The last time I was in a classroom, I was analyzing the significance of windows in Wuthering Heights. Three weeks ago, however, I found myself seated in a meat science and technology building with a beef carcass being escorted into the room by an apron-clad man with knives in his tool belt and a hook in his hand. My front row seat was physically and aesthetically miles away from my social media hub back in NC, but there I was at Center of the Plate Training® – trading ‘likes’ for longissimus and Instagram for infraspinatus.
Center of the Plate is a three-day crash course in meat, starting with the leg of a cow and ending at the gill of a snapper. This course is designed to educate members of the meat industry on all center-of-the-plate proteins: beef, veal, lamb and pork, as well as poultry, processed meats and seafood. Attendees were given a copy of The Meat Buyer’s Guide and watched as it came to life, with the Guide acting as our roadmap, Davey Griffin as the driver and Steve Olson as the rambunctious tour guide leading us through this full-immersion experience of converting carcasses into cuts.
Such training is perfect for someone like me who is a member of the generation least-educated about meat – I believe you’ve heard of us…we’re Millennials. During these sessions I was able to give my Google search a rest as all my meat questions were answered right before my eyes. Snapchat, however, did not get a rest. For you non-Millennial readers, Snapchat is a photo sharing app that I usually use to share puppy photos, but while at training my followers received these gems:
Aside from “Dr. Davey” hacking away at hunks of meat and slivers of fat, most interesting was the insight and comedic commentary coming from our 5’3” lively Italian instructor. Steve has been doing this gig for years, and from the start I knew we were going to leave that classroom with mounds of information! With this being his last year in the saddle, we were the lucky class to witness his swan song, complete with descriptions of up-and-coming cuts, how certain cuts should be prepared and the best way to become an American (barbeque, of course!).
Here are some of the key takeaways:
The Spinalis, also known as the Ribeye cap, was the most-talked-about cut of the week. This cut combines the flavor of a ribeye with the tenderness of tenderloin, getting the attention of chefs, butchers and consumers, and earning its place as the future of meat. The Baseball cut (top portion of the Top Sirloin) also received a lot of hype – it was no secret this was Steve’s favorite.
Although a label may make a very specific claim – perhaps that the cattle is fed a special diet of flax seed or is a specific breed such as Angus – but how do you really know? Certain claims cannot be detected from the carcass alone; it must undergo a verification process that supports its genotype and/or other claims. (This is definitely something to keep in the old noggin while perusing the meat case.)
Let’s Get Veal
When it comes to veal, color is key: grayish pink is what you’re looking for. It’s also important to know how veal is raised and finished. As a young animal whose rumens (stomachs) aren’t fully-functioning, milk is an important part of their early diet. Special care is taken as grain and grass are introduced to their diet in order to ensure desired finished size and fat content.
Lamb on the Rise
Steve said, “Wake up, lamb! There are a lot of things you can do!” And the restaurant industry is listening. Lamb is appearing on more menus, even those serving brunch! Mimosas and lamb, anyone? An increased interest in lamb can be attributed to a growing desire for ethnic cuisine and adventurous flavors (you can thank Millennials for that!).
Because I have acquired knowledge that combats the common stereotype of Millennials at the meat case, I can now write about meat in a way that goes beyond “Hey! Try this!” Rather than simply sharing a certain recipe on Facebook , I now understand how that culinary application works, why it incorporates a certain cut, and what kind of flavor can be expected because it came from a specific muscle.
I returned home with a plethora of meat knowledge to apply to my work, my grocery shopping and my cocktail party conversations (that was Steve’s idea).
Thank you, North American Meat Institute, for organizing an educational (and entertaining) week of Center of the Plate Training®, and a big thank you to Steve Olson and Davey Griffin for bringing carcasses to life!