Out at the Barcoo outlet Dan Hill and I are discussing the vicissitudes of fashion, especially with regard to eating meat. Whereas at least a couple of decades ago it was deemed almost unsophisticated if you did so – a blokeish, boorish sort of thing aligned to beer-drinking and burping – there has been a resurgence of interest in it, and beef in particular.
Dan Hill and Dhugal Cowen are the boys behind Barcoo Beef, a four-year old family- owned company operating in the Northern Rivers. Some six months ago I had become aware of their meat at Byron Bay’s Green Garage, particularly the fabulously fat sausages and richly marbled cuts of meat in cryovac packs. Both boys come from cattle farms and, according to Dan, their company is ‘all about the wellbeing of the animal. Our cattle remain in the paddock – we put grain in the paddocks and the animals always remain in their natural environments.’ The grain-feed, Dan goes on to tell me, ‘changes the flavour of the meat so it’s a bit sweeter, whereas grass-fed cattle is full- flavoured, the sort of meat your grandparents used to eat.’ So here are cows enjoying the best of both worlds, in a sense – free-ranging across pastures with access to both the big flavour-inducing grasses and the fat-enhancing, sweetening grains. No wonder people are beginning to pay attention. Moreover, the cows are Angus.
I put it to Dan that one of the various reasons for the upswing in the favour of beef has been the popularity, the very fashionability of Wagyu.Wagyu–from‘Wa’meaning Japanese and ‘gyu’ meaning cow – refers to a Japanese beef breed, or several breeds genetically predisposed to intense marbling, the most reliable component of meat taste and tenderness. Originally draught animals selected for their physical endurance, the Japanese Wagyu derived from native Asian cattle which were infused with British and European breeds in the late 1800s. They made their way to Australia in 1991 and now Australian Wagyu bloodlines are considered among the best in the world. The marbling, or intramuscular fat (IMF), results in softer fats and enhanced flavour; correspondingly it is very expensive.
And yet according to Dan ‘with Angus you get more value for your money.’ Dan believes it was Angus which ‘brought beef back into fashion more than Wagyu… 60per cent of Wagyu herds in Australia are crossed with Angus anyway’, he tells me.
I am unable to forget the words of Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement,
in his address at Sydney’s Opera House late last year, to the effect that never before has food been talked about so much. A global obsession, it would appear, with television shows like Masterchef feeding the frenzy. This, too, is contributing to the revival of passion for cooking and eating meat – it is almost as if we paid our dues sufficiently, after 20 or so years focusing austerely on fish and seafood and the joyous versatility of vegetables and white meats like quail, and are now re-embracing the robustness of a good steak or a slow-cooked casserole, or reverting to comforting ‘peasant’ dishes utilising inexpensive cuts like shanks and ox-tails. ‘Flanks are becoming popular’, Dan tells me, ‘they’ve got a lot of flavour – and they’re very lean. People are liking that South American-style of grills…’ He says that a lot of restaurants are serving this particular cut – ‘it’s 90 per cent lean, with no fat.’ He is noticing that ‘people are going back to retro cuts like T-bones… but they are also eating their meat a lot rarer these days, so want something flavoursome and tender… Things like ossobuco are coming back – slow cooking…’
Essentially, what Barcoo is about is trying to bring back value for money. ‘We’re not here to profiteer off a good product’, Dan says, ‘we just want to get a good product out here.’
Barcoo Beef is at 81 Centennial Circuit, Byron Bay, a wholesale outlet where the public can purchase restaurant- and export-quality beef at wholesale prices.