Beef marble score and the drought
Here's a note Rob Lennon at Gundooee Organic Wagyu sent us earlier in the week in response to a question from another butcher about the impact of the drought on the marble score of his beef. We thought you might be interested.
'There is a strong correlation between subcutaneous and intra-muscular (marbling) fat - they both increase at similar rates, although the marbling is determined more specifically by the genetics in a particular animal. What we try to achieve at Gundooee is to ... aim to provide a marble score of 2-4. With the slightly reduced subcutaneous fat levels as a result of the prolonged drought, the marbling similarly eases back a little.
Eating quality, in particular flavour, is however not so much about the marbling for Gundooee beef. The Wagyu industry relies heavily on marbling to determine price points everywhere from carcass to table as marbling is a tangible, visual, and a fair indicator of eating quality for lot-fed beef...but not such a good indicator for slower-growing pasture-fed beef. Gundooee beef has fantastic inter-cellular fat which is where the best flavours come from - it is a much lower melting point fat, and has rich developed flavours. I am sure you have noted that Gundooee carcasses are softer to touch than other carcasses at the same temperature?
For the 15 years that Gundooee has been growing and marketing our style of Wagyu beef, I have come to understand that the hardest part of my business is to articulate (and sell) to consumers this point of difference. Unfortunately, the ‘marbling' has been ingrained indelibly into consumers as the only real indicator of eating quality, but I maintain this to be more accurate for grain-fed beef. It is true that the fat is where the flavour is, wherever it is found in the beef body but it is difficult to market something that the consumer can’t actually see.
It also needs to be understood by Gundooee stockists that despite the farmers all around me having little or no stock left (as they decided they don’t want to or can’t afford to continue feeding their animals), Gundooee (with the help of some Queensland agistment for the cows - breeding stock only) has actually retained full cattle numbers. Further, on Tuesday when I had the older sale cattle scanned for fat, I found we are maintaining reasonable fat levels despite the atrocious conditions…and with only a feed ration of grain and copra meal totalling less than one kg per head per day.
In closing, despite these being such trying times for NSW farmers, I have never been prouder of how I manage my land (and cattle) as I have been this year. For me, maintaining ground cover and having an aggregated, friable and living soil to allow for water and oxygen infiltration is paramount, and it is why I have been able to benefit from the small falls of rain we occasionally receive…and why my hay stack miraculously remains untouched!'