I arrived at the boning room of Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE to find Allen Snaith of Warialda Belted Galloway Beef in a bit of a flap. Normally the abattoir tags each quarter of the carcass with the animal’s identification number along with the date of slaughter. Individual packages of meat are labeled with the same number. If there is ever an issue with the meat (which has never happened), every single cut can be easily traced to a specific animal. On this day, the forequarters were tagged, but the hindquarters were not. For Allen, this was a major kink in his traceability and quality regime.
With over thirty years of experience breeding Belted Galloways – a hardy black cow with a distinctive white belt across its midsection – Allen involves himself in every aspect of the supply chain from breeding to butchery. Although Galloways were once quite rare, they are less so today thanks to passionate farmers such as Allen and his wife Lizette who have contributed to making the breed’s survival a success story. Allen’s commitment to quality led him to develop a close relationship with the butchery program at NMIT which means he is often present when the animals are broken into cuts of meat.
I wanted to help Allen sort the mess, but with virtually no knowledge of bovine physiology, I was only getting in the way. Allen, on the other hand, knows his cows inside out. With his experience as a member of the organising committee for the Beef Carcase competition at the Royal Melbourne Show, he can get a good idea of what’s beneath a cow’s hide just by eyeballing it. Allen and one of his staff, Liesl, discussed which quarters might go together using size, colour and fat cover as their guide. With a piece of string, Allen measured the “bark”, a thin flat muscle covering the underside of the forequarter, to help find the right hindquarter. It wasn’t easy, even for an expert.
Each carcass spends a minimum of three weeks hanging in a cool, dry room, though some individual restaurants request longer. I wandered into the ageing room and was struck by its rich, fleshy and strangely sweet aroma. The flesh had darkened and the fat had yellowed with time. Ageing the meat breaks down the connective tissues in the muscles and intensifies the flavour by allowing moisture to evaporate as it ages. The evaporation results in a loss in total weight which is why aged meat is more expensive than ‘fresher’ meat but also more richer and more tender. Having never been in a boning room, I half expected to be confronted by the sight and smell of the carcasses hanging from the ceiling. Instead I was developing a serious hunger.
The respect between Allen and the cows is clear in the paddock. Cattle prods are completely unnecessary and never used. Instead, he brings an offering of hay—or cow candy as he describes it. The cows come when he calls and are led between gates with minimal fuss. They are easily managed compared to the young and overly keen Kelpie, Milly, who takes her job as farm dog a little too seriously. Allen often has to curb her enthusiastic tendency to herd the cows unnecessarily.
The Snaiths keep detailed records of not only lineage, awards and medical history for individual cows, but also birth weight, movements between paddocks, fat cover, and marbling and other information such as participation in agricultural shows. All this data helps determine which cows will be used for breeding and which will be used for meat and for matching bulls to the right heifers. A bull with a history of producing large calves can create a difficult birth for a heifer with a narrow pelvic canal. As Allen and I walked through his paddock, he pointed out two new calves that were born in the last two weeks, both without assistance. Galloway enthusiasts appreciate the breed’s ease of calving and good mothering instincts. Joining the right animals together makes the whole process even easier so the mothers can be left alone to do what they do best—taking care of their young—with minimal interference from Allen. He focuses on rotating them around several paddocks which he leases from around his farm so they have access to the best possible pasture for grazing. Carefully breeding and happy cows fed entirely on grass is what gives the Snaith’s cows their excellent intramuscular fat. Well-marbled beef has a wonderful juiciness and mouth feel. The intramuscular fat of ruminants has an abundance of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which, in its natural form, has been found to reduce body fat and slow the growth of tumours so it tastes good and is better for you. Grain-fed beef has far less CLA so its fat doesn’t offer the same health benefits.
Allen and Liesl eventually finished tagging the quarters and started labeling which farmers markets they will go to. Each market is allocated one beast, sometimes one and a half for the larger markets. The beef schnitzels and sausages are quickly snapped up at regional markets. Other markets have developed a ready clientele of keen cooks who enjoy new recipes and using cheaper or more unusual cuts of meat. In 2006, Allen and Lizette traveled to international Slow Food event, Terra Madre, where they learned about traditional curing methods. The experience led to a range of smallgoods including smoked beef, salami, pastrami and pressed tongue. It fits well with the Snaith’s passion for using the whole animal. Allen and Lizette have developed a loyal following of customers who find their passion infectious and educational. Occasionally giving some of his regular customers ‘meat projects’, Allen presents them with a drawing of the various cuts of a cow, circling a section of the animal and sending them away with instructions on how to cook it. Later in the day, as I helped cryovac the meat, I imagined the conversations that would take place at the next market as the beef exchanged hands.
While Allen and Liesl worked, I chatted with the loquacious Shannon who teaches butchery at NMIT. He explained that he became a butchery teacher because he enjoyed sharing with others the craft of breaking down a side of cow into cuts of meat that inspire others to cook beautiful meals. I ask him what makes working with Allen different. ‘It’s from the heart with Allen,’ he tells me, ‘It isn’t just the money. It’s about maintaining the integrity of the meat and total traceability.’ This explains Allen’s flustered state to find the hindquarters untagged and the hours he dedicated to matching them up.
This obsessive commitment to quality extends to every aspect of the animals’ life and death and is evident in the relationship he has with the herd. Cows have friends, I learned from Allen a few weeks earlier. Within a herd, young calves develop relationships with others in their age group. They prefer hanging out with some cows more than others, just as humans do. Being isolated from their friendship group is upsetting, and the period of transport from farm to abattoir has the potential to stress the cows and undo all the hard work that goes into raising happy, healthy animals. Because his operation is small, Allen only slaughters a few beasts at a time; as much as possible, he sends his cows to slaughter in friendship groups so they are more relaxed in familiar company. He drives the truck himself to further minimise the risk of stress and bruising which compromises the quality of the overall product. For the Snaiths, animal welfare and taste go hand in hand; their farming practice is an ethics of taste.
After a day of being surrounded by premium quality aged beef, I left the boning room ravenous. I could have kissed Liesl when she slipped me a rump steak on my way out the door.
This is a classic hors d’oeuvre that demands top quality beef. It’s surprisingly rich so less is more.
100g rump or sirloin
1 quail yolk
1 tsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp capers, soaked and dried
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon good quality olive oil
3-4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 small pinch of salt and 3-4 good twists freshly ground black pepper
Toasted rounds of a good quality baguette (brushed with olive oil) to serve
Trim any sinew or external fat. Cut the meat with the grain into fine strips and then cut the strips into tiny cubes. Keep chopping until it has reached a fine consistency. Place in a bowl, and add chopped capers and shallots. Mix and season well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mustard, olive oil, parsley and Worcestershire sauce. Add to the steak bit by bit, stirring well and tasting along the way until it’s to your taste. To serve, press the mixture in an egg ring. Create a small hollow and add the quail yolk. Remove the ring, and serve with toasted baguette rounds brushed with olive oil.
Quantities are per serve.
This is an old favourite of mine from the Burgundy region that is well suited to using cheaper cuts. Perfect for enjoying winter with a peppery Shiraz.
1 kg of stewing quality beef
150g pancetta, rind removed
2 tablespoon flour
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 leek, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
4 shallots, diced
2 celery stalks
8-10 sprigs of thyme
5 bay leaves
1 piece of orange peel
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
500ml dry red wine (boiled and simmered to cut the acidity)
500ml beef or veal stock
300g mushrooms, sliced thickly
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 165 degrees Celsius. Remove sinew and external fat from beef, and cut into 3-4 cm cubes. Pat cubes dry and dust in flour. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed casserole. Brown a few cubes at a time on medium heat, and set aside.
While the red wine is boiling, cut pancetta into short strips, and brown in casserole. Remove and set aside. Sauté the sliced mushrooms and diced onion, garlic, leek, carrot, shallots and celery for 5 minutes in the fat left from the pancetta. Add a little wine if the bottom of the pan is browning too much. Return the beef and pancetta to the casserole. Season well with salt and pepper. Add thyme, orange peel and bay leaves. Pour wine and stock into casserole until the beef is just submerged, and cover with lid. Place in the bottom section of the oven to simmer for 3 to 4 hours until the meat is very tender. Check the casserole periodically to ensure it’s not boiling. Top with parsley when plating up. Serve with crusty bread and roasted potatoes cooked in duck fat.
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