Fat is flavour: A guide to Australian meat

09 August, 2016 by

No wonder Australians’ penchant for meat is unwavering. They have access to the world’s highest quality, safest and tastiest proteins. By Madeline Woolway.

Beef

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The sought after Wagyu breed, famous for its finely marbled fat and association with the Japanese city of Kobe, has been available in Australia for less than three decades, but Australian producer, Jack’s Creek can already claim the title of World’s Best Steak 2015 for their F2 450+ days grain fed Wagyu.

­“We started running cattle, Santa Gertrudis and Hereford, in 1983, and then I got on to Angus. When carting the cattle to feedlots I used to hear about cattle being fed for 300 days for the Japanese market; they called it Wagyu. But I found out you couldn’t get the breed outside of Japan,” said David Warmoll, founder of Jack’s Creek, which is situated near Tamworth, in Northern NSW.

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“One day my brother, Phillip, was reading Time magazine and it said there were a couple at the University of Texas. We decided to have a go, rung up to get some and found out that two or three blokes in Australia had a few already. So I got some semen off Wally Ray up in Queensland and got started.”

That was the early 90s, and it wassome time before the Warmoll brothers were able to sell Wagyu meat.

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76bradk-warmoll2-OR-striploin-wagyu.jpgJack's Creek Wagyu striploin

Making marble

Producing high quality, marbled beef isn’t just a matter of having the right cow.

“Wagyu is more than a breed, it’s a lifecycle,” said David’s nephew, and managing director of Jack’s Creek, Patrick Warmoll. “In essence, an animal is the product of what it eats and its lifecycle.”

This philosophy dictates the feeding program and lifestyle of Jack’s Creek cattle.

“We wrap them up in wool. We feed them for the longest time, and they’re relatively young animals that have had a stress-free life. The grain finishing at the end makes a big difference.

Black-Angus-Striploin-2.jpgBlack Angus striploin from Jack's Creek 

“Animals that are fed on grain have a sweeter flavour that is more consistent across the animals because they’re living in a controlled environment. Feedlots can control energy and protein intakes and the grains provide nutrition – all of that affects the flavour,” said Patrick.

“Whereas grass-fed animas have a nutty flavour, or beefier flavour, but it’s very inconsistent because even in the same geographical area you have different grasses, which will result in different flavours. It’s not a bad flavour, it’s just less consistent.”

While the Wagyu breed is predisposed to lay intramuscular fat, it’s farming techniques that determine whether the animals develop their iconic marbling.

“We had to get to the point where we understood what was required [when breeding the animals]. To begin with, we exported the males live to Japan, and we rebred the females. Eventually we stopped exporting and started feeding.

“Wagyu are slower growing than other breeds. They tend to put fat in their muscle, instead of laying it on their back. It’s that fat in the muscle, which we call marbling, that gives flavour. It has a different melting point, and it’s a different sort of fat to what lays on the outside of the animal. It delivers some of the tenderness, but most of the tenderness is acquired by being in the feedlot, being inactive and relaxed,” said David.

“You can fast feed them, but if you do, you will lay fat down on the outside of the animal. Gradually feeding them distributes the marbling,” he said.

Despite its current standing as a delicacy, buyers in the West were apprehensive about what the public would think when they saw all the fat. But, as Warmoll told Hospitality, “Without some fat, you will not have flavour.”

Jack-s-Creek-Wagyu-tongue-parsnip-yuzu-seablight.jpgJack's Creek Wagyu tongue with parsnip, yuzu and seablight prepared by LuMi Dining. 

Jack-s-Creek-Black-Angus-beef-tartare.jpgLuMi Dining's tartare with Black Angus beef from Jack's Creek 

Grading marble

“We have four beef categories. Our entry-level Wagyu is the F1. It’s 50 percent Wagyu crossed with another breed, in our case we only cross with Black Angus, we have that independently verified by a third party. Those cattle are grain fed for 300 days,” said Patrick.

“Then we have out 450 day grain fed F2+ Wagyu, which is minimum 75 percent Wagyu. It has a higher marble score, and targets the higher end teppanyaki, yakiniku restaurant trade, as well as the white table cloth trade.

“Our Angus is similar. We have an entry level, which is a 120 day grain fed program, with a minimum 75 percent Angus breed content. Then we have 150 day, 100 percent Black Angus.”

Patrick-and-David-Warmoll-from-Jack-s-Creek.jpgPatrick Warmoll, managing director, and David Warmoll, founder, of Jack's Creek. 

Pork

“It’s become a staple, to the point it’s now very odd to not see pork on a menu,” Mitch Edwards, marketing manager at Australian Pork, told Hospitality. “There are always different cuts on offer somewhere.

“I think because pork, from cut to cut, can be totally different things; we’re seeing more exploration. Some cuts have a more robust flavour coming from the fat, while leaner cuts can have a more delicate flavour.”

The variety of cuts allows pork to sit comfortably across dining levels.

“Some cuts, like a pork cutlet, tend to sit on pub and club menus, because it’s like a steak, while other cuts, like the fillet, which is delicate and textural, are more common on degustation menus,” said Edwards.

While prime cuts have been a fixture on foodservice menus for years, less common cuts like pork jowl, which currently features on the menu at Sydney’s Quay restaurant, are starting to attract attention.

“There’s a real desire for the rustic cuts. Chefs are really enjoying the nose to tail movement and getting more creative, so there’s a lot of interest in odd cuts, and consumers are really enjoying the full flavours.

“This takes pressure off prime cuts, so now they’re cheaper than they used to be, which gives the casual segment an opportunity to use things like the pork belly.”

Pork-Belly-Bone-in-1.jpgBone in pork belly 

Cutlets-on-plate-MC.jpgPork cutlets 

Something for everyone

Along with the burgeoning interest in secondary cuts, there’s also growing enthusiasm for free range pork and rare breeds.

“There are some very interesting breeds and free range practices going on, and they’re producing some amazing products. It’s a combination of all things. It's not just the breed; it’s the feed and the environment. With free range you have to be equipped for it, to make sure the pigs are safe and have a regulated diet,” said Edwards.

“Then there are some of the rare breeds that grow much slower, like Berkshire pigs. They lay more intramuscular fat so there is a creamy butteriness to the meat, but they come at a premium cost, because when the pig grows slower, they cost the farmer more feed and more time getting to market.

“Those products are great, but you have to be mindful that not everyone lives in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. We need to deliver the best product we can but still offer some prices that don’t exclude big parts of the population. It’s all about having something for everyone.” 

Victor-Liong-dish.jpgPork belly and condiments by Victor Liong

Tracing success

“When it comes to pork, or any protein, we have the most disease free agricultural industry in the world. We have traceability so that if there is ever a reason for recall we can trace back to the farm, and in many cases to individual animals,” said Edwards.

Traceability programs also have a hand in helping chefs to capitalise on the increasing interest in provenance.

“The more the general public gets excited about food, the more they want to know. The fact we have great traceability means that chefs can be better equipped with knowledge to share with their patrons,” Edwards said.

It’s important to remember that, while all raw pork sold in Australia is produced locally, smallgoods aren’t subject to the same conditions.

“When it comes to smallgoods, like bacon and ham, 72 percent are made from imported products. If you don’t see the pink Australian Pork label, or a Product of Australia label, then be confident that you aren’t getting an Australian product,” said Edwards.

Using Australian pork, and knowing the product is disease free, means there is more freedom for chefs when preparing raw products.

“You can treat pork the same way you would beef, you don’t need to overcook it,” he said. “The more pork is served the way it’s best eaten, the more people will realise it’s safe. Chefs have, and can continue to influence the market.”

Pork-belly.jpgPork belly by Jake Kellie 

 Wallaby: A leaner option

Native game is fast becoming a popular option for those looking to put a leaner alternative protein on their menu.

“Wallaby is a very sweet meat with exceptionally fine texture. From a game meat point of view, it makes it a lot more forgiving. You can comfortably take it through to medium rare, you don’t need to leave it as blue as people tend to with kangaroo or venison,” John Kelly, founder and owner of Lenah Meats in Tasmania.
 

“It’s all wild harvested by licensed harvesters, approved by the government authority. They harvest in the field, then the wallabies come to us and we process them as you would cattle,” Kelly told Hospitality. “It's only legal to harvest them in Tasmania.

“I have three licensed meat inspectors, including myself, and we inspect the meat for any disease conditions before it gets boned out.

“We do a whole range of things to maximise the quality of the product. We age the animals, then process and portion our products within 40 gram weight ranges, then give them three weeks pack age before they leave us.”

Although wallaby might seem unfamiliar, a lot of the terminology and techniques that chefs are used to can be applied.

“There’s porterhouse, topside, rumps, striploin and shanks. The shanks are a great piece of meat, and you can cook it exactly like a lamb shank,” said Kelly.  

“People are attracted to wallaby for a whole range of reasons. It has less than two percent fat, it’s ethical – the land wants to give it to us – and wallabies don’t emit methane. But, at the end of the day, people eat things because they’re pleasant to eat.”

 Wallaby is currently available on about 100 menus across Tasmanian, but Lenah also sends meat as far a field as Cairns and Darwin.  

won-tons.jpgDumplings made using Lenah Meats