Posted on September 22, 2010 - by

We Are The Ones

“Women Nourish Us” is FRESH’s femme-focused blog series. For the past twelve weeks, we’ve turned to a leading woman in the good food movement for ideas and inspiration. Today is the last post of this series, and it asks for action. Send out the charge!

Carrie Oliver is the founder of The Artisan Beef Institute™ and owner of The Oliver Ranch Company™. Her mission is to transform beef and other meats from commodities to a more deeply appreciated food by leveraging a little known secret: the very best meat is like wine, it presents a wide array of flavors and textures depending on the land and the artisans who craft it. Beef has terroir. Often referred to as “The Robert Parker of Beef,” “The Meat Sommelier,” or more simply, “The Beef Geek,” Carrie asks a simple question: If Rutherford is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Carneros for Pinot Noir, why not similar appellations for beef? She hosts exciting educational Artisan Beef, Pork, Lamb, Poultry, and Goat tastings across North America and offers home tasting kits through her online marketplace, The Oliver Ranch Company.

What would you do if you walked into a grocery store and saw only one flavor of ice cream, a single variety of lettuce, or one kind of bread: Wonder Bread. My guess is that you would first be mystified and then promptly take your business to a different store.

Would you consider doing the same if your store offers just one variety of beef?

When it comes to processed goods and some produce, grocers almost invariably present us with a huge variety from which to choose. On one visit to a small supermarket I counted 76 different tomato-based spaghetti sauces, 7 varieties of apple, and a selection of wines that would fit any budget, flavor preference, or occasion.

Now think for a moment how meat is merchandised. We see a lot of different cuts of beef, pork, or chicken. Beef is sometimes further sorted by the amount of fat in it, e.g. USDA Select, Choice, or Prime. You may occasionally see a brand name or label claiming that the cattle were raised without certain drugs.

Five years ago this would have seemed like a lot of variety to me. After careful study and countless beef tastings, I know that it is not. For fans of FRESH, The Movie, and readers of this blog, this has important implications.

Let’s debunk one myth.
Marbling – the primary metric considered in the USDA grading system – plays a less important role in predicting the flavor and tenderness of beef than is generally perceived. One 1994 study concluded that fat marbling explains “only 5% of the variation in tenderness… and palatability…”

I’d like to let you in on a little secret: beef is like wine. There are some 800,000 ranches in North America raising hundreds of  different breeds and crossbreeds of cattle. As with wine, flavor and texture can vary widely by farm, breed, specific diet, the age of the cattle, husbandry practices, low stress handling, marbling and – importantly – by the relative talents of the farmer, trucker, slaughterhouse worker, and butcher.

If one looks at the farm level, there are likely far more actual or potential varieties of beef as there are types of spaghetti sauce,  apples, and even wine.

The retail industry has, perhaps understandably, looked upon this as a negative. Perhaps it’s because it would arguably be difficult to clearly label multiple different cuts of beef from different farms on the shelf. As well, since there is insufficient labeling and consumer awareness, from a consumer’s perspective it can be frustrating to have flavor change from one week to the next. Hence, the industry has been striving over the past several decades to create uniformity, relying on the USDA grading system to provide differentiation to support premium versus budget price options.

Unfortunately, this has led beef to become a commodity product focused on yield and throughput, not flavor. When I asked one rancher whether his beef (Blonde d’Aquitaine) would taste different than another rancher’s beef (Shorthorn), his response was “You know, no one has ever asked me that question. The only thing we get paid for is how much marbling is in the beef and how much beef comes off the bone.”

Now why does this matter and what does it have to do with women?

16% of we women go grocery shopping on any single day and on average, we dedicate more than two times the amount of time to grocery shopping than men. We are the ones in charge of what is offered on supermarket shelves because our dollars are what make a product or store succeed or fail.

If we want to take the widget out of beef, here are two things we can do.

There are artisan producers who raise and process beef not just to make a particular label claim, such as Choice, grass-fed, or naturally raised, but also to make fabulous tasting steaks, burgers, and roasts. They carefully choose cattle to fit their growing region and a diet, slaughter date, and aging technique, along with low-stress handling, because they make for better meat. We need these people to be wildly successful!

I provide tasting notes and reviews of meats from these producers on my Artisan Beef Institute Web site. If you have a favorite  producer, help them sell their products by telling me who they are so I can meet them, too. I also invite you to write a guest review of your favorite beef, pork, lamb, or poultry for my site.

Second, retailers have catered to our different needs, desires, and values by offering variety in just about every category one can think of other than meat. It is up to us to let them know that we want.

I invite you to download a list of questions to ask your butcher (or even your farmer). Share this with friends and ask the meat  counter team the questions. If they can’t answer to your satisfaction, ask whether they can find out for you and, if you can, don’t buy the meat until they are able to answer these questions to your satisfaction. Build a relationship with your butchers based on mutual respect and we’ll see changes with time.

Finally, I will leave you something to ponder. Think about where wine was in the 1970s (white wine, red wine, fine wine, jug wine) and where it is today. We are the ones who can make a difference. By rewarding and recognizing the best, we will help support humane animal husbandry, keep good people on the land, and have better tasting, more personalized meats on our plates. It’s a win – win – win – win for all. What could be better than that?

To get in touch with Carrie or learn more about her work, visit the Oliver Ranch Company website.

*If you believe in the power of women’s words and our growing sustainable food movement, please spread the word about our Women Nourish Us blog series via email, Facebook & Twitter ( If you would like to host a screening of FRESH for your friends or organization, please – be in touch!



We'd love to hear yours!

  1. Visit My Website

    September 22, 2010


    Jacqueline Church said:

    Your session at IACP was an eye-opener for me. I love what you’re doing educating people about quality food. I also find it interesting how many people who farm are women.

  2. Visit My Website

    September 22, 2010


    Robin Cohen said:

    The sad thing is that many markets have no butcher or dedicated meat staff. All the meat comes from a central warehouse and is just stocked like cereal or canned peas. Even the gourmet or natural food stores don’t often have enough knowledge at the store level.
    I buy meat from small local farms where I can chat with the farmer who raised the animal at farmers market or at their farm.
    Your question list is a wonderful resource.