A guide to sourcing the best quality meat:
five questions to ask your butcher about beef
Any farmer, chef, or food-lover will testify that the higher standard of farming, the better-tasting the meat. So, how do you make sure you’re buying top-quality beef? Firstly, the highest quality beef looks firmer than cheaper equivalents. It has a substantial fat covering and good marbling, which is a creamier colour.
But here’s what to ask your butcher to make sure you’re buying the best beef…
1. WHAT FARM IS THE MEAT FROM AND HAVE THEY PERSONALLY VISITED?
A good butcher shouldn’t hesitate to tell you the name of the farm and they definitely should have visited – in fact, they should probably be proudly telling you about the relationship they have built up with the farmer over a number of years.
They’ll also be able to tell you the story of the cow, where it was born, how it was reared and slaughtered.
2. WHAT CERTIFICATION/ASSURANCES DOES IT COME WITH?
Organic is one of the highest animal welfare labels, especially if Soil Association certified.
Pasture-fed for life is also a very high standard, these cows are free-range and haven’t been fattened up on grains.
3. HOW LONG IS THE MEAT BEEN DRY-AGED FOR?
Hanging tenderises the meat. As it matures and dries out the flavour intensifies. This doesn’t tell you much about welfare, but is an encouraging sign as the producer was willing to lose weight (and therefore money) to create a better flavour.
Typically meat is hung anywhere from 14-28 days. Supermarkets can demand the hanging process is a lot quicker, chefs often ask for it be hung a lot longer.
Beware of ‘aged’ meat labels – which can just mean it’s been sitting in its vacuum-packed bag since slaughter.
4. DO YOU EVER BUY A WHOLE CARCASS AND BUTCHER IT YOURSELVES?
This is a good sign of knowledge and quality.
5. CAN YOU RECOMMEND A DIFFERENT CUT AND HOW BEST TO COOK IT?
Of course better meat is more expensive. But the less popular/well-known cuts are often the cheapest ones. These may require a bit more careful cooking, but treated properly will be just as delicious as your favourite fillet, rump or rib-eye. A butcher who is able to give you this information cares about the end product, another good sign.
did you know?
Pasture-fed cows are also healthier as they have evolved naturally to eat forage, not high-protein grains. As such, their meat is generally higher in vitamin E, which provides protection against toxins and neurological diseases, and beta carotene, which is good for the immune system.