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March 16, 2010
Wine-Fed Beef

The next time you dine on a big, juicy steak, it could be more than coincidence that the meat is such a good match for the bottle of wine you ordered to enjoy along with it. Maybe because before it ended up on your plate, the steer was a fan of the same varietal.

We learned this surprising news from Janice Ravndahl, an entrepreneur who is in the process of introducing a new product to the restaurant market. Ravndahl is raising a hormone-free beef from Angus cattle that have been fed on a steady diet of red wine.

At first read, the press release from her company with its pun-nish name of Sezmu Meats seemed like an early April Fool's Day joke.  Especially when during a Google search, Ms Ravndahl showed up on an old Internet page selling a miracle migraine cure.

However, we did recall that the practice of feeding wine to cattle was not without precedence.  A company in Australia, Margaret River Premium Meat Exports, was adding wine to their cattle's food two years ago, and so was another company in Washington State. Both companies were inspired by the producers of the famous Wagu beef in Japan, whose cattle have been known to receive a bucket or two of beer before getting their famous massages and Mozart lullabies before bedtime.

In both cases, the cattlemen stated that although the alcohol in the feed did not make the animals tipsy, it did appear to increase their appetite and to relax them. (Which sounds familiar.) And that mellow state of mind contributed to the wine-fed beef's extra tender texture and desirable percentage of fat marbling. Said the Australians:

"The antioxidant properties that we associate with red wine appear to have an effect on the meat's colour and shelf life, and from the tests we carried out, the meat also tasted sweeter."

They also mentioned that the practice of adding alcohol was similar to the natural process of fermentation that occurred when the livestock's feed became wet.

In Ravndahl's case, she claims that she got the idea after watching Chef Gordon Ramsay feed beer to pigs. Living in the Okanagan, the idea of feeding wine to cows just seemed like the idea's natural extension. To quote the Sezmu Meats website:

[The cattle] enjoy a diet of grass until they reach a desirable size at which point their diet matures.  Then they are fed a proprietary blend of grains with the human equivalent of a glass of red BC wine every day until production.  Then the beef is dry-aged for 28 days to achieve maximum flavour.

Apparently Michael Allemeier, the former executive chef of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, agrees that the beef is a cut above the rest, and he was the first chef in the Valley to serve it on his menus. Since then, Kelowna's Cabana restaurant has featured the meat, and so too has the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort. Come this summer, diners will be able to find wine-fed beef at the restaurant at Quail's Gate Winery.

Obviously, the animals enjoy the taste of wine. Ravndahl even reports that their general sociability and the volume of their moo-ing increases after a wine-infused meal. (Again, sounds familiar.)

"Not that the type of wine changes the taste of the finished product," she adds.  "But the cattle do seem to prefer a nice, full-bodied, fruit forward Cabernet."

Now for a little cheese, anyone?

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Copyright Cityfood Magazine 2009