The genetics of cattle and their age, diet, location and the manner and length of time that their meat is aged all have an impact on the qualities of meat produced. Beef is available all year round, whereas veal (young beef) is seasonal and best eaten between May and September.
Grain-feeding cattle (includes a diet of silage from wheat, barley, sorghum, canola and corn) adds richness and marbling (intramuscular fat) to meat, while grass-feeding (or pasture-feeding) produces meat that is lower in saturated fat with a more distinct flavour. Some argue that grain is not a natural food for cattle and that you can taste it in the meat, but it really comes down to personal preference!
Grain-feeding is considered a more efficient way of raising beef, offering much more control over the finished meat for the grower than pasture-fed beef. Therefore, most grass-fed beef is finished on grain, where cattle are shipped to feed lots and fed grain in their final months to fatten them up, which is believed to improve their flavor. Unfortunately, while most feedlots are spacious and well-shaded, there are still a great number that are crowded and very uncomfortable places for cattle to be in.
Dry-ageing is where whole or parts of carcasses of cattle are hung or set on racks in temperature and humidity controlled cold rooms for days or weeks. Over time, natural enzymes break down the fibres of the meat, making it tender. It also loses moisture through evaporation, and gains intensity of flavour.
Wet-ageing is where cuts of beef are vacuum-sealed and refrigerated to retain moisture. The meat you buy in the supermarket will typically have been slaughtered at 16-20 months and wet-aged for three to six weeks after that.
Wet aged beef usually requires only a matter of days with no loss of weight, and doesn't need much precision in cooling. In contrast, dry-ageing takes several weeks, with a significant portion of the meat mass lost due to evaporation and the cutting off of pieces on the outside of the meat which have succumbed to freezer burn or bacteria - therefore the finished product costs more than wet-aged beef. Most beef lovers prefer the texture and flavour of dry-aged meat, because of its richness and complexity.
Many Australian beef producers are becoming well-known for their particular style:
- David Blackmore produces 100% full-blood wagyu beef from the Japanese breeds of Tajima and Fujiyoshi, which have been adapted to the Australian climate and environment
- Sher Wagyu is from Victoria and also fetches top-dollar for its well-marbled meat
- John Dee produces Black Angus, Murray Grey and cross-Hereford cattle breeds and is a choice of many top chefs
- Certified Australian Black Angus, is the quintessential Australian product from a controlled brand and produces quality beef with excellent marbling.