Beefed-up beef


For those of you reading who have children, just consider this fact for a moment. Some parents of young children don’t drink wine. Hard to believe isn’t it – who are they, and how do they survive? Perhaps they don’t: I’ve never met a teetotaller with kids.

One reality of having young children is that you don’t get out to restaurants quite as often as before. So it becomes more important than ever to know a bit about food and wine so you can eat well at home. Seeing as it goes so well with wine, I ended up learning a bit about steak. It helps that I’ve got one of the best butchers in London (The Butchery SE23) not far from my house. I visit them every week.

There are several factors that influence what your steak is going to taste like. The biggest factors are the breed of cow, the age of the cow at slaughter, the cut of meat, how long the meat is aged for, and what the cow eats.

I produce the wine list at The Table Cafe in London Bridge, and in January they held a beef tasting in conjunction with the charity Pasture for Life (you can read about it in the April edition of The Dish magazine from The Sunday Times). They promote the rearing of cows and sheep exclusively on pasture, as there are significant benefits to the animals, the farmers, the consumer and the planet. We tasted a variety of cuts from pasture-fed cows from various farms around the UK. Every piece of pasture-fed beef tasted more characterful and complex than the exclusively grain-fed beef we had to compare.

Farmers Weekly also ran a feature on the tasting, and they asked me a few questions about matching beef and wine.

Why do people recommend drinking red, rather than white, wine with beef?

There are several reasons. It’s partly that the aromas and flavours commonly found in red wines tend to be a more natural marriage with those found in red meat, but it’s also because of the abundant tannins in red wine. Without getting too technical, these naturally occurring, flavourless compounds react with the proteins found in beef to produce a cleansing, refreshing sensation in the mouth as you sip the wine between mouthfuls.

How do I choose a particular type of red to go with a particular piece of meat?

The best rule of thumb is to match powerfully flavoured wines with intensely flavoured cuts of meat, and more delicate wines with subtler pieces. So if you’re eating some rare fillet that hasn’t been hung for long, go for a medium-bodied red like a Pinot Noir; for a 90-day-aged piece of marbled ribeye seared on the grill, consider something more robust like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine lovers have a diverse vocabulary of descriptive terms – should beef enthusiasts have the same for their product?

Wine is a subtle, nuanced and varied drink, so to communicate about it with precision requires a diverse vocabulary. Beef lovers can surely find just as much detail in their favourite subject, so there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a similarly complex language to talk about it. Whisky, coffee and chocolate aficionados do, so why not beef enthusiasts?

What is your favourite beef dish and wine combination – and tell us the words you’d use to describe both…

I try to keep things simple when cooking beef. A T-bone or sirloin perhaps, seared on the griddle, then finished in the oven if it’s a thick piece. My default accompaniments are sautéed potatoes with rosemary and garlic and some wilted, buttered spinach. The wine will depend on the cut, but it’s hard to go wrong with a textured red from the Northern Rhône.

How big and how buoyant is the English and Welsh wine industry?

We had 135 wineries at the last count, and we make on average 4 million bottles a year. But it’s growing at a remarkable rate. Due to our cool climate, we have trouble sufficiently ripening grapes to make red wines, and those we do produce are at the lighter end of the scale. So it’ll be a while before we’re having English wine with our steaks… But our sparkling wines are going from strength to strength, and a glass of English fizz is an excellent way to start a good meal!

You can read the full article here: Pasture fed beef article Farmers Weekly

I’d like to do a more scientific tasting at some point, but my experience at this tasting is that seeking out 100% pasture-fed beef is worthwhile – the flavour and texture are infinitely preferable to exclusively grain-fed beef.