Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Steak Tasting at St. Jamestown Steaks & Chops

I was invited by Joel (@foodie411) from Community Foodist to a steak tasting this past Sunday at St. Jamestown Steak & Chops. I know you are all jealous, how could you not be? Well, unless you're a vegetarian but otherwise, a "steak tasting"?! No way was I missing this. My close friends all know me; I can easily devour a 16oz steak, preferably blue rare, without hesitation. However, whether or not I can function afterwards is an entirely different story.

Let's start this post off with a teaser pic.

Drooling yet? Vegetarians are going to hate me. Yup.

Anyway, a little bit about St. Jamestown Steak & Chops. It is a butcher shop located in Cabbagetown - actually it is a butcher shop on one side and a deli on the other. The deli has a very homey, old-fashioned atmosphere. From breakfast until dinner, they serve all sorts of deli and prepared foods.

House-made classics such as egg salad sandwiches, grilled cheese, quiches, home-made soups and stews are all perfect for those looking for a quick bite. 

A variety of imported artisinal cheeses at the counter.

As well as various fresh baked pastries, cookies, desserts...



...and olive oils. Here we have Angelo Tramonti from Sarafino setting up the olive oil tasting.

St. Jamestown Steak & Chops is really a one-stop shop - not only does it offer a wide variety of meats, it also has a wide selection of seasonal produce, groceries, rubs, marinades, fresh fruits...really all the "accessories" that you may need, for let's say, a barbecue. Or if you are too lazy to entertain a big group, St. Jamestown Steak & Chops also does catering.

We took advantage of the patio that day...such beautiful weather :)

Before the steak tasting, Mark Michelin, owner of St. Jamestown Steak & Chops, served us some smoked salmon that literally came out of the smoker only minutes ago. The salmon had a strong yet wonderful smoky flavour.


Garlic butter and lemon dill butter for our bread.

Once the steaks were ready, our group was led to "the back" of the butcher shop. And as you all know, "the back" always has the good stuff!

Since this was a blind taste test, we collectively decided that the piece being cut would be "A" and the other piece wouldl be "B".

I bet all of you are wondering by now "what the heck are you blind tasting anyway?"

Answer: Dry-aged vs. Wet-aged Beef. Which one is which? And which one did we like better?

This is "A"

This is "B"

We had some asparagus with our steaks... well as Yorkshire pudding! I hardly get to eat Yorkshire pudding so I was happy to see a whole basket of them.

So what IS the difference between dry-aged and wet-aged beef? 

From an article written by Tom Mylan, executive butcher and co-owner of the local, sustainable butcher shop The Meat Hook in Brooklyn, NY, he explains:

"Aging is the process during which microbes and enzymes act upon the meat to help break down the connective tissue, for the sake of making the aforementioned meat object more tender. Whether it happens in a bag or out in the air as a big swinging side of beef, that element of the process is the same (okay, almost the same).

During wet aging, the plastic doesn't allow the meat to breathe, so it ages in contact with its own blood, which lends it "a more intense sour note and a more bloody/serumy flavor," according to the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. This sounds a bit negative when you're talking about the flavor of a steak, but the fact that upwards of 90 percent of the beef taken home by American grocery store shoppers in plastic-wrapped foam trays is wet-aged seems to suggest that it can't be all bad. 

Dry aging, on the other hand, allows the meat to breathe, lose water (which increases its "beefiness" since there is now less water and but the same amount of muscle fiber), and get acted upon by other microbes beside those of the muscle itself. Those other microbes are the long, threadlike mycelia of various airborne fungi that begin to digest the meat, giving an aged loin its distinctive flavor, aroma, and fuzzy exterior."

I gotta admit, I did not know any of the above information before going to St. Jamestown Steak & Chops that day (I only did the research now). In a way, it is a good thing that I went in clueless; I think if I have read about it, I would be too busy trying to guess which one is which, rather than just picking the steak I like more. After tasting both pieces, with the asparagus as the divider between A on the left and B on the right, I chose A as I thought the texture of B was tighter and chewier. The majority of people also preferred A.

Mark Michelin revealed to afterwards that A = wet-aged and B = dry-aged. 

With all that meat in our stomachs, it was time for dessert. Cheesecake and red velvet cake for every one!

Got a bag of goodies to take home. Excited to try the different olive oils and that jar of hot whiskey mustard!

So what's the conclusion? Is dry-aged better? Or wet-aged? This is how Mylan ends his article in the Atlantic:

"What everything eventually comes down to is personal preference. I prefer meat that has been hung about two weeks because I like to taste the beef, not the age. My customers, however, demand that we dry age their steaks five weeks and beyond. They have come to associate the taste and texture of well-aged meat with having the true steakhouse experience at home. To further complicate matters, one of the best steaks I have ever eaten was off a 100-percent grass-fed animal that was hung for two weeks, then put into vacuum pack for two more weeks. 

What does all of this tell us? That the best kind of aged meat is the kind that you, as an individual, like best. Whether it's a wet, bloody T-bone or an eight-week-old New York strip that tastes like bleu cheese, the customer is always right."

For the latest news and happenings in Cabbagetown, you can visit Cabbagetown News