The lead up to Beef Australia was a little bit hectic in the Kimberley household. Not only with D-Day looming for Blair and the Beef Australia team, but also with a visit from our principal European customers. For four days, we had the pleasure of two Dutch and two Germans’ company. We tried our best to showcase not only a day in the life of ourselves, but also to showcase the entire process from our paddock to when it reaches their shores.
With that in mind, Blair had them up at the crack of dawn to watch trucks get loaded with the next mob to leave our feedlot on their first morning. They were very interested in the process, with heavy debate over the paperwork chain, in both English and German, making up our breakfast conversation. We discussed the traceability of the cattle, with their NILS tags being read every time they are moved from one property to another. Traceability systems in Australia are among the best in the world, and we were eager to display the commercial reality of this system. Next we looked at the NVD’s that travel with the cattle. For those of you who don’t know, an NVD stand for a National Vendor Declaration, and is a piece of paper, or rather a number of pieces of paper, that travels with the cattle when they are moved. There is one for NFAS (National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme), MSA and another Vendor Declaration to show we are EU certified. Together, this documentation states that the cattle are eligible for sale as a grainfed product to the EU, or any destination with market access requirements parallel to our management practices. The MSA Grading process and eligibility criteria was also on display.
Our induction process was another point of interest. This is where we induct cattle from the grass paddocks into the feedlot to begin grain feeding. It involves weighing the cattle, and drafting them on weight to determine whether or not they will go into the feedlot at that time. When they are weighed, their NILS tag is read, and the weight recorded on the scales. If they are to be inducted, they get tagged with an ear-tag that displays the week number they were inducted and a number. So a tag might read 18-175, which means they were the 175th animal to be inducted in week 18. The beast is also vaccinated before it enters the feedlot. Another big thing we wanted to show the customers was our livestock handling practices. We strive to minimize stress for not only the wellbeing of the animal, but also stress inhibits the quality of the meat. Blair was also keen to show off the fineness of the hair on the animals. A strong belief of Blair’s is that finer hair leads to finer texture in the meat, a theory that is now being studied in the US, but one that Blair learned from his father and grandfather.
While cattle are the lifeblood of our operation, horses are also a key component. We do most of our mustering with horses rather than motorbikes, and we enjoy competing with the horses when we can manage to find a spare weekend. The end of Beef Australia happened to coincide with the Rocky Rush Stockman’s Challenge and Campdraft occuring just outside of Rockhampton. Josie and along with children Madelaine, John & David all competed, so there was a flurry of last minute training while the Europeans visited Kimberley!
One afternoon, Josie and Madelaine took them over to our cutting arena for a bit of a demonstration. Cutting involves separating a beast from the herd, and then ‘working’ it across the face of the mob, essentially blocking it from coming back into the herd. Josie’s horse is a bit younger and shows the steps slowly, giving Josie time to explain what is happening. Madelaine’s steed however is a bit older, a bit more experienced, and bred to love cattle. She gets very excited and puts on quite the show when asked. Our European friends even jumped on her, away from the cattle so there was no chance they would fall off! Josie was the “cow” and walked through the process of cutting, and they got a chance to experience how the horse reacts to the animal.
As a lot of you would know, Blair loves his secondary cuts. One of his favorite cuts to break down and show people is the chuck. There is so much diversity in what you can do with a chuck, something Blair was keen to highlight. He broke the cut down into the different muscles, and prepared them. By simply grilling the different muscles, each of their unique flavors and textures were shown. We then took the Del Monico and made a hot beef salad with a bit of spinach and pumpkin, which proves to be a great way to make a light lunch. Another way to serve Del Monico, which we also served, is as a steak.
Given that one of our guests was a butcher, there was a lot of playing with breakdowns of cuts and cooking different styles of beef. Another cut Blair loves is the Oyster Blade. This is what is left of the Blade, once the Bolar Blade is taken out. The Oyster Blade is one of the first cuts in the beast to marble, leaving it with an incredible visual appeal from a nicely marbled animal, and a wonderful texture if cooked correctly. In fact it contains the second tenderest muscle on the cow. Often this cut is taken, and prepared as Flat Iron Steaks, which can be quite popular, however there is a lot of wastage in the cut. The reason Oyster Blades are so often prepared like this is because of the seam of collagen they contain. This collagen seam can be tough if it were to be cooked as a steak, fairly fast. This doesn’t slow Blair down, however, because as he always says it is better to ingest your collagen, rather than inject it! Collagen is the same as meat fibre – off of a good animal, it is more soluble with less cross-linkages. Cross-linkages are what make a piece of meat tough – the stronger the cross linkages, the tighter the meat fibres, and the tougher the steak.
Blair prefers to prepare them as medallions, so a bit thicker than a typical steak, before sealing them and roasting them to finish cooking. This jellies up the collagen, making the whole cut enjoyable, and maximizing the value to the consumer, it’s a win-win situation! Another way to prepare them is to roast the cut as a whole, which again jellies the collagen and leaves for an exquisite roast, or goes wonderfully as cold meat. With our guests, we enjoyed it as cold meat, with some of Blair’s home grown pickled cucumbers, with some cheese and salad and bread as a Ploughman’s Lunch.
Now there is one final dish worth mentioning, which seems to be a favourite at the Kimberley household, and that is Blair’s campoven prepared shanks. Interestingly, the muscle Blair prefers is not the Osso Bucco shank, but rather the Biceps Brachii, sometimes called the conical muscle. Now if we were to relate this to the human body, and make the cow’s front leg equivalent to our arm, the Biceps Brachii is the same as our bicep (who would have guessed!), while the Osso Bucco shank is the forearm. To prepare it, the biceps are cut in half, across the muscle, to make them a more manageable size. We then seal the meat in a pan, with a bit of salt, pepper and Mexican Chilli to season, before putting them in the campoven to roast for a few hours. From there Blair takes over and adds some wine or beer, a few other touches for flavouring, some vegetables, and finally near the end he adds some scone topping and its just about ready. There’s something uniquely outback about sitting around a campfire watching the coals glow with the smell of your dinner wafting out of the firepit.