Last week, while researching my monthly Alberta at Noon column, I had the opportunity to visit The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence. Beef prices have hit a record high this year. They are up by 36% and drought is a big factor. Ranchers across the Prairies are having to buy feed instead of it growing in abundance. With favourite beef cuts like steaks and prime rib roasts at such high prices, it’s a very good time to explore lesser known cuts of meat.
Necessity is a great incentive program but that doesn’t mean that when the going gets tough, your meat has to as well. In today’s Alberta at Noon podcast I talked about the The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence staff’s emphasis on teaching consumers to use the whole animal in a nose to tail (everything is delicious if you just know how to cook it) fashion. Read on for a more about the centre and its role in the beef industry.
The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence was founded in February of 2015. It is a merger of marketing forces that were formerly divided between domestic and international teams. Now this one centre is responsible for marketing both locally and globally and it’s position for Canadian Beef is that while we are not the biggest producer of beef in the world, we will certainly be renowned for our quality. Canada Beef is supported in part by a program called The National Check-Off (NCO) where funds are collected from beef farmers and ranchers as cattle are sold.
Potential Canada Beef buyers tour the facility, learn the technical hands-on skill of meat cutting and then have lesser known cuts prepared by the centre’s chef because “tasting is believing”. The centre is located in Calgary because this region is responsible for 70% of Canada’s beef cattle finishing and processing.
When I toured The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence I asked their meat cutting expert Abe Van Melle and chef de cuisine Marty Carpenter their favourite lesser know cuts of beef. Abe loves top sirloin medallions and Marty, loves a bottom sirloin flap steak that is hugely popular in Quebec. It is marketed as a Bavette or BIB steak. Tres cool. Both experts agreed that Chuck Short Ribs are also an under utilized and valued product.
If you’re like me, you would love some ideas for what to do with these lesser known cuts. The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence has got us covered. They’ve developed an app called The Roundup. I downloaded it for free on my smart phone and was impressed with the recipes and EVEN MORE IMPRESSED with the videos to help consumers learn the necessary techniques. Though I don’t like beef well done – I sure like my apps done that way.
To be totally honest with you, while I enjoyed touring the centre and learning about the tail end of the industry, I still have some issues with large scale feed lots and mega-processing facilities. I talked about that with the centre staff and they assured me – at least about the processing plants – that Canada has the highest standards in the world.
I still buy a side of beef from a friend who ranches 20 minutes from my home. I know how he raises his animals from start to finish and where and how the animals are processed. I do buy beef in restaurants but I’m selective and usually only buy it when the restaurant’s buying practices are similar to my own. I also buy at a farmers’ market where I know the rancher’s complete story.
I’m voting with my dollars for a more natural product (convention in the industry sees calves hard-weaned, given antibiotics, hormones and ionophores while spending the last 3 – 6 months of their lives in large feed lots) and more humane treatment of cattle. The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence represents all segments of the industry – from conventional to organic. It was good to go and learn more about what they do and to see their dedication to safety and quality. I recognize that I’m likely in the minority of buyers.
In the end, anyway you slice it, it’s easy to see that with beef prices up, lesser known and less expensive cuts are looking like a great way to help us savour it all.