Over the summer I had a taste revelation: After 6 years of Irish living, I discovered that my palate for beef had been altered. I had seen it coming the previous summer stateside, but this year, it was settled.

It happened as I was having dinner with friends at one of those very serious steakhouses, of which I would go as far as to label an American beef eater’s institution in a stodgy old men’s club sort of way. Not my style whatsoever, but places like this had always satiated my periodic craving for a good ole juicy, rare-ish New York Strip or Porterhouse chunk of beef.  These hankerings only seemed to escalate after I left the USA, eventually putting a standing appointment with at least one good steakhouse on our calendar each time we make our way across the pond.

As I eagerly carved into my magnificent looking steak topped with a generous dollop of melted butter and then carefully placed a dripping, beautifully fragrant, bite-sized piece into my mouth….BOOM, it hit me. I looked to my friend with a puzzled face and asked, “How does yours taste?” She was too busy squealing in delight over her beefy feast to answer me and I took the hint. It was at that moment that I realized that I preferred the flavor of Irish beef to the standard, USDA, dry-aged, center-cut of Angus beef that lie before me. I was stunned.

To be frank, when I first came to Ireland, I just did not care for the flavor, texture and smell of Irish beef. Of course, initially I put it down to ‘everything in from my home country is better’ a common conviction that many expats sadly fall prey to when upping sticks and moving abroad. You learn swiftly, that things are just different, not necessarily better or worse.

While we are primarily a dairy and poultry farm, we do raise some cattle for our own use here at home. In my first few years in Ireland, each time I tried the beef from the farm or any other place, I remember thinking that the taste was very unusual. Irish beef had a fuller, meatier flavor than what I was accustomed to and this was not appealing to me for a long time. What I didn’t realize until recently is that I was simply used to grain-fed beef, as so many Americans have been, which is very different to the flavour of natural grass-fed beef in Ireland. My tastebuds were accustomed to something else completely.

Recently I had the opportunity to go along with Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, to a Chef’s Irish Beef Club competition at Chef Sache in Cologne, Germany. I jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with Irish beef and see how chefs in other countries are passionately putting it to use.

It wasn’t surprising to learn about the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club, which is made up of top European chefs who prefer to use beef reared in Ireland because of its quality and value. Still, I wasn’t aware of this group beforehand, and because of my summertime taste revelation, I was especially excited to go along and be a part of this celebration of Irish beef.

Chef Sache is a symposium that showcases top European chefs, many of which are Michelin starred (of the food, not tyre variety).  It is also trade show featuring top-quality food producers and products from around the world, including Bord Bia approved Irish beef.

Bord Bia sponsored a Chefs’ Irish Beef Club competition at the event whereby contestants were required to create a prime Irish beef recipe that would be prepared, served, tasted and judged by a panel of renowned European chefs. The grand prize: A guided tour of Ireland, visiting leading farms and a fabulous dinner at Chapter One in Dublin with Ross Lewis.

I looked on in anticipation as each young chef cooked up something more and more magnificent. My two favorite preparations involved Guinness and turf. The first, and also the judge’s choice, was a Guinness-injected (yes, with a syringe) tenderloin of Irish beef. The second was a massive rib-eye, wrapped in turf and cooked in the sous vide manner, then sautéed in brown butter before serving. Both tasted and looked absolutely amazing.

I may not be a chef, but I am now definitely a full-fledged member of the Irish beef club.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell . Guinness injected beef tenderloin by Christoph Pentzlin

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7 Responses to “Irish Beef: A Taste Revelation.”

  1. Imen, I spent a couple of weeks in Ireland this April to write an article or two on the meat (primarily beef, lamb, and pork). I, too was struck by the quality of the meat especially the beef and the really wonderful range of flavors from farm to farm. What was most surprising was the texture – no matter the breed I found the steaks and ground beef to be very finely textured and almost silky or creamy. To be honest I prefer meat with a bit more chew (on average, anyways) but every sample I had was pretty spectacular for me in part because I’m a bit of a flavor hound. The was more amplitude of flavor. The only disappointment for me is that none of these beefs to my knowledge was grass-fed/finished (at least according to US regulations) as they’d just come out of the barns from the winter where they’d received grain or feed supplements. I wonder whether you’ve had a chance to see how and whether flavor and texture and the overall eating experience vary by season?

  2. laura says:

    It’s not just Irish beef…… living in Austria I suffer regular cravings for Irish beef, Irish lamb, Irish dairy produce. It’s not just about the grass either, it’s the climate in Ireland. Irish livestock get to live happy lives outdoors (pigs being the exception, outdoor organic pigs will have their revolution yet) practically all year round. It takes strange weather (like last years snow) for them to be brought indoors. The meat in Austria is terrible. Irish beef and lamb is a PREMIUM product, make no mistake and it should attract far higher premiums than it does. I hope Bordbia are preaching this fact. PREMIUM product, you don’t get this quality in many places ! PS Have you read skinny bitch or slaughterhouse? If you do read Skinny Bitch and it will turn you into a vegetarian when you are in the US. It is a horror story.

    • imen says:

      THanks for your comment Laura. Yes, I agree…Irish beef is a premium product indeed! I have read Skinny Bitch…know what you mean!

  3. Melinda says:

    I’ve been passionate about Irish butter, cheese and oatmeal for years. I usually go for the grass-fed beef and bison varieties here in the states, but I imagine that the greener grass on the other side just might make for a richer beef. Now I’ve something else to try! Thanks for sharing.

    • imen says:

      As the above commenter says…it’s more than just being grass-fed. It’s the grass, the air, the weather…so clean…someone once said, it has to be-it gets a shower a few times a day! You will love it.

  4. Móna Wise says:

    What is not to love, Imen. My husband felt the same way when we moved back to Galway. Having eaten American beef his whole life, he was not sure he could be sold on the grass fed kind. I am pretty sure that he will always go for grass fed now, a few years later, but is still wanting the butchers to hang the beef for a few more weeks!

    • imen says:

      Mona, I totally agree and I didn’t realise your husband was American! Yes, hanging longer would make it even better…mmmm. dry-aged beef, delish!

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