A few weeks ago, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen wrote a wonderful and informative post about an artisan burger tasting she hosted and she introduced us to Carrie Oliver, owner of The Olive Ranch Company, who believes that like fine wines, beef flavor and texture are influenced by breed, growing region, diet and the unique skills of those who raise it.
I couldn’t agree more, and knew as soon as I read Jaden’s post, I wanted to host an event like this at our house. I’m all about having people over for a dinner party, and with an idea like this, I knew we would have a lot of fun.
I spoke with Carrie by phone before our party and got some great tips regarding how to select the artisan beef, and how to organize the event. Here is what Carrie has to say:
finding beef for an artisan burger tasting
If you think a wine or chocolate tasting is fun, you’re in for a real treat with an Artisan Burger Tasting. The trick is, just like any other food, you need to actually know what’s on your plate if you expect to enjoy the same or similar flavor the next time.
First you’ll need to find a few different sources of beef to include in your tasting. You are ideally looking to find farm- or ranch-specific beef and to know what kind of cattle they raised and how. (If this isn’t practical, as a first step look for beef with a label that says it was raised without the use of added growth hormones or antibiotics and then try to find out as much as you can about the beef as possible.)
Ask the following and jot down the answers: the cattle breed or crossbreed (e.g. Hereford, Purebred Angus, Angus-Jersey Crossbreed, Charolais, etc.), the growing region, the specific diet, the aging technique used (dry-aging or wet-aging), and the name of the farm, ranch, or ranch group.
I would also ask what the % fat is in the burger. As many of you will know from reading my earlier posts, fat content makes far less of an impact on beef – especially in steaks – as one might otherwise think. But fat does carry some flavor, and in burgers it can also have an impact on mouth-feel. Some people describe this feeling as juicy; others find it filmy or oily. As part of your growing appreciation for burgers, you’ll want to learn whether you prefer the feel of fat or not in your burgers.
Finally, this is a great opportunity to try grass-fed beef if you haven’t already done so,if you haven’t already done so, so try to include at least one sample in your tasting.
I wanted to source locally for the beef we would be tasting, so I set out to find 4 local farms that met Carrie’s criteria for artisan beef. Most ranches sell their meat through CSAs, Co-ops, at farmer’s markets, or directly at their farm. I began my search at one of our farmer’s markets, and found the remaining farmers by word of mouth. Here are the 4 farms I chose to include in our tasting (all are within 20 minutes of our house):
Organizing our tasting involved a plan to keep the samples separated throughout the cooking and plating stages, as we were doing a blind test test. I color coded each of the 4 farms and assigned them a number.
In order to tuly appreciated the flavor and texture of each burger, I prepared a small sample of each farm’s beef adorned with just a little salt and pepper and prepared in my grill pan separately. It was amazing how different each of the samples smelled, tasted, and felt in our mouths as we chewed.
We used Carrie’s Artisan Beef Institiute Tasting Guide which helped us identify the texture, personality, and impression of each sample. We recorded the flavors we tasted whether it was buttery, earthy, gamy, savory, etc… keeping our findings to ourselves. Well, most of us kept our thoughts to ourselves…my husband kept blurting out what he was tasting, or letting out sounds like “mmm” or “OMG this is good!” ~we had to remind him to be quiet.
We assigned each of the samples a rank, 1-4 (#1 being our favorite).
Once we finished tasting and recording our notes of the samples I grilled mini slider sized burger samples from each farm for us to try with a few toppings such as caramelized onion jam, homemade ketchup, and cheese.
Tasting the burgers on a bun, with toppings was a lot more difficult to pull out the different flavor nuances than when we tasted the samples unadorned. I’m really glad we had the opportunity to review each of the samples ahead of time.
We brought our tasting notes with us to the dinner table and began discussing our findings. It was really interesting to see how many of us picked up on the same flavors/characteristics that made each of the sample so unique.
Let me tell you that each of the farms have amazing beef, with flavor and texture far superior to anything you will find in any grocery store, and ranking them 1-4 was difficult. All of our samples were grass fed beef that had been dry-aged at least 14 days. I am excited to know we have farms so close by to provide us with quality like this and will order from each of them in the future!
We did have to select a winner however, and our first choice was actually unanimous (drum roll please)…
Deblyn Farms was our favorite burger, winning votes for texture/chew and for flavor. We found this burger to have soft texture and very nicely balanced with layers of buttery, earthy, and nutty flavors. The personality was direct and had a long lasting impression.~ It really was outstanding.
Deblyn Farms raises Piedmontese cattle , an Italian breed which carries the gene for inactive myostatin, which increases muscularity, and also reduces the fat content while improving tenderness in the beef. This low fat beef is also lower in calories, higher in protein and contains a higher percentage of the good Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Deblyn Farms crosses the Piedmontese with either a Charolais or Angus to produce lean, tender flavorful beef. You may purchase beef from Deblyn Farms by contacting Lynda directly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange pick up at their farm, or through the Fall Line Farms Co-op.
We had a blast doing this artisan burger tasting, and think you would really enjoy trying something like this in your home. You may even want to try one of Carrie’s Artisan Steak Tasting Packages that may be purchased on her website.
One thing I can say is that beef is filling! You don’t need to add a whole lot to this dinner party.The focus really is and should be around the beef. A simple hors d’oeuve and light salad (to act as more of a palate cleanser) is all you really need to round out the evening. I made a light ice cream/sorbet terrine for dessert, and even that was pretty hard to eat after all those burgers!