Know Your Meat 101
When you visit your butcher you may see tags such as “Prime, AAA Choice or Single A. But what does this all mean? Understandably it’s a little confusing, but it is actually quite simple system to understand.
Buying beef at your local provider is easy, buying excellent beef does take a bit of knowledge. At Olliffe, when customers ask what to look for in selecting their steak or weekly joint, we break it down to four easy identifiers:
Muscle is the lean part of beef that should be bright to deep red. Often you will see your local butcher cutting steaks and notice the colour has a purple hue. This is normal due to a lack of oxygen touching the beef and with time the O2 will quickly turn to the normal deep red you know. Consider ground beef, the outside is always red but the inside is purple.
Beware of moist meat or blood pooling. This means the beef has not been properly aged. If possible touch the piece you are considering to buy. Beef should be firm and dry, if it is wet and floppy a red flag should go up in telling you that the beef purveyor is cutting corners and rushing his product to market.
Marbling is the fat consisting of small white flecks throughout the red muscle of beef. When you look at marbling you want to see a striking contrast of white and red and more of the white flecks generally means higher quality. Marbling is a key contributor to juiciness, tenderness and most importantly, flavour.
3. Government Grading
In Canada our abattoirs are broken down into federal and provincial inspection processes. Provincial abattoirs are generally smaller in production, localized, are not allowed to ship across provincial boundaries and are unable to “officially” grade their beef. There are many excellent producers who prefer the provincial abattoirs due to ease of market access such as Olliffe exclusive supplier Scotch Mountain Meats.
At The federal abattoir level the grading of beef occurs where you will find the nomenclature (from superior to least) “Prime”, “AAA” “AA” “A” classes of beef. In order to obtain a higher grade, each beast is inspected by an agent of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or CFIA on site. The grading system relates back to how much “marbling” the animal has.
At the best butchershops you will find AAA or Prime graded beef which often comes at a higher dollar cost than the A or AA beef you find in the bargain bin of the larger supermarket chains. Before starting the oven for your next roast it is good to consider that the value is placed on quality rather than the price point.
4. Know Your Butcher
A good butcher lives & breathes meat. At Olliffe the butchers are cutting and tying steaks and roasts within easy talking distance of the customers. The best butchershops in Toronto do make their butchers available should a special need or cut arise. Consequently your local butcher should know their product and be able to satisfy most informational or practical requests.