Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Del Terruño Beef & Wine Pairings

Which country is #1 in beef consumption? You might suspect that it is Argentina, where the asado, essentially barbecued meat, is the national dish. I've visited Argentina and had the pleasure to savor juicy and flavorful asado beef and other meats. I can understand their great affection for grilled meats. A few years ago, you would be correct in thinking that Argentina consumed more beef, per capita, than any other country. However, they have recently been displaced by another South American country, Uruguay.

Tucked away in the southeastern region of South America, surrounded by Argentina, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, the small country of Uruguay has only about 3.3 million people, which is less than the population of Greater Boston. Around 1603, cattle were first introduced to the country by Hernando Arias de Saavedra, the Spanish Governor of Buenos Aires. Today, there are approximately 12 million cattle in the country, nearly 4 for each person. Almost 80% of their beef is exported, to more than 80 countries, and they are starting to make their mark in the U.S.

Back in 1956, the people of Argentina were consuming around 222 pounds of beef per capita but that has now decreased to around 129 pounds, a drastic reduction of nearly 100 pounds. Uruguay has now taken first place, consuming about 132 pounds of beef per capita. In comparison, U.S. beef consumption is only about 58 pounds, less than half what Uruguayans consume. Do Uruguayans know something that we do not?

Back in February, at the Boston Wine Expo, I had the opportunity to sample some Uruguayan beef from Del Terruño, and I was impressed enough that it was one of my top three food finds at the Expo. A couple weeks ago, Del Terruño sent me a sample tenderloin so that I could cook it myself and get a better sense of their beef's taste. As you can see from the photos, I ended up grilling the tenderloin.

Del Terruño, which means "from my small corner of the earth," sells free range, grass fed beef from Uruguay. The company has been around for about 5-6 years, and have been concentrating their sales efforts in the northeast region of the U.S., especially New England. The company derives their product from 8 cattle ranches, and the company also includes cooperative land owners, breeders, scientists, technology specialists and more. They are doing more than just selling beef, but are trying to do so in a more ecologically responsible and traceable manner.

The cattle, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus breeds, are raised in open fields, each animal possessing over 3 acres where they can graze. They eat only grass, and are not fed corn or any grain at any time. This is especially important to people who wish to avoid consuming cattle which have eaten GMO corn. The area where the ranches are located have relatively mild temperatures year round. No antibiotics, hormones, or steroids are ever used. The cattle are generally slaughtered when they are 18-36 months old. The ranches adhere to responsible environmental practices and the beef is intended to be as natural as possible. It is also important to know that the beef has excellent traceability, and each package possesses the information to track it back to the original animal.

This grass fed beef is lower in fat than grain fed beef, and thus also has less calories. The fat that is on the grass fed beef is also located more on the outside, instead of the interior marbling you find in grain fed beef. In addition, it is high in beta-carotene and antioxidants, and possesses more beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed beef. This all sounds great but what about its taste, which is always the ultimate test.

We cut the tenderloin into small steaks, seasoning it with some basic spices that included a wine infused salt, and grilled it until it was medium rare. First, this beef was certainly tender, and you could have cut it with a butter knife. Second, it had a mild beefy flavor with a bit of gaminess, which I found appealing. It actually tasted less gamey than most other grass fed beef I have tasted. My family loved this beef, and it didn't last long once it was taken off the grill. I enjoyed the beef at least as much as I did at the Expo, and I believe any meat-lover would savor this beef too. As grilling season has begun, Del Terruño would make for an excellent choice.

With the beef, I drank a wine from Macedonia, the Tikves "Special Selection" Vranec. This worked out to be an excellent pairing as the wine wasn't too tannic, and had some spicy and earthy notes which complemented the beef. The usual advice in wine pairing is that food from a region pairs well with the wines of that region. That might leave you to believe that the Del Terruño beef would pair well with Uruguayan Tannat, however I think that Tannat is often too tannic for this leaner grass fed beef. I would recommend pairing it with red wines that are less tannic than Tannat, which still gives you plenty of choices, from Spanish Tempranillo to French Rhône, from Oregon Pinot Noir to Italian Chianti Classico.

As for an out-of-the-box pairing, you could even drink Sake with this beef. A richer Junmai Sake, or maybe a Kimoto/Yamahai-style Sake, would go well with this Uruguayan beef. Some people dislike grass fed beef because of its gamey taste. Though the Del Terruño only had a minor gamey taste, you can still tone down that gaminess with Sake. One of the benefits of Sake is that it contains amino acids which help to mute the gamey taste of meat, making it more palatable to some people. The beef will also gain this benefit if you first marinate it in some Sake.

Del Terruño is mainly available in Massachusetts, and their website lists the locations, restaurants and stores, where it can be obtained. For example, it is served at Taranta Restaurant, in the North End, or you can purchase it at Marty's in Newton. Within the next few months, they are also updating their website and you will then be able to order their beef online, making it more accessible to all.

The beef is available in tenderloin, ribeye, strip and ground beef, priced at the mid-range for grass fed beef. Yes, that means it is generally more expensive than grain fed beef, but you have to balance the benefits from grass fed beef. I believe it is worth the additional cost.

Have you tasted Del Terruño beef? What do you think about its taste? And what wine did you pair it with?

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