Chewin’ the fat
There is some fantastic quality beef available here in Australia however what I wanted, what I needed, was unobtainable.
You see when it comes to breeds of cow; ideally, I want English Longhorn or South Devon in that order thank you very much! I have other favourites: Scottish Highland, Dexter and Belted Galloway.
Australia’s obsession with grain fed Angus really was, for me, limiting. While I do enjoy Angus I wanted the true beef flavour and texture I grew up with in Scotland albeit with an Australian taste, a characteristic that spoke of the land it came from, the same quality of meat I learned to cook with as an apprentice, and the grain-fed yearling available at that time wasn’t, in my opinion, doing the industry any justice.
Great beef isn’t about grain feeding or massaging the animals before slaughter (although this might decrease PH levels through relaxation), it’s about the whole process: age, pasture, finishing, dry aging, cooking and resting. But great beef starts with the breed. You could apply the exact same process to 15 other breeds and the results would be quite poor indeed. What English Longhorns and South Devon share in common is a genetic advantage to marble naturally on grass far more than any other breed I have worked with. It’s true, they do take longer to reach maturity, however, the advantages speak for themselves. Combine that with the amazing flavour and texture of these breeds and you have a world-class product that can, and possibly will, have a greater impact on the Australian beef industry than Angus.
More than 10 years ago this particular obsession began for me; 20 head of South Devon were purchased based on age, weight and a number of other criteria, processed under my exact instruction from the farmer’s field to the dry age room. The result? Quality beef – nothing more, nothing less. A number of prominent Sydney chefs couldn’t believe it was grass-fed after it was revealed in a blind tasting. That particular project was short lived thanks to the foot and mouth epidemic in the UK, which sent export prices through the roof.
I didn’t stop, however. After moving to Adelaide it wasn’t long before I met Richard Gunner who is almost as passionate as I am when it comes to beef. Plans were hatched shortly after, to at the very least, try and purchase some of these particular breeds so he could better understand the benefits, for an Angus breeder this was a major thing I can assure you! One test led to another but the ultimate proof, they say, is in the pudding and he had his fill when we both visited top English Longhorn breeders in the UK.
As luck would have it I was able to feed Richard with everything I had spoken about over the past year. This process has led to the purchase of dozens of purebred English Longhorn embryos and hundreds of semen straws from the finest Longhorn Bulls selected carefully by Richard and myself with a breed plan in mind. The first crossbreed Longhorns will be born next month and implantation of the purebred embryos will happen in September. In 2013 purebred English Longhorns will no longer be extinct in Australia. As arduous, frustrating and costly as this process has been, and I can speak for both Richard and myself, I’d do it all again tomorrow.
Adelaide diners have in fact been enjoying the fruits of our tests over the past year. Many of you would have eaten both dry-aged Belted Galloway and South Devon at restaurants around town as steaks, braised dishes and even burgers. More recently eight-year-old breeding cows usually sold as ‘skin & bone’ at markets were purchased and rejuvenated over two years on good pasture, dry-aged for two months, which resulted in what one food critic described as “sensational”. From skin and bone to sensational? I like that, it’s a fitting end for an animal that has provided us with umpteen calves during its life.
We continue evolving, questioning and respecting the knowledge from the past but with a critical eye. And in doing so I hope we can all eat better beef that has been produced ethically, sustainably and in a manner that is morally correct. Australian beef in the future will, of course, have its own unique flavour profile, thanks to the terroir that these breeds feed from until they slowly reach maturity, rather than yearling that have had no time to develop any flavour profiles at all. For me, that is incredibly exciting.
If you think this beef’s good, wait until you try the pork we have been working on!
Jock Zonfrillo is the Head Chef of Magill Estate