other breeds—it contains high levels of mono-unsaturated acids and oleates, which give the beef a distinctive nutty taste.

To guarantee the healthy nature of Australian Wagyu beef, none of the cattle are treated with antibiotic or hormonal growth promotants, nor do they have access to any genetically modified feeds. A complete life history is maintained for each animal, and from the day each calf is born, the ranchers control everything it eats, and how it is handled. Raising Wagyu beef has been elevated to an art form in Japan and the Australian ranchers are taking a page from their book, producing some of the finest graded Wagyu outside of Japan.