I recently had dinner with a friend of mine who had just gotten an angioplasty. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when surgeons open up blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart. If your arteries stay clogged, you can have a heart attack and die. Duh.
My friend’s doctor obviously cautioned him to avoid saturated fats and bad cholesterol. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a steak once in a while, and that’s exactly what he wanted for dinner on the night we hung out. I have that effect on people…
So there were two steaks on the menu; a NY strip and a skirt. My buddy asked the waitress, “which one is more fatty?” She said the strip, which, all things equal in terms of grade and cooking prep, is completely false. I informed my buddy why she was wrong after she stepped away, so as not to embarrass her. But I figured I would share that knowledge here with you guys, too. Here’s why she was wrong:
NY strip steak is a strip loin cut of beef, which is the most prized part of the sirloin. Sirloin is considered a lean cut of beef. In fact, any time you see the word “loin” in describing a cut of beef, that means it’s lean. The one caveat I’ll give is that fat content also depends on the grade of beef, not just the location of the cut. Prime has more intra-muscular fat (marbling) than choice, for example, and something like Kobe has more than prime.
The term “lean” means that the beef has 4.5g or less of saturated fat per serving, and 10g or less total fat per serving. About 66% of beef cuts are considered lean cuts. That’s pretty fucking good!
Skirt hails from the “plate” or diaphragm muscle of the bovine anatomy. It’s not listed above because it isn’t within the definition of lean. It has more fat content than a strip steak, especially after a strip is trimmed by a restaurant. Most of the fat on a sirloin lies on the outside of the muscle, as opposed to the inside marbling (which, by the way, contains “good fats,” like olive oil and avocados do). But when external fat is trimmed away, you’re down to low fat content.
The real question, then, becomes: How is the steak prepared? Does it come with a cream sauce? Is it cooked with tons of butter? Is it simply seasoned and grilled? All of this matters tremendously in terms of calculating the total fat content of a particular dish.
Why do I mention this? Because the method of cooking could flip these fat levels very easily. If the strip is being cooked in a pan filled with butter and then smothered in a cream sauce, while the skirt is simply seasoned and grilled, then maybe it’s best to get the skirt if you’re trying to be mindful of overall fat content. It all depends, like adult diapers.
My advice: don’t ruin good beef with a sauce. I love the flavor of beef, so I don’t like to mask it with sauces of any kind. Simply season and fire it up. If you live by those rules, then you can take the fat content of lean cuts at face value and be confident that you’re eating a low fat, lean beef meal that’s both nutritious and delicious.
Newport steak, aka “the apartment steak,” is essentially part of a tri-tip steak, which hails from the bottom sirloin portion of the animal.
Tri-tip is usually butchered into larger sizes for people to use on the grill or in BBQ style smoker preparations. A single tri-tip cut can feed a few people. It has a definitive grain direction and can be very tender and flavorful if cooked, sliced and served properly. For a nice write-up on how to properly execute a tri-tip on the grill, check out this post from BBQ Pitstop.
If you like the flavor and texture of tri-tip, but only need to feed yourself, you can get a Newport steak, especially if you’re living in Manhattan. In New York City, Florence Meat Market in the west village has popularized the “Newport” cut, which is a single serving size of steak that has been butchered from the tri-tip.
It also has been called the “NYC Apartment Steak” by food blogger and recipe historian Kathryn McGowan. I think this is a fun reference to the small NYC apartments near the butcher shop in which it is nearly impossible to cook. She provides a recipe as well – check it out. Very simple to execute.
This cut is meant to be easy to cook, and small enough to fit into your small pans, set upon your small stove top in your small kitchen, within your small apartment for which you’re paying a large rent.
A recent trip to Italy renewed my interest in, and appreciation for, all things “sliced meaty.” I thought I’d seize the opportunity, capitalize on my rekindled passion for this delicious shit, and dive a fuckload deeper into the various types of salumi with a detailed-as-balls educational post for you assholes.
Check it out you savages. This was an actual street name in Trastevere, Rome:
In case you’re a complete dunce, that means “Street of Salumi.” I like to call it Meat Street, if you will, which is where I’m about to take your ass right now.
So just what exactly is salumi? Generally, it’s any food product made from pig meat (usually), especially cured meats, such as salami. That’s not super explicit, and some salumi even involve beef, but essentially we’re talking Italian pork-based “cold cuts” here.
One thing we all love is prosciutto. Prosciutto is a TRUE salume (singular of salumi), meaning it’s a whole cut of animal, usually a leg or shoulder. A leg gets hung to cure, and later it is sliced and eaten.
Then there are items that involve ground meat, like salami and salsicce (sausage). Salami are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age. Salsicce is either raw or cooked slightly, and is a kind of salame (singular of salami).
Okay so salumi, salami: is that like potayto, potahto? Nope. Salumi is more of an umbrella term. All salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. Get it? Of course you don’t, because it’s fucking confusing. You had to go back and read that twice, didn’t you? I did. Maybe a Venn Diagram will help illustrate the point better:
Okay so let’s ignore the umbrella salumi term, since it’s kind of useless for our purposes here. I’m going to give you some info about the two major types of Italian meats: true salumi and salami.
As mentioned earlier, these are cured meats that have been made from a whole cut of animal, usually a leg/thigh or shoulder.
Prosciutto is a dry-cured leg o’ pig, and is probably the most common salume. These legs actually hang in Italian salumeria shops like decorations. It’s amazing.
Prosciutto crudo is the uncooked version, while prosciutto cotto is the cooked version.
For crudos, you’ll often see differences in the aging time based on the regions in Italy from which the ham hails. For example, Prosciutto di Parma is usually aged about 10-12 months, while San Daniele is 15-18 months. Some regions will age their hams longer, like 24 months, to impart different flavors, increase sweetness levels, etc.
As for prosciutto cotto, think of it like a traditional cooked ham.
Speck is a type of prosciutto that’s smoked (as well as dry-salted and aged), so it has a stronger, more unique flavor.
This salume is usually lightly seasoned with garlic, herbs, spices and wine, but the execution differs by region. The meat is then salted, stuffed into a natural casing, and hung for up to six months to cure. The meat itself is whole muscle from the neck and shoulder areas, so it is a salume despite being stuffed into a casing.
Fun side note: You may have seen capocollo spelled coppa, capicollo, capicola or capicolla. It’s even referred to as “gaba-gool” by NY/NJ area Italians and the show The Sopranos (or in this case, MadTV):
This is Italian pork belly (bacon). It’s usually cured and sometimes spiced. They slice it thin and eat it like cold cuts over in Italy. While technically not the same, you will often see pancetta swapped out with guanciale (pork cheek) or lardo (pure fat) in many Italian dishes that traditionally call for pancetta.
Bresaola is a cured, lean cut of beef, often times filet mignon.
You can see it here in my wife’s video from a salumi shop in Rome called La Prosciutteria, which I refer to as fucking heaven. There are a few selections of bresaola across the top right, immediately as the video begins:
While this may not necessarily be a salume, it is very often found in Salumeria shops throughout Italy. With that said, and the fact that this shit is delicious as fuck, I figured I’d mention it here.
Porchetta is a savory, fatty, and moist “pork roll.” It’s essentially a boneless pork roast whereby the pig is gutted, de-boned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, then rolled, wrapped in skin, and spit-roasted over a flame. Stuffing usually includes rosemary, fennel, garlic and other herbs, and porchetta is usually heavily salted.
It is typically served hot, cut thick, and eaten like a main course dish with a fork and knife. However it’s also common to see it sliced thinly after cooling. It’s then put into sandwiches or served on wooden meat board platters like the other salumi discussed above.
Okay, so a recap: Salami are ground meat, encased products that are smoked, air dried or salted, and then left to age.
If you’ve ever eaten an Italian hero, you’ve eaten some of these meats. Ingredients and parts can vary. In some cases you may even see non-pig versions, like venison or elk. In Venice, I even saw horse salami:
Salami varies greatly by region. In some areas of Italy, the meat is finely ground with tiny flecks of fat visible.
Other regions use a more coarse grind, use larger chunks of fat, or add spices and herbs.
My favorite varieties are the ones in which truffles are added.
The pepperoncino pepper is a mildly spicy variety of chili pepper. That pepper is what makes a salame “piccante” (spicy), as it is mixed up into the grind when making salami piccante. In the US, salami piccante is typically called “pepperoni.” However, in Italian, the word “pepperoni” actually means “bell peppers.”
Soppressata also varies by region and exists in different sizes and shapes, but the spice level and red coloring are both universal traits. It is almost always more coarsely ground than salami.
All that said, one can still find varieties of soppressata that aren’t quite as “hot.” While these pictures show a thinner chub, the most common forms I have seen were thicker, like three or four inches in diameter (like a giant’s penis).
This delicious shit generally comes from southern Italy. It’s an aged, spicy, spreadable salami “paste” that’s made from various parts of a pig. The spice levels are pretty hot in this product, and since it’s so soft, it is often spread onto bread like butter, or thrown into tomato-based sauces to kick them up a little bit.
This might be my favorite of the lot, and that’s a bonus for me, because it is usually the cheapest to buy in stores. The meat itself is similar to bologna in texture (in fact it IS bologna, since it hails from the town of Bologna). It’s extra finely ground (almost like it was processed by machine) heat-cured pork, which incorporates small cubes of pork lard.
I think mortadella is more smooth and soft than standard bologna here in the US, and it has a real porky flavor. Sometimes truffles, pistachios, olives and garlic are added for flavoring as well. Those are the best kinds. Also, lots of times these meats are formed into HUGE logs that are upwards of a foot in diameter.
Sausage party! The main difference here is mainly that, most times, salsicce is raw, uncured, or un-aged and needs to be cooked prior to eating. But some sausages are smoked and, thus, can be eaten as-is (like a hot dog or kielbasa).
So that about covers most of the common types of salumi you’ll see out there. I hope this information was helpful. If it wasn’t, then I should add that I don’t really give a fuck. Either way, go forth and eat this delicious meat. It will make you happy.
I hesitate to even use the word “industry” when talking about beef in the USA. Perhaps “Sustainability in US Beef Production” is a better title for this post. “Industry” makes people think of the “factory farming” bullshit myth, which I already debunked HERE.
In any case, Happy New Year!!! As usual, this post is designed to do away with yet another set of myths about US beef. Apparently some false ideas have spread that beef production in America is vicious to the environment, emits far too many “greenhouse gases,” is responsible for “global warming” (or whatever people call it these days), is wasteful, and is generally not a sustainable practice. Lies. Every one of them.
Grasslands involved in beef production account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of grassland in the US is actually not suitable for crop farming due to soil characteristics, topography or rainfall. Cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land, and it even helps prevent wildfires. Also, cattle can eat shit that almost nothing else can. Bovine digestive systems are made to convert inedible plants into protein that we can eat.
That’s all wonderful, and you may have read a little about that on here before. But what I’m going to do now is introduce you to the concept of “diversified farming” practices.
What the fuck is a diversified farm? Essentially it’s when a farm produces a variety of crops or animals, usually both, with the crops feeding the animals that they raise, in an effort to create a self-sustained farm with little waste or reliance upon other operations.
You may recall that Walbridge Farm is like this as well, where they grow sunflowers and raise cattle. The sunflowers are used to produce cold pressed sunflower oil, which they sell at their market.
The hulls, shells and ground up sunflower byproduct from that oil-making process is then used to create cattle feed. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me. Not only is this a good idea from a business standpoint, since you are becoming more self-reliant and utilizing more of what you make, but it is also responsible environmental stewardship.
Speaking of environmental stewardship, many diversified farm operations also catch water runoff from their feed yards to be processed and rendered inert before being reclaimed by the land. In fact, water management is an area of the industry that has seen great improvement in recent years. In addition, almost all diversified farms collect cow dung as well, which is then used as fertilizer for their crops. Even waste is not wasted!
But aside from diversified farming efforts, cattle are natural recyclers. They kick so much ass at recycling that you can literally feed them the waste from other industries.
Do you enjoy bourbon? Of course you do, because you’re a man with balls and a dick swinging between your legs. You’re a red-blooded fucking American, and nothing is more American than bourbon, except for maybe jazz or steak. Do you know how bourbon is made? With corn! Good: You’re not an idiot. Corn mash, to be more accurate. That gets fermented and turned into booze. But what happens with the mash after the fermentation and distillation process? You guessed it: it often gets turned into cattle feed.
You all know how much I love Martin’s Potato Buns, right? The reason I love them so much is because their buns are always fresh, supple and soft; perfect for constructing a burger. I recently learned why that is the case. They pull their bread from shelves a little earlier than most, to ensure freshness to the consumer. Know what they do with the buns after they get pulled from the shelves? Rather than going to the garbage heap, they get re-purposed and turned into cattle feed.
That’s just two examples of other industries and businesses that contribute their unused byproducts to the beef production cycle, thereby reducing and re-purposing waste. The ethanol fuel industry is another big one, but many others contribute as well.
So what about greenhouse gases? We’ve all heard how cow farts are supposedly destroying the planet, right? Come on…
According to numbers from the EPA, cattle production is not even a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s some recent data:
Agriculture: 6.9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock: 3.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock Methane: 2.8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Beef Cattle Methane: 1.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
What about other industries?
Electricity Generation: 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Transportation: 26% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Industrial Use: 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Residential/Commercial: 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s really pretty simple though: Cattle are not the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And as far as the US is concerned, we do a pretty damn good job at containing the impact that beef production has on the environment. The US is actually one of the most efficient nations in terms of lowering greenhouse gases and environmental concerns that stem from beef production. Click the image below to see a larger version:
Furthermore, a “Lifecycle Assessment” of the beef industry was recently conducted. What that means is that everything and anything that touches the production cycle was examined. Use of farm equipment, water, machines, everything – not just the cattle themselves or the land use.
Take a look at this nifty graphic that encapsulates the findings of the life cycle assessment (click for a larger version):
It turns out that the beef production cycle scored much better than car emissions from the auto industry. Why mention emissions and the auto industry? Because they promoted a poor emissions study and leveled some wild accusations at the beef industry.
Better still: the emissions study didn’t focus on the entire auto industry lifecycle in the way that the beef study did. Had they conducted a full lifecycle study, they would have had to include assessments of things like power plants and such. Once those things are factored in, the beef industry becomes squeaky clean in a direct comparison with the auto industry in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
For more information about the improvements made in the beef production lifecycle, go HERE.
Niche Market Beef
A lot of hulabaloo has been going on around the discussion of grain finished vs grass finished beef. People seem to think that grass finished beef is somehow more natural and environmentally friendly. Yet we know it takes about 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle. More days on grass may mean greater environmental impact.
Let’s look at the difference. Each pound of grain-finished beef requires:
45 percent less land;
76 percent less water; and
49 percent less feed;
51 percent less manure; and
42 percent fewer carbon emissions.
So it would seem to me that grain finishing is more environmentally sound. For more on that, click HERE.
Just the idea of it makes me cringe. What would possess someone to avoid meat just because of alliteration? Why not increase beef intake and call it Meaty Monday? Because some fool out there thought it would be healthy and better for the environment to cut meat from your diet just one day a week. Were they right? Of course not. Let’s examine the idea:
As for the environment, “Meatless Monday” would have a very small impact even if every American followed it. One meatless day per week would account for less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint. For more on that, check out THIS LINK.
Nose to Tail
Are we, as a society, wasting any part of the animal? Not really.
First, you’ve all noticed some of the shit I’ve been eating lately at fine dining establishments: Oxtail stew, blood sausage, bone marrow, tripe, and all sorts of offal or “variety meats.”
There is a readily identifiable trend in the food biz where chefs want to use the entire animal, from nose to tail, to reduce waste and elevate their cuisine by offering on their menus the proteins that used to be relegated to the impoverished.
Offal and “variety cuts” were always cheap and within the budgets of the poor, especially outside of the US. You know what I’m talking about: stews, cured meats, slow and low cooked meals, etc. Now, restaurants are taking inspiration from some of those humble dishes and featuring them on their menus.
But even outside of human consumption, the carcass is utilized across a wide spectrum of modern society. Take a look at this diagram, courtesy of Facts About Beef:
I also liked this one from Snopes, mainly for the conclusion at the bottom of the image:
I haven’t independently verified all uses claimed on the Snopes chart, but the Facts About Beef chart is 100% legit and it looks like whoever made the Snopes pic just grabbed the same list from the BeefUSA graphic. The overall point is that beef byproducts are in a lot of things we use every day. It’s not like we just kill cows, cut the meat off and fling the carcass into a ditch on the side of the road. There’s really no waste.
I guess I should cut this baby off here. There’s a lot to talk about as far as sustainability is concerned, and if I tried to tackle everything, this would be a book as opposed to an article.
Just remember that America’s cattle ranchers have a vested interest in sustainable environmental practices. After all, the beef community thrives on multi-generational family farms. Cattle farmers have an average of 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals.
A whole crapload of unnecessary freaking out has happened over ranchers’ use of antibiotics in the raising of animals for human consumption. While some of the alarmist stuff out there might sound scary, in reality it isn’t. So I feel the need to ease some tensions here with this beef advocacy post.
The judicious use of antibiotics is the humane thing to do for animals that are in need of care. Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough and have runny noses. They separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.
By law, producers must wait a certain amount of time after administering an antibiotic before an animal can be slaughtered for consumption, to ensure that no traces of the antibiotic remain within the animal. These “withdrawal times” are strictly monitored and vary from 0-60 days based on the substance being administered. That means you can be confident that there are no antibiotics in the meat you buy at stores or order in restaurants. Once the withdrawal time is tolled, that basically means the antibiotic has been completely metabolized and has worked its way out of the animal’s system.
Ranchers must carefully follow directions for administering the proper amounts of antibiotics to their animals, and the FDA tests for traces of antibiotics in meat products as well. There is a mess of paperwork, regular federal inspections and tedious record keeping involved in this entire process. It really is a tightly run ship.
Let me unpack those generalizations a bit here: Under new FDA guidelines, there are very specific, detailed measurements that are set for antibiotics in feed – authorized by veterinarians – that are called “veterinary feed directives.” These directives outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used and which illnesses can be treated. They also specify the number of animals that can be treated.
Again, these drugs will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease with the oversight of a veterinarian. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with licensed veterinarians in order to receive authorization for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness, and for a specific time period. I’d say that creates a pretty well regulated and closely monitored situation.
Additionally, new laws require that little to no antibiotics given to the herd can be in the same class as human medicines. This is done to prevent any potential reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics that are needed to treat human diseases.
Even something as simple as a vaccination carries with it a host of guidelines. For example, no shots are allowed in the hip or thigh, as this can damage the sirloin or round cuts of beef.
This is a good time for me to talk about ionophores, actually. Ionophores are a class of antibiotics that are not involved in human health because they work specifically in the rumen (a digestive organ which we do not have).
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease in the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. Ionophores combat these organisms, so they’re technically “antibiotics” from the US standpoint.
In Europe, these ionophores have a different term (anticoccidials), and are not classified as antibiotics like they are here. You may have heard that Europe has much lower antibiotic use in their beef industry. That’s misleading, mainly because Europe does not consider the ionophore to be an antibiotic.
Hormones and steroids are often used for growth promotion, digestive aids, and to prevent illness and the later need for antibiotics in a herd. Small pellets are implanted behind the animals ear, under the skin, to release these aids into the animal’s body. Many don’t realize that these are completely metabolized and no traces are found in the beef products at the point of consumption.
The FDA and USDA enforce rules on these things, and scientists have tested them for safety. Additionally, once the use of a hormone has been reviewed and approved, it’s continually re-tested, annually, and reevaluated. It will only stay on the market if it continues to pass all FDA and USDA testing. So this stuff may sound scary, but in reality it’s completely safe according to all scientific testing.
Despite these numerous safety assurances, U.S. consumer concern about using antibiotics in animal feed has led producers to create niche markets for products with specialty labels. “Never ever” means that the animal was never given an antibiotic, for example, throughout its entire lifetime. Other labels tout the fact that the animal was not given any antibiotics in the last 60 days of it’s life, or from various points of its life cycle onward (for example, no antibiotics administered once the animal is sent to the feedlot).
The USDA makes no claim about these products being safer. They are, however, more expensive to produce, and, therefore, more expensive to buy at the consumer level. Here are a few more:
Natural: minimally processed with limited additives.
Naturally Raised: No antibiotics and no hormones except for ionophores.
Certified Organic: No hormones, and raised on 100% organic feed, which means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used to grow the feed.
While our beef producers are wonderful for creating new markets and catering to the odd and unique demands of a diverse population, I felt obligated to set the record straight on the issue of antibiotics with this post.
In general, the use of antibiotics is more an issue of animal health than human health, but it’s still an important topic to know about.
Remember, beef producers have a vested interest in raising healthy, safe and nutritious food, because they feed themselves and their families with the same beef that you and I eat. They understand that antibiotics are vital for the health of the herd, and administering them is a humane act to safeguard their animals.
Farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing safe products to the market. It’s their livelihood, after all. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines and working closer with veterinarians are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers are continuously improving the cattle industry.
There’s really nothing to worry about. US beef products are safe, nutritious and delicious. There are safeguards put into place at every step of the beef life cycle, and even afterward at the slaughterhouse and packing plant, to ensure our safety.
I’m going to use this product review and press event post as a vehicle to deliver unto my readers a comprehensive guide to truffles. Let me begin with the education portion of this post.
What Are Truffles?
You’re probably all somewhat familiar with truffles. You occasionally see them on menus as expensive add-ons to your pasta dishes, and you may see “truffle fries” offered at a higher price than regular French fries at certain restaurants. Shavings per ounce can be quite pricey, especially for white truffles.
But what exactly is a truffle? It’s a fungus. It’s a tuber-like fungus that grows along the roots of certain trees, like oak, hazelnut and chestnut. They are incredibly aromatic, with an intensely concentrated earthy flavor profile that’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever tasted or smelled before.
Some people say they’re similar to mushrooms, but that’s like saying Kraft mac and cheese powder packets taste similar to piave vecchio. Not even the same ballpark. Similar to dry aged beef, fermented foods, or smoked and/or aged cheeses, truffles offer that same kind of “umami” sensation for your taste buds.
Size & Shape
They typically range in size from something like a walnut to about the size of a softball. They get to market size overnight, growing very fast, as do other members of the fungi kingdom. However it may take some time for the spore to first germinate properly.
But just like the saying goes for dicks, “size doesn’t matter.” The same flavors exist in small or large truffles. But preference does matter (just like dicks, I would imagine). The smaller truffles are just as good in terms of quality as the larger ones. They’ll still get you off. Yet, kind of like a director’s preference for big dicks in porn, some restaurants want larger, more uniform shaped truffles so that their shavings look prettier on the plate.
Speaking of which, their shape varies based on the soil in which they grow. Soft, loose soil allows the truffle to grow and expand mostly unhindered into a more spherical shape, while harder, rocky soil will result in more odd-shaped, lumpy truffles.
Kinds of Truffles
There are (generally) four varieties of truffle: white, black summer, black winter, and bianchetto.
As you can see from above, there are specific seasons for harvesting each type of truffle (in Italy, that is). The neat thing is that some black truffles are grown in Australia as well, so we have access to them in the reverse seasons as well.
Each style of truffle is suited for its own unique purposes. For example, white truffles are best for shaving directly onto freshly cooked food, like eggs and pasta. Black truffles are better suited for grating and incorporating into sauces. If you see black truffles being offered for sale, per ounce, shaved directly onto a food item, my advice is to skip it. That’s not the ideal way to enjoy a black truffle, and you may not even taste anything.
Ripeness & Storage
The best way to tell if a truffle is good is to feel it and smell it. They should be firm, but not rock solid, and definitely not mushy. The aroma should be very powerful and fill your nose with an abundance of robust earthiness. In fact it is said that some can detect up to 120 different flavors and aromas from a fresh truffle.
Here, you can see how the degradation process occurs as a truffle goes from good, fresh and ripe to bad:
As a truffle begins to go bad, less of those invigorating aromas come through, the truffle gets spongier, and it emits a more ammonia-like scent. Eventually a white truffle will turn more brown, as well.
The shelf-life for a fresh truffle varies from 7-10 days for white truffles, to 15-20 days for black. A truffle is about 90% water, and it will lose 3-5% of its moisture per day, so that’s why it’s so important to use them while they’re fresh. The intense, characteristic flavors and aromas come from the moisture content within the truffle.
Lots of times you see truffles stored in a box filled with rice. This isn’t a good idea, unless your goal is to infuse the rice with the flavor of truffle. The dry rice will leech out all the moisture, and thus the flavor, from the truffle. My opinion: that’s a dumb move, even if your goal is to infuse the rice. Why? Because rice dishes will never sell for or be worth an amount that’s high enough to cover the cost of the truffle you just wasted by storing it that way.
The best way to store a truffle is to individually wrap each in a paper towel, somewhere cool. It should also be put into a wooden box or a glass mason jar; not plastic, as plastic doesn’t breathe the same way. Excess humidity can build up in plastic and ruin the truffle.
Where Do They Come From?
In Italy, truffles can be found in a variety of locations, as Italian geography is ideal for producing the right weather conditions that result in truffle growth.
The coveted white truffles are highly sought after when they come from the Alba, Piedmont area in the northwest, which is similar to our Napa Valley. However the demand for certain wines from that region (Barolo, Barbaresco) has created a situation where the land is being altered by vintners, with trees being removed to make way for grape vines, and chemicals being used in the soil to aid in the grape-growing process. Trees are necessary for the truffles to grow, so Alba truffles are very rare indeed. In fact, less than 3% of the truffles on the market hail from Alba, and most of the truffles from that region stay local. So be aware, if you happen to see a menu flaunting that the truffles are from Alba: it is likely a lie.
Black truffles can be “seeded” with spores and grown in other locations that have the right climate and trees, but white truffles can not. Therefore, white truffles tend to be a fuckload more expensive, as they are much more rare and localized. Think $1,000/lb.
In Italy, much of the land where truffles are hunted is public access, meaning anyone can come by (licensed truffle hunters, typically) and pick up a truffle. In other places, like Australia or the USA, the land can be owned outright so no one else can lawfully snatch up any truffles that might be growing on your tree roots.
Now that you’ve gotten a good first lesson on truffles, I guess I can begin the product and press review portion of the post.
Urbani Truffles began in 1852 and now supplies 70% of the global market with their truffles.
Urbani Truffles are in the hands of NYC restaurateurs within 36 hours of being dug up by their network of truffle hunters in Italy. Amazing! Truffle hunters go out with their trained sniffing dogs at night, to minimize noise and distractions for the dogs. The next morning, any truffles that were gathered are cleaned and sent to the market or shipped out on airplanes all over the world. Cleaning just requires getting the dirt and blemishes off (like a potato). If needed, some light brushing is done, but cleaners are careful to avoid direct contact with water, as that can harm the truffle.
Take a look at this Urbani video below, which will help you visualize the entire process.
You probably noticed some truffle products in there, like oils and canned goods. Whatever Urbani doesn’t think is fit for the fresh market, they use to create various other products.
Like their fresh truffles, these products are all top notch quality. They never use chemicals in their products, so everything is all natural. Chemicals actually taint the flavor of truffle products, and deliver too much truffle flavor and aroma up front.
All of Urabni’s truffle products will deliver a delayed and longer lasting truffle flavor, due to their rejection of chemicals in the production process.
I had the pleasure of sampling both their fresh truffles and some of the products they sell when I was invited to their truffle lab on West End Avenue.
As a matter of fact, I was there while a presentation was being given to six Art Institute / International Culinary School students who were selected as the top of their classes to learn about truffles and to practice cooking with them. Talk about having a great lunch!
First, we experienced one of the most simple and satisfying ways to enjoy fresh white truffles: shaved directly onto a fried egg.
According to Vittorio, the VP of Urbani Truffles, salt should be sprinkled on after the truffles are shaved onto the egg. Pepper can take away from the truffle flavor and aroma, so skip that.
Truffle oil goes really nicely with flatbread and pizza. This one we tried really popped, making something as boring as zucchini really exciting for a change.
We also sampled one of the canned truffle products: white truffle with porcini mushrooms. This was added to a pan of sauteed shallots and butter to make a sauce, which went on top of some polenta.
This was delicious, and I can totally see this being used to spike something like gravy or even to make a sauce for the top of a filet mignon. Really flavorful – best thing I ever ate from a can.
Another item I tried was their truffle mnustard. I plan to feature this in some recipes in the future, as I think it would be an excellent addition on a cold cut sandwich or a burger.
Finally, we tried some truffle cream cheese spread as well. This, too, was plopped onto some sauteed polenta. I can’t imagine how amazing this would be on lox.
If you’ve got room in your budget for a fresh truffle, I say go for it. Urbani delivers the freshest product I have ever experienced, and they supply big dog restaurants like French Laundry and Del Posto. Whipe up some homemade pasta, cook it, throw the pasta in a pan with some butter, fry a sunny side up egg for the top of the pasta, and shave that delicious truffle right onto it. Perfection.
But even if a fresh truffle isn’t on your to-do list, then I highly recommend picking up some of Urbani’s other products and experimenting with truffle in your own recipes that way. You can’t go wrong. Every product is amazing.
A little over a year ago, the World Health Organization published a finding through their International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the consumption of red meats represented a “hazard” and classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic.” While the craziness over that fake scare has already passed like a cow fart in the wind, I think it’s useful to talk about it here, even if just to reiterate how wrong it was.
First, I think it’s important to discuss a few things right off the bat.
Okay but seriously…
Difference Between Hazard and Risk: The IARC does not evaluate cancer risks. They only identify hazards. A risk is a statement about the probability, possibility or likelihood to cause harm, while a hazard is merely representative of a possibility to cause harm under any circumstances. It is always important to look at hazard and risk together when talking about things like cancer.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between the two is by way of analogy. Think about driving, for example. If it’s raining, we know that wet roads represent a hazard to drivers for getting into an accident (cancer). Now let’s say you’re speeding, driving with bald tires, and not using your windshield wipers after drinking a six pack of Bud. You’ve significantly elevated your risk of getting into an accident during hazardous driving conditions like wet roads.
If we apply this to beef, the IARC merely told you that the roads are wet. They identified a hazard, and nearly anything can be hazardous. Water is hazardous. It only becomes a risk when you try to breathe it, or drink it while hanging upside down or something ridiculous. So, wet roads? Maybe you walk to work, or maybe you have new tires, drive very slowly in the rain and never drive while intoxicated. As a result, your risk of getting into an accident due to a wet road hazard is very low.
See the difference, and the need to always consider both together? Of course you do, because you’re not an idiot. So when we extrapolate this to something complex, like diet or personal health, the need to assess both becomes absolutely vital. If you’re an alcoholic smoker who works around asbestos all day, never exercises, and consumes nothing but bacon grease, then chances are you’re going to die of cancer pretty quickly, because your personal risk levels are through the roof and you’re dancing around several big hazards.
Scope of Study: First, the IARC does not seem to specialize in the evaluation of food. They’ve looked into more than 1000 chemicals, mixtures, biological agents, personal habits and occupational exposures, but diet and food represent large complexities that are simply out of their realm of specialization.
Second, the IARC only categorizes things into five wishy-washy designations: Probably Not Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 4); Not Classifiable as to its Carcinogenicity to Humans (Category 3); Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2B); Probably Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2A); and Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 1). Aside from the fact that language like “probably” and “possibly” is arbitrary at best, only one substance has ever received the Category 4 designation of “Probably Not Carcinogenic,” and that was caprolactam (whatever the fuck that is).
They claimed that red meat was “probably carcinogenic” (Category 2A) and that processed meats were “carcinogenic” (Category 1). So what do “red meats” and “processed meats” even mean?
According to IARC, red meat refers to “unprocessed mammalian muscle meat.” This means beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse or goat meat. Yeah, you read that right: Pork is not “the other white meat.” Based on the amount of myoglobin or “stuff that looks like blood, but really isn’t blood” in the muscle tissue, pork is categorized as a red meat.
Processed meat refers to “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” In the U.S., processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats primarily contain pork and poultry, but sometimes contain beef as well.
Note that all production and processing methods fall into these definitions, and that even includes organic, grass-fed, nitrite- and nitrate-free meats, as well as conventional meats. NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE IARC!!!
Findings: The findings are based on pre-existing research. What is that research? How can they control for external factors that may increase or decrease risk when studying human diet? Well, according to their Q&A, “In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”
In layman’s terms, that means other factors could have influenced the weak positive associations between red meat and cancer, like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, bad habits like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, or even genetic health conditions or pre-existing diseases (think speeding, driving on bald tires, driving while intoxicated, etc). So there’s that difference between hazard and risk being played out again.
In short, don’t believe the hype!
Research has always shown that beef should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. But don’t just take my word for it; check out what some dietitians think. To me, it’s clear that the scientific evidence doesn’t show that red or processed meat causes cancer. Studies in humans are limited and inconsistent, and evidence has weakened over time. Take a look HERE for research that the Beef Checkoff submitted to the IARC. The Beef Checkoff is an organization that’s funded by farmers giving $1 for every animal produced in order to pay for research and marketing campaigns within the industry. If you think those submissions are biased for some reason (which is silly, because beef farmers and ranchers feed their families with the same beef and have a vested interest in the industry’s safety), then go HERE for independent submissions that were sent to the IARC.
Okay so what about hot dogs and bacon, the “processed meats” that were categorized as being “Carcinogenic?” If you poked around their website you may have noticed that smoking and asbestos are in IARC Category 1 as well. But on their Q&A they’ve explained that eating processed meats is not equally as dangerous as smoking – not even close, as a matter of fact. As I mentioned above, rather than assessing the level of risk, the IARC classifications merely describe hazards and potential causes.
Just one last note here on the findings: every one of us has about a 1.8%-4% chance of getting colon cancer, which is the form of cancer that many of the studies focused upon for red meat. Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and cancer-related deaths. Even if the risk of colon cancer goes up 17-18% due to eating red meat, as some of the more fear-mongering studies said (and recall that some studies said there was no increased risk), it’s only about 17-18% of that 4%, or an increased risk of 0.72%. That’s only 4.72% total, if we use the worst figures we can find. The bottom end all-in figure is more like 2.1%, and again that’s only if we ignore all of the other studies that found no risk in eating red meat.
I don’t know about you guys, but even if these false-positive studies were somehow believable, I’d be perfectly willing to take on a 0.3% to 0.7% risk in exchange for a lifetime of enjoying nutritious and delicious red meat in my diet. The air I breathe here in NYC is probably way more hazardous or risky to me than red meat.
Charred Crusts: Another concern that was floating around the web was the idea that the charred outer crisp on meats that develops when the meat comes in contact with fire (like the crust of a broiled steak or the smoky crisp on a flame-kissed burger) is also cancerous.
The chemicals that form during this charring process are present on any meat that gets hit with flame (not just beef). They’re called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
They are, indeed, known or suspected carcinogens. However, they aren’t present in high enough concentrations to be a real concern when grilling or cooking. I’ve known of people who charred meat to a crisp and tested the meat afterward, and the amounts of harmful chemical present were so small that they were insignificant. Concentrations matter here. There are probably harmful chemicals in the water you drink too, but unless they’re highly concentrated there’s no cause for concern.
Conclusion: Given the totality of the studies, it’s clear to me that no single food, including red or processed meats, causes cancer. So, my meat minions, beef on with confidence and pride. And go forth and continue to develop that delicious, nicely-textured crust on your steaks and burgers as well. Just don’t overcook anything, for fuck’s sake!
Before we get further into the “meat” of these advocacy posts, it’s important to lay out a few basic terms and concepts that you might run into if you’re anywhere near the beef industry.
Animal Gender Terms
Heifer: A female that has never given birth to a calf. Cow: A female that has given birth to at least one calf. Bull: An intact male that still has his family jewels. Steer: A castrated male.
Why do cattlemen castrate males? Well, it is one of three techniques used in herd management.
Herd Management Techniques
Castration: Cutting the gonads off a bull is done for two reasons: (1) to control temperament; and (2) to improve meat tenderness. This process lowers testosterone. By lowering testosterone, farmers can reduce animal aggression as well as meat toughness. Castration is normally done within the first three months of life.
De-Horning: Both males and females can grow horns unless they are genetically unable. By removing horns farmers can protect themselves and the herd from injury.
Branding: The reason farmers brand their animals is to keep better records of individual animals, and to protect and identify their herd in the open range or at the marketplace. In the old days, this would also deter cattle theft.
Generally, if things are timed correctly with calving season, these three herd management techniques are done all at once, in one quick procedure, which results in less stress for the animal.
Calves need colostrum, a nutrient-rich version of mother’s milk, because it’s packed with beneficial vitamins and natural immunizations. But after some time, it becomes prudent to ween them off their mother’s milk and send them out to eat in the pasture. In most cases it’s as easy as putting the calves on the other side of a split-rail fence from their mother; they will still be in contact with one another, but the calf will eat grass instead of milk.
Contrary to popular myths, calves are not born and then immediately rigged up to some bio-mechanical factory farm machine where they can’t move and are force-fed until the moment they are slaughtered. These are myths.
Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough, have runny noses and they separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.
Beef Quality Assurance guidelines limit the location of vaccination shots so that the process doesn’t harm the meat by piercing valuable muscle groups. In addition, beef safety laws require no trace of the stuff to be present in meat prior to slaughter (you must wait a certain number of days before sending the animal to slaughter), and that little to no antibiotics that are given to the herd are in the same class as human medicines (to prevent a reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics needed to treat human diseases).
Last, grain finishing allows for the animals to go off to slaughter sooner, when the animals are healthier and younger than grass finished animals.
Hida is a region in Japan, located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture on Honshu island. That’s west of Tokyo, but not quite as far as Kyoto or Osaka. While I’ve never been there, I can tell it’s a place that I’d definitely want to visit.
Hida is known for it’s outstanding beef (Hida-gyu), which is derived from a black-haired Japanese breed of cattle. Laws are such that, to quality as the Hida brand, the cattle has to have been raised in Gifu prefecture for at least 14 months. The beef is characterized by intense, beautiful, web-like marbling with a buttery, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor is both rich and delicate at the same time. It can be likened to the top percentiles of wagyu beef, rivaling kobe and matsusaka in quality, with marbling grades of A/B 3, 4, and 5.
I was invited to a Hida beef tasting event at EN Japanese Brasserie, one of the seven restaurants in the area that will be serving Hida beef on their menus. The other six are Brushstroke, Hakubai, Hasaki, Sakagura, Shabu-Tatsu and the Members Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the first time that Hida beef is available here in the States, so if you’re a meat aficionado like me, you should definitely hit one of these places and give it a try. This stuff is expensive though, so make an occasion out of it.
I tried the beef in four different preparations: (1) sliced raw, nigiri sushi style, and then kissed with the scorching flame of a blowtorch; (2) seared edges, a tatami trio, with three different kinds of salt; (3) “Hoba-miso” style, stone grilled with miso sauce; and (4) chopped raw, tartare or ceviche style, with citrus and uni. Despite all the marbling, the meat doesn’t come off tasting very fatty, like some highly marbled cuts do. It didn’t leave a coating of waxy or fatty residue on my palate like certain cured salamis with high fat content. And it didn’t cause the flavors of whatever I ate next to change or taste different due to that fat, which is sometimes the case with aged beef and cured salami. In short, it was really a very pleasing experience.
I’ll start with my favorite preparations: (2) and (3). The tataki trio was essentially three slices of Hida beef (strip loin), each dressed with a different salt element: yuzu soy sauce, sea salt and a special red salt that had hints of spice to it. All three were great, but I think I liked the classic sea salt topper the best.
The hot stone grilled preparation, Hoba-miso, was the only one in which the beef was cooked through. This dish is local to Hida. The sliced beef is placed on Hoba (a big Magnolia leaf) with miso and scallions, which then sits directly on the surface of the hot stone. As you can see, the before and after photos of this method indicate that this beef can be thoroughly enjoyed fully cooked if you’re one of those puss-bags who is afraid to eat raw or under-cooked meat.
Fully cooking the beef did not take anything away from the meat. You still get that buttery smooth texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor characteristics. In fact, the leaf and miso bring nice flavor accents to the beef that compliment it well. This, too, was a strip loin cut of beef, and it was presented to eat on grilled sticky rice patties.
Here’s the chef, Abe Hiroki, who was grilling these delicious morsels to absolute beef-paradise perfection:
The torched nigiri style reminded me slightly of spam musubi, for the sole reason that it was a warm meat item served atop sushi rice. Here, you can get a real, unadulterated taste of the beef in all its marbled glory. It truly is spectacular.
I’ve been eating aged beef for so long that something this pure and clean really blew me away. This was strip loin as well.
This was the sushi master behind these perfect pieces of nigiri:
Finally, this tartare or ceviche style came dressed with a citrus yuzu sauce and was topped with uni (raw sea urchin). Absolutely stunning and decadent. The reason I am interchanging tartare with ceviche is that, typically, ceviche involves fish and citrus, while tartare features meat and egg yolk. Since this dish had elements of both but not all, I figured I’d split the baby. Tarviche? Why not. Also strip loin.
The event also showcased some nice sake selections with flavors ranging from dry to sweet, traditional to aromatic and fruity.
In fact, the event began with a “breaking the mirror” ceremony on the casks of sake, as well as a sake toast.
The governor of Gifu was even in attendance, introducing the beef, the region and the customs to the audience.
The restaurant itself is beautiful, and I look forward to coming back to try some more of this amazing beef. Every preparation was 10/10 for flavor, and I highly recommend it.
EN JAPANESE BRASSERIE
435 Hudson St
New York, NY 10014
Once again I am going to dedicate this post to dispelling some common misconceptions about the beef industry. Some of the biggest fabrications I hear these days is that the US beef industry is chock full of “factory farms,” where thousands of cattle are born and raised on feed lots, jammed into tight spaces, given nothing but grain and hormones for sustenance, and are generally mistreated and abused whilst farmers destroy the natural environment. ALL FALSE.
Most people don’t know that 97% of the 619,000 beef farms in this country are small, family owned operations with an average of 50 head of cattle. There goes the factory farm myth. And beef farming makes up about 29% of all US farms, in case you were wondering.
“Calving,” or the birthing of cattle, generally happens in a different area of the farm, removed from the feed yard, where farmers and veterinarians can more closely monitor the animals and keep them healthy. Once the calves are weened from their mother’s milk, they are put out in the pasture to eat grass and grow. Born and raised on feed lots? Screw that “bull crap.”
Cattle in the US are grass-fed in pasture for the majority of their lives. Don’t believe what you hear to the contrary. The development of grain feeding started way back, when the addition of grain into the animals’ diets was done to supplement meals for cattle during winter months and times when there were less live, growing grasses for cattle to eat. It was often mixed with stored hay silage as well.
Farmers noticed that the addition of grain to the diet caused cattle to grow faster. So today, grain is used for finishing and fattening up the cattle in the last months of their lives, prior to slaughter. This adds flavor content to the meat in addition to getting them up to a profitable weight for the marketplace. Grass finished animals (animals that only eat grass for their entire lives) take longer to get up to market weight, and are therefore older when they go to slaughter. That means they have to survive more winters and tough out more illnesses before getting to your dinner plate.
Jammed into crowded spaces? Nope. While cattle can withstand cold temperatures, farmers started using barns and other fully or partially enclosed shelters early on to shield their animals from the harsh weather in winter.
They found that cattle naturally gravitated toward one another anyway. They are social creatures. Even in pasture, when they’re out in wide open spaces, you will still see them huddled up together. Bison/buffalo do this as well. They even do it on the feedlot, where each animal has about 125-250 square feet of space, on average, in the US. Another myth bites the dust.
Now let’s discuss the environment. The US beef industry grasslands account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of our grassland in the US is actually not suitable for farming crops due to soil characteristics, topography, or rainfall. So cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land that doesn’t do any additional harm. Lastly, bovine digestive systems are perfectly set up to convert the inedible plants on these grasslands into protein; beef that humans can eat!
I think that’s a good start for now. I’ll address animal care and animal health in the next BAM.