While steaks and burgers are what usually come to mind when we think of beef, there are a lot of other cuts that come from a cow. The Culinary Kitchen is part of the beef industry's effort to develop new ways for customers to enjoy beef.
One of the major projects that the Kitchen has had a hand in is researching new muscle cuts and how to prepare them. A good example is the flat iron steak. Not many years ago, this part of the shoulder was made into hamburger or maybe a roast. Researchers found that it was the second-most tender muscle in the body. Now, you can find the flat iron steak at many steakhouses and supermarkets.
Another role the Kitchen plays is developing new recipes and cooking methods. Popular magazines, such as Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living often come to them for exclusive recipes to publish. They also research the best ways to cook different cuts of meat. Grilling, braising, roasting, broiling, frying…they research it all. They help develop and test packaging methods that make it more convenient for beef consumers to prepare different products. A packaging method they are currently developing is something similar to the steam-fresh packaging that some frozen vegetables are sold in.
If you're looking for great beef recipes or just want to know how to prepare that odd piece of meat you have at the bottom of the freezer, check out their website at beefitswhatsfordinner.com. It can even help you make a grocery list for that new beef dish you'd like to try.
We also learned about the difference between taste and flavor. We were given a single Skittles candy and instructed to hold our nose and begin to chew it. After a few seconds, we were told to let go of our noses. The point was that taste is a simple matter of sweet, salty, bitter, or sour. Flavor involves smell and the olfactory bulb in our brain. Another factor that makes a difference in an eating experience is umami. Umami is a Japanese word that refers to how different tastes and flavors complement each other when combined. It is sort of a 1 + 1 = 4 concept.
Our next presentation was by an economist with CattleFax. This non-profit membership-based service collects data on the cattle industry in an effort to supply its members with the information they need to make marketing decisions -when to buy and when to sell. These are interesting times in the cattle industry. Nationwide, the number of beef cattle is at a nearly 60 year low. While prices are good, recent droughts have forced many ranchers to sell cows. Drought has also increased the price of feed – corn and hay – so the cost to fatten cattle for slaughter has increased. In short, supply has shrunk, demand has held steady or increased, but the economic incentives to increase supply have not been great enough to justify the increasing input costs. I won't bore you with all the economic and production implications of these trends (unless you ask me), so I'll cut to the chase and say that the price of beef is not likely to come down very soon.
On this trip, we visited three feedlots where cattle are sent to get fattened for slaughter. I'll tell you about those next time.