This week we feature an article by Chris Kresser. It’s a great article on winemaking and the health benefits and risks of wine.
The following are three general rules, and 5 specific rules that will suit you well as you drink your way through our wines…
The sheer volume of books and websites that exist to explain “the rules” of how to pair wines is astounding, which is why our General Rule #1 is the correct starting point.
There are no rules – only suggestions and personal preferences. If you like a combo you’ve had before, run with it. Experiment and Enjoy! If you have a glass of wine in your hand, realize how lucky you are and enjoy every drop.
If you’re cooking a recipe typical of a certain wine region, stick with wine from the same region. The foods of a country and the wines of a country have a historic bond that forms part of that country’s
When thinking of how to pair a food, concentrate on the dominant flavour. That means that how a meat is prepared is usually more important than the type of meat itself. Chicken with a lemon butter sauce will call for a different more delicate wine to play off the sauce than a grilled chicken breast smothered in a spicy BBQ sauce. So broad statements that say a certain meat pairs well with a certain wine are only sometimes correct. The key is to think about the dominant flavour.
Pair a dry Rosé when serving a wide range of Hors D’oevres. A Rosé combines the crispness of a white with the fruitiness of a red, so it will pair well with the variety of flavours being served.
Acid needs acid. If squeezing a lemon on the food you’re serving is a good idea, pair with a light, acidic, unoaked white. A pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc will be perfect.
Our pick: Perlage Pinot Grifio delle Venezie IGT
Heat needs sweet. e.g. Riesling with spicy Indian food.
Our pick: Southbrook Connect Organic White
Earthy needs earthy. e.g. Mushrooms, bison or venison pair beautifully with Pinot Noirs.
In today’s blog post we’re featuring an article entitled “Has Local Gone Too Far?” by Jonathan Silver, a local writer, activist, and food philosopher.
No doubt, “buy local” is a contentious issue; the demand for foods labelled in some way “local” has exploded from virtually zero in the 80s to almost mandatory today. That said, the same people that absolutely demand local and shun people who don’t look demand local also buy oranges, kiwi and coconuts, use olive oil daily, and will wear clothes from the far reaches of the Globe.
Jonathan’s article puts things into perspective. Yes, buying local is great for many reasons but it isn’t the be all and end all. It simply is one of many values we must weigh when making a purchasing decision. Organic vs. Local vs. GMO-free vs. Ethically Raised vs. Grassfed vs. Free of Chemicals and the list goes on – all of which have merits.
At The Healthy Butcher, without a doubt we prioritize local when a quality, Organically-produced or raised product is available. But that’s not the case. Our 100% Grassfed Wagyu Beef imported from Firstlight Farms in New Zealand has easily become our best selling beef… why wouldn’t it, it fills a void we don’t have in Ontario. And our vote is to buy Organic imported strawberries over sprayed conventional local strawberries every time (especially because strawberries are always one of the dirty dozen, see: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php).
The importance of eating locally grown food has gained a strong presence in public consciousness—perhaps its presence is a little too strong. Being local is often considered the ultimate indicator of ethical food. But, in truth, local is just one of many factors we need to weigh in before putting an item into our grocery basket.
When a grocery store, a food package or even a farmer tells you that a product is locally grown, locally made or locally crafted, why is that a reason for buying it? To answer that question, it’s helpful to start from the bottom, by asking the most basic question: What does “local” even mean?
“Local” means, in the most basic sense, that the product you’re holding didn’t come from afar. But that raises another question: What counts as far away? A person who prefers Ontario-grown tomatoes might think tomatoes from Mexico are grown far away, yet another person might even avoid Ontario-grown tomatoes if they grow tomatoes in their backyard. Putting that question aside, it’s safe to say that if we want local food, what we really want is food that isn’t from too far away, whatever “far away” means.
So the next question we need to ask is why don’t we want food that comes from far away? Or to put it the other way around: Why do want food that comes from close by? There are many answers to this question. Let’s look at a few of them.
Food from afar must travel long distances to get to us, and that uses fossil fuels. The idea seems simple: if you eat food that travels less distance from where it’s grown to where it’s processed to where it’s eaten, you will consume less fossil fuels.
But if you’re just interested in using less fossil fuels, sometimes it makes sense to buy the apple grown further away if it travelled a more fuel efficient journey on a freighter truck than the apple grown nearby that travelled an inefficient journey in the farmer’s van that got caught in stop-and-go city traffic. Mass freighting can create efficiencies in carbon expenditure that you don’t get with small-scale freighting.
Another reason to buy food from nearby is to keep money in your community. If you spend $100 on locally grown food, then a good part of that money will stay in the hands of local businesses, where local residents can use it to make local purchases again and again. When you buy imported foods, you’re paying for distributors and importers and wholesalers and insurers and warehouses who often have their head offices and shareholders outside your community, or even outside your country. Buying local food keeps money in your community; buying food from afar funnels money out of your community.
But if keeping money in community hands is what matters most to you, then sometimes you may be better off buying non-local food from a locally owned business instead of a locally grown product sold in Walmart.
Perhaps you like buying local food because small supply chains make it easier for you to know where your food is coming from. There’s something reassuring in holding an Ontario-grown apple in your hand—you can put some trust in the labour and farming practices that went into growing that fruit. Getting the backstory on foods from afar can be incredibly difficult or impossible.
But you don’t need to travel far away to find agricultural and labour practices you don’t like. GMO crops, inhumanely raised animals, heavy chemical footprints (think herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides) and monocultures all exist in Ontario. So if you buy local in hopes of avoiding practices you don’t like, sometimes the imported option will be the better one.
A lesser-known reason for choosing local is for the health benefits. Many nutrients degrade during transport (e.g. antioxidants oxidize), and many distantly-grown foods are bred for transportability instead of nutritional content. But if nutritional content is what you’re after, then sometimes it makes sense to choose the non-local option. For example, if you’re trying to make the most nutritious tomato sauce, then you’re better off going with imported canned tomatoes than locally grown tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are pasteurized and this process makes their lycopene content more bioavailable(1) than the lycopene in fresh tomatoes (lycopene might reduce risk of cardiovascular disease).
As you can see, buying local is about buying foods produced nearby, and there are many reasons why being grown nearby is important. I’ve listed a few of those reasons, but there’s a long list of other considerations: developing local food culture, creating a market for local varieties (which improves biodiversity!), having access to better information about varietals (“Is this tomato an Atomic Red or a Bolero?”), and building social relationships with food producers and manufacturers.
As if making good food choices isn’t complicated enough, other factors often weigh in and make things more complicated. As a conscious eater, no doubt you’ve experienced this before: You’re standing in the grocery store trying to decide between two options. There’s a pint of certified organic strawberries grown in California and there’s a pint of non-organic strawberries grown locally. Which do you buy: local or organic?
What’s happening in this scenario is you have to make a value calculation. There are two values weighing in on your decision—your value for local food and your value for organic food. This is why it’s important to get clear on just why local is important to you. Do you want local because you want to minimize your carbon footprint, or because you want to support local farmers, or because of another reason? If you want local mostly because you want to support local farmers, you can put down the Californian strawberries.
These complicated scenarios are ubiquitous in our food choices. Do you go for the locally produced GMO soy milk or the imported organic soy milk? Do you prefer the local butter produced by cows fed on GMO corn or the imported butter produced with cream from grass-fed cows? In the winter, do you eat pesticide-intensive greenhouse-grown local strawberries or organic strawberries trucked from Mexico? In February, do you eat local corn-fed beef or grass-fed beef imported from New Zealand? (Remember, grass doesn’t grow during Ontario’s winter months…and hopefully it never does)
Once you know your reasons for buying local, you’re in a better position to choose the food option that most aligns with your values—whether that option is local or not.
Making these decisions can feel overwhelming. But there’s good news! There’s no right answer in these scenarios. When we’re forced to make these sorts of calculations, we have to pick and choose the criteria that are most important to us based on our values. So instead of getting hung up on what is the right decision, try getting clear about what you value and which options align with those values.
If you’re interested in making ethical food choices, then it’s crucial to understand that “local” is just one of many factors to consider when evaluating options at the grocery store or farmers’ market. But it’s tough to dig up information on our food and make value-based calculations. The best way to avoid all this confusion is to make fewer decisions; find a trustworthy grocer who can answer your questions, and let them do the deliberating for you
Jonathan Silver is an activist and food philosopher. He tweets @silverjonsilver.
(1) Shi, J. 2000. “Lycopene in tomatoes chemical and physical properties affected by food processing”. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 40 (1): 1-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11192026
This week we are encouraging you to get your voices heard in regards to new legislation that’s currently being debated in the House of Commons.
Private Members Bill C-291 would make it mandatory to label genetically engineered foods (“GMO”) as genetically modified.
At issue here is not whether GMO foods are safe, but providing the information to you, the consumer, to make informed decisions. 100% Transparency is the foundation upon which The Healthy Butcher and RealFoodToronto.com have been built, so needless to say we are in favour of Bill C-291, and we hope you are as well.
The bill was first debated for an hour on March 10, 2017 in the House of Commons. The second hour of debate is scheduled for May 5, 2017. Will your MP vote YES to Bill C-291?
The reality, from our meat-heavy perspective, is that the ultimate wording of the Bill won’t go far enough. As proposed, the Bill is a shell with very little detail. If it were to get to the next stage, the Committee stage, then the wording and details would, presumably, be hashed out. But if the wording falls in line with other legislation internationally, animals that were fed GMO corn would not be labelled as such – totally unfortunate. Nonetheless, Canada has nothing now.
Sixty-four other countries around the world require labelling of genetically modified foods, but not Canada – and that’s pitiful. We hope you have your voices heard.
The CBAN website (http://cban.ca/take-action/label-gm-foods/) has all the information you need as well as steps you can take to be involved. This is an important step in food transparency.
I was invited to speak at Home Delivery World 2017 in Atlanta this past week on the topic of consumer adoption to online groceries. I was honoured to share the stage with an all-Canadian cast: Egil Nielsen (Penguin Pick-up & Penguin Fresh), Lawrence Farbman (WineOnline.ca), and Chris Bryson (Unata) all innovators in their field. Truth be told, this conference was one of the most enlightening conferences I’ve attended in quite some time. Enlightening mainly because it is abundantly clear that we’ve only now reached an inflection point in grocery home delivery, and the industry that I’ve been in since 2012 with RealFoodToronto.com is about to move from driving on a city street to the fast lane on the Autobahn. Of course, grocery delivery isn’t a new concept per se… the milk man was around long before the iPhone. But the combination of today’s technology and consumer adoption leads to projections like these: In 2017, 1 in 3 people will order groceries online; by 2020, online sales overall will reach $4 trillion (USD); and by 2025 online groceries will make up 20% of all grocery sales. These are serious numbers that will make every grocer, no matter how large or antiquated their current processes, wake up and hire new IT teams. To add more ammunition to the battlefield, traditional grocers are joined by innovative small companies (like mine), pure play online grocers, and of course let’s not overlook the real disrupting forces – Amazon and Google. In this article I will quickly summarize the various models that exist in the grocery delivery market (the “how” and “when” as I like to call them), and then in the next article I’ll move to the points of differentiation (the “what” and “why”).
In essence there are two variables that determine the model of all online grocery companies: (1) How the groceries reach the customer; and (2) When the groceries reach the customer. And I limit my discussion to fresh groceries only – like produce, fresh meat, fresh fish, etc. The e-commerce industry that offers and ships non-perishable food products, or for that matter frozen meat that’s shipped in insulated containers via traditional shipping companies, is a whole other industry completely that will have to compete with Amazon for a slice of the pie now and for the distant foreseeable future. But the game changes once you add delicate peaches and fresh steaks to the mix.
When you combine the various options of how groceries can reach customers with when the groceries can reach customers, you get 24 variations, and the logistical operations will change drastically from one extreme to another. And as I’ve indicated in the diagram, generally as you move to the top of the “how” and “when” columns the cost of providing that service will increase. I could add more models by simply adding a “where” column – as in where the groceries are coming from, the two options being from existing retail stores versus dedicated fulfillment centres.
RealFoodToronto.com offers home delivery to the door as well as click & collect in-store (The Healthy Butcher locations) and independent attended pickup locations (Penguin Pick-up). And to achieve some solid operational efficiencies those “how’s” are paired with either same-day or scheduled next day time slots. Penguin Pick-up is worth pointing out specifically as it is an example of innovative Canadian thinking that is poised for serious success worldwide as it will level the playing ground between the massive grocery chains and independent grocers. Penguin Pick-up is owned by SmartCentres, Canada’s largest developer/operator of shopping centres, currently has 54 locations with the majority being in the Greater Toronto Area. I couldn’t possibly provide the same click & collect convenience as, let’s say, Loblaws, but by offering pick-up to Penguin, I have effectively added dozens of convenient locations for pick-up around Toronto. But more than that, they aggregate orders of many companies so that when a customer picks up, they can be picking up groceries, apparel, electronics, housewares, etc from many retailers while keeping costs of delivery down to manageable levels.
E-Grocery is no doubt a complicated industry. The food industry operates on extremely slim margins, and no matter the model a company uses, there are added costs. I personally feel that consumers are ready to accept the added costs, or at least some of them for the gain of time and convenience. Everything you do currently when you drive to a typical grocery store is now being shifted to the e-Grocers. Someone or something needs to pick products off shelves, those products need to be amalgamated, and then delivered somehow to the selected destination. The next few years will be exciting to be a part of, as we’ll see a lot of innovation. What I certainly hope we don’t see is Amazon, Walmart, and major grocers, get caught up in a race to the bottom when it comes to recouping at least some of the added costs. It is a race that nobody will win.
First and foremost, understand that meat is muscle. As a result, the easy-to-understand and easy-to-remember rule is: Regularly used muscles will result in tougher meat, while lesser used muscles will result in tender meat. Muscles can be split up into two categories: Locomotive or Support. Locomotive muscles allow the animal to move, like the fore and hind limbs, and are always used and generally tough. Support muscles, on the other hand, are not exercised to the extent of locomotive muscles; examples of support muscles are those from the rib, loin, and sirloin section.
Let’s take a deeper look at muscle tissue. Muscles are made up of three parts: fibres, connective tissue and fat. The more a muscle is used, the greater number of protein filaments within the fibre, and therefore the tougher the muscle will be. Connective tissue is mainly made up of protein called collagen. The more a muscle is used, the thicker and tougher the connective tissue – mainly the collagen – needs to be, and therefore the tougher the muscle will be. Fat in meat is actually just another form of connective tissue. However, the more intramuscular fat there is (called “marbling” in meat lingo), the more perceived tenderness a cut of meat will have because fat acts as lubrication when chewing and aids in the separation of fibres.
Tenderness is a complex trait. Do you determine tenderness using an objective machine, or do you rely on subjective humans to determine tenderness? The truth probably lies in some complex amalgamation of the two.
The most common objective test is called the Warner-Bratzler shear force test. In this test, a device records the amount of force required to shear a piece of cooked meat. On the subjective side, we would take human judges, let them eat pieces of meat, and allow them to rank cuts based on ease of chewing. Not surprisingly, the results of the two tests are completely different. As seen in the table below, three out of the top five most tender cuts are different! For the purposes of this article, we will just pretend we live in a perfect world where we, and all machines, agree to what tenderness actually is.
|MOST TENDER as determined by Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test
||MOST TENDER as determined by panel
SOURCE: Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness, by Chris R Calkin, Ph. D. and Gary Sullivan, University of Nebraska
Don’t confuse the age of an animal with “ageing meat”, discussed below. In general, the amount and overall toughness of connective tissue within muscles increases as animals get older. So the meat from younger animals will be – all other factors being equal – more tender than that of older animals.
It has been proven that stress in transport, yarding, handling and slaughter has a major impact on the ultimate tenderness of meat. This is one of the areas that The Healthy Butcher does very well relative to most competitors. First off, we simply won’t deal with a farmer if we know that the animals will be transported long distances and improperly handled during the transport. It is remarkable, actually thoroughly disgusting, when you realize how far conventional animals travel in a cramped truck to get to an abattoir. The transfer alone plays a huge role in the ultimate quality of the meat. Once the animals arrive at an abattoir, good abattoirs will have a pen where the animals can rest for a period of time; preferably enough time so that the animals become comfortable in their environment.
Fat plays multiple roles in meat. First, the intramuscular fat or marbling improves tenderness by acting as a lubricant between meat fibres making the fibres easier to pull apart. Fat also stimulates the flow of saliva which has the effect of further stimulating taste and further increasing tenderness or perception of tenderness. Fat also provides some protection against overcooking.
The feed given to an animal indirectly affects tenderness. Firstly, an animal – let’s say a beef – that is fed a diet of corn and grains will, generally, gain more fat. As we have learned, fat will increase tenderness. Secondly, animals that are fed a corn and grain diet tend to gain weight faster and will be slaughtered at a younger age; younger animals are naturally more tender.
Genetic make-up of animals is one of the most important factors in determining the muscular structure of an animal, and therefore the tenderness of individual muscles. More importantly, different breeds will respond differently to different feed programs… Angus beef for example, develops a good amount of marbling when it is finished on grains, and as we have learned above, the marbling increases perceived tenderness. In the beef industry, for example, there are specialized farms that own highly prized bulls and cows and they sell and ship semen and embryos around the world for lots of money.
Above we explained that meat – muscle tissue – is made up of fibres, connective tissue and fat. The level of fat is determined by the type of animal and its diet. Once a piece of meat is on our plate, there’s little we can do to increase the fat within the muscle. We could lard it or “bard it”, but we won’t get into that here. So that leaves dealing with the fibres and connective tissue – and that’s what ageing, marinating, proper cooking, and slicing across the grain accomplish.
It’s time to dispel some misunderstandings about what “aged meat” is and is not. To do this, let’s simply group all meat available for purchase into three categories: (1) not aged; (2) Wet Aged; and (3) Dry Aged. We’ll start with the latter since it is, in our opinion, the most important.
Dry Ageing is a lost art. It is the process of hanging meat, usually the whole carcass or large portions, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a period of time. During this hanging time, two important processes are at work. First, the natural enzymes begin to break down the fibres of the muscle, and in turn tenderize the meat. Second, the water or moisture in the meat evaporates – which is why we refer to the process as “dry ageing”. The loss of water will have the effect of concentrating the flavour of the meat; upwards of 20% of weight can be lost during dry ageing which adds to the final price tag. Paradoxically, the loss of water actually makes for moister meat when cooked. When wet meat, or meat that is not dry aged, is cooked the water in the meat expands as the temperature rises during cooking, thereby stretching the fibres of the meat and leaching out between them. Further, if you plan on freezing your meat then meat that has been dry ages will freeze better – less water in the meat means less freezer burn. Up until the 1960s, dry ageing meat was the standard. Of course, there is a huge cost to dry ageing – both because there is a significant loss of weight (and meat is sold by weight) and cost of storing the meat in refrigerated environments. The result of dry ageing beef, when done properly, for at least two weeks but preferably four weeks, is a nutty smelling steak that is tender and has a concentrated, complex beefy taste that is unmistakeable and delectable.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is not ageing meat at all. In today’s modern meat processing industry, the standard is to break the carcass down and vacuum-seal the meat in plastic bags within 24 hours. Cuts of meat will usually be on grocery store shelves for sale within two-to-four days after harvest. The result of non-aged beef is iron- or bloody-tasting meat that is fairly tough unless you’re picking only tenderloin and a couple other muscles.
Wet Ageing is the industry term used for keeping the meat in the vacuum bags for longer periods of time. Industry experts are quick to point out that the tenderizing effect still takes place because the enzymes are still at work breaking down muscle tissue. While that is true, let’s call a spade a spade, the meat is essentially marinating in its own blood. Not only will the flavour of the meat not concentrate as it does in the dry ageing process, but I have yet to taste a wet aged steak that doesn’t taste somewhat iron-like.
It is important to point out that most meat that is dry aged is beef – and there is a reason for that. Younger animals such as pork, lamb and veal do not take well to lengthy dry ageing as they are unlikely to have the fat covering or the marbling to protect the meat from becoming rotten. Even 100%
Further, there are many beef that do not take well to dry ageing. Case in point is a lot of the local 100% grassfed beef we sell. This beef, which is usually leaner, has to be very carefully dry aged for the same reason as above.
The main point to remember is that ageing beef or any meat is an art, and thankfully it is not a lost art because of the few quality butchers shops in Toronto that realize our experience of food is important and it is not all about selling cheap food.
Using a liquid or powdered tenderizing agent can, in some cases, be very effective – and in other cases useless. By far, the most common method of tenderizing involves marinating meat in some form of acidic liquid, such as vinegar. Such marinades are fairly slow in their ability to tenderize and require lengthy marinade times, so the overall effectiveness is questionable. Tea, which contains a lot of tannins, can also be used to naturally tenderize meat.
The most effective of the marinating techniques involves the use of enzymes, the two most popular being papain and bromelain. Papain is found in papaya fruits, and bromelaine is found in pineapple plants. These enzymes act by breaking down the collagen in meat.
The problem with marinade tenderizers in general is that only the surface of the meat is fully exposed to the marinade. Usually, the result is meat that is mushy on the outside and unaffected on the inside. Ultimately, we are not proponents of marinating to increase tenderness. If you are using a marinade to tenderize, then limit your choice of cuts to thin ones that can benefit from tenderizing, like flank and skirt steak for example.
Beating a piece of meat senseless can be quite effective at improving tenderness, in addition to having a Zen-like effect to the beater… a la Rocky Balboa. The only problem is that the meat will look like you’ve beaten it senseless.
The most common tenderizering tool is a meat mallet. Generally speaking, meat mallets are two-sided, with one side being flat, the other set with rows of pyramid-shaped spikes. By hammering at the meat, the fibers will be softened, thereby making the meat easier to chew, it will also allow you to make cuts thinner and wider. If you’re goal is to make tender cutlets or schnitzel, then look no further than this method.
The other form of tenderizer uses blades that are designed to puncture the meat and cut the fibres. Such tenderizers exist both in small hand-form tools, as well as large machines used in processing plants. Blade tenderizing can be an effective tenderizing method, but used only on cuts that truly need the help. If anyone uses a blade tenderizer on any of the dry aged steaks from The Healthy Butcher, you will be banned from the store. 😉
Of course, grinding meat is the ultimate method of mechanical tenderization – used to turn otherwise very tough cuts of meat into extremely tender sausages and burgers.
OK let’s keep this section simple because it is a huge topic and one we have dealth with already…
Recall, we explained that muscle is made up of muscle fibres. These fibres are bundled together in strands. If you cut meat parallel to its fibre you can plainly see the fibre bundles with the naked eye, stacked up like the wall of a log cabin. If you cut across the fibre bundles, called “cutting across the grain”, you can see the ends of each bundle. It is always easier to pull the bundles apart than it is to cut them. So, by far the easiest method of tenderizing meat is to simply slice across the grain, as thin slices as possible. When you chew this sliced meat you will need to cut less of the fibre bundles with your teeth, making the bite easier to chew. In other words, the goal is to slice meat across the grain, in order to chew with the grain.
Age, stress, fat content, feed, and genetics all play a role in determining meat tenderness. Should we avoid tougher muscles? Absolutely not, on the contrary, those muscles are the tastiest. The key is to pick the appropriate cooking method for the cut you are cooking. The rule is that tougher meat requires slow, moist cooking methods (such as braising, stewing and boiling); such cooking techniques loosen connective tissue creating tender, juicy, and tasty meat. On the other hand, the more tender cuts of meat from lesser used muscles can be cooked with dry heat methods (such as grilling, roasting, and broiling). If you are grilling tertiary cuts, like Flank, Tri Tip, and Flat Iron, slice thin across the grain. Limit the use of chemical and mechanical tenderizing methods; if you are buying quality meat, it deserves better treatment.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. This book is the bible of gastronomical science
Ranking of Beef Muscles for Tenderness, by Chris R Calkin, Ph. D. and Gary Sullivan, University of Nebraska