Just a short time ago I was part of a lucky group of food bloggers, media and Canadian beef farmers who were whisked away from downtown Toronto to Niagara wine country for a culinary adventure.
Upon arrival at Niagara College’s Food and Wine Institute, part of their beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, Chef Michael Olson and Canada Beef’s Chef Marty Carpenter led us through a detailed lesson in how to pair various cuts of beef with the most complementary wine.
We began with a sensory exercise where we tasted foods that aren’t beef. While that may sound strange as a first step for a beef tasting, the experience of tasting other foods gave us insights we could then apply to the beef tasting. A couple of prime (beef pun!) examples are tenderness and juiciness.
As my grandfather likes to say when he tastes a perfectly cooked steak, “it’s tender as a woman’s heart”. I appreciate the classic joke he’s been telling since the 50s, but I’ve never been able to describe what “tender” beef really means.
To learn about the tenderness scale and help anchor it in our minds, we tasted some bread as an example of a “1” out of 10 on the tenderness scale, or “very tender”. For a “10” on the tenderness scale we ate some gummy bears, which would be considered “tough”.
Our chefs defined tenderness as the amount of resistance, force and number of chews you need to get the beef ready to swallow. Something that melts in your mouth is therefore low on the tenderness scale, or very tender.
We explored the juiciness scale by sampling banana, cucumber and orange slices.
The banana was a “1” on the juiciness scale or “dry”, while the oranges were a “10” for being juicy and succulent. The cucumber was somewhere in between.
Juiciness is such an important characteristic in food because it affects not only the flavour, but also how the food feels in your mouth.
To evaluate juiciness ask yourself not only how much moisture is in the food when you first bite into it, during chewing and when you swallow it.
Perfect Beef and Wine Pairings
We then had the opportunity to taste 5 expertly curated Canadian beef and Niagara wine pairings, taking time to consider the impact of terroir on not just the wine, but the flavour profile of the beef as well. Just as wine makers pass down traditions over the generations, so do beef farming and ranching families.
My favourite pairing was the beef tenderloin with a beautiful Cabernet Franc. The wine’s ripe tannins, balanced acidity and notes of dark chocolate, blueberry and roasted herbs brought out the flavour of the lean tenderloin. Apparently, young wines with bold flavours pair well with leaner cuts of beef.
At the other end of the spectrum was the rich short rib which pairs well with aged reds. The wine pairing for this was ‘Dream’ wine from Foreign Affair winery, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This wine is full bodied with supple tannins and flavours of ripe cherry, oak and tobacco that pair nicely with the intense meaty flavours of short ribs.
We often hear the term “terroir” used when referring to wine, but it can be applied to beef as well. The soil, climate and feed the cows receive all impact the flavour of the meat.
While all cattle eat grasses most of their lives, cattle raised in Western Canada are then fed barley and wheat while cows in Eastern Canada are fed corn.
As someone whose knowledge of beef and wine pairings is limited to “red goes with beef”, this event taught me so much. It really opened my eyes (and palate) to the complexity of flavour in various cuts of Canadian beef and how different wine pairings can bring out even more nuances.
As if the amazing tasting wasn’t enough of a treat, Canada Beef hosted an incredible 3 course lunch. I can guarantee that no one went away hungry!
For more information about Canadian Beef, visit the Canada Beef website.
To find out more about the different cuts of beef and how to cook them to perfection, check out Canada Beef’s Roundup App. I used it to make some unbelievably delicious braised short ribs that my taste-testers insist is the best meal I’ve ever made!
You can also read about my experience using the Canada Beef Roundup App to guide me through choosing the right cut at the grocery store and cooking it like a chef.