There are those who would treat a good steak — pardon the expression — like just another piece of meat.
Carrie Oliver is not one of those people. In October, Oliver, who runs an "artisan steak" marketplace called Oliver Ranch (oliverranch.com), hosted a steak tasting for selected foodies in Tampa, including local bloggers Greg and Michelle Baker of Culinary Sherpas and Jayden Hair of Steamy Kitchen. She served cuts of Angus and Wagyu, gave guests a tutorial on dry aging and explained the difference between grass- and corn-fed cows.
"Beef is not beef," Oliver said. "Beef is really more like wine."
A good steak, she said, should reflect terroir th way a prime Napa Valley pinot grigio does, and should rouse within us a more nuanced, intellectual response than Cow taste good.
But even in a country that loves red meat as much as ours, that hasn't happened. At least not yet.
Part of the problem comes from how we describe a good steak. Beefy, gamy, juicy and tender: "That's about the entire vocabulary for meat," Oliver said. So Oliver formed what she calls the Artisan Beef Institute to help expand the steak discussion. She advocates using terms like harmonious, metallic and lamby to describe cuts of meat. She wants diners to consider a steak's mouthfeel, its personality, its flavor notes, its finish.
As an example, she mentioned one of her favorite steaks, a dry-aged Charolais from a ranch near Boulder, Colo. She described it as "reasonably adventurous," with notes of mushrooms, a long finish and "a good bite."
When asked if she's ever met anyone who actually talks this way about steak, Oliver replied quickly: "Almost no one. We're very, very much at the beginning of this."
But it's not so far-fetched, she said, to believe fine beef could soon join the ranks of artisan coffee and chocolate, two other food products that in recent years have crashed the wine-and-cheese world of food snobbery.
Greg Baker, who is not a huge steak guy, said Oliver's lecture nonetheless helped him better appreciate what he was eating.
"What it opened my eyes to," he said, "was the different qualities, the different breeds and different feed and different areas that beef is raised in, and how that really affects the flavors and the textures and the nuances of the steak — like how the location of a vineyard affects the flavor of wine."