There are hundreds of branded and private label beef programs on the market claiming to be unique in some way. Of these, about 80 brands are actually “certified” by the USDA validating what they say they are. Many of these brands also claim to be some kind of “Angus” or “Black Angus” beef.
Clad with witty logos, nice packaging and a clever back story, most buyers believe they are buying Angus quality beef when it says “Angus” on the label. Yet of the 50+ “USDA Certified Angus” programs, only 35 of them actually carry the requirement for genetically confirmed Angus cattle.
How can this be?
In 1996, the USDA created the GLA Schedule which specifies the characteristics of cattle eligible for approved beef programs claiming Angus influence. The USDA certifies Angus programs based on either the way the animal looks or by the actual genetics of the animal. The meat business terms for these clarifications are Phenotype and Genotype.
Phenotype Angus certifications require the cattle to look like an Angus breed by being 51% or more solid black, but in reality they may not actually be Angus. The simplified analogy here is: if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck!
Genotype Angus certifications require the cattle actually have traceable Angus genetics. In this case: I know you’re a duck because your DNA confirms you’re a duck!
It used to be visually simple to tell one breed of cattle from another before the boom of modern crossbreeding techniques – today, not so much.
Not all cattle breeds are created equal; beef quality and consistency are heavily influenced by genetics. Hereford and Angus (British Breeds) were known to be quality bred for centuries. However, many other breeds were developed for different purposes such as climate/heat tolerance, dairy and draft uses.These breeds, such as Brahman, Holstein and Limousin, perform well for their primary task but are inconsistent in their meat quality.
There are over 80 cattle breeds used in the U.S. beef supply today. Advances in crossbreeding technology and animal husbandry, now provide black hided cattle with very little true Angus quality. This is how breeds such as the 51+ black Holstein and Simmental, can qualify as Angus under the Phenotype program.
Hankering for Angus
Why is Angus beef so desirable? Pure and simple, it is the most consistent performing beef on the market.
Angus (and Hereford) cattle have superior genetics that produce better quality meat in terms of tenderness and fat (marbling). It stems from the way their genetics control a protein called myostatin which inhibits the growth of muscle in cattle. Angus cattle have more myostatin, which makes their meat fattier and more marbled. The superior genetics of Angus beef tends to have more finely textured marbling, which makes it even more tender compared to other breeds.
How to Find Authentic Angus
Start by researching the “G-Schedule” registered with the USDA. Choose a USDA Certified branded Angus program that carries a Genotype GLA live animal requirement.
Brands such as Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef and Certified Angus Beef have USDA verified/certified programs that ensure their Angus branded beef do, in fact, have the required Angus genetics.
Know the Faux: Angus brands, which carry the Phenotype GLA live animal requirement, only confirms the animals have more than 50% black hides. These are exactly the type of beef programs, which could be faux Angus, when expecting the quality beef benefits of actual Angus genetics. Use this link to verify beef programs: USDA Certified Beef Programs.
Another important attribute to look for in branded Angus programs is “Maturity”. As cattle age, their beef quality becomes less desirable.
The USDA categorizes the chronological age into Maturity Categories:A, B, C, D, E. “A” Maturity carcasses are 9 to 30 months old, “B” Maturity are 31 to 42 months old. USDA Prime, Choice, and Select graded beef can only be A and B Maturity. Carcasses older than 42 months are considered Commercial, Cutter and Canner grades.
The better USDA Certified Beef programs use only “A” Maturity beef in their program because the younger animals have more desirable muscle quality and tenderness.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Chefs and restaurateurs want to make sure their customers have a delightful eating experience every time they dine. When it comes to beef, there are many variables to keep in mind including, USDA grade, breed of animal, aging and trim specifications that are important before the meat is prepared by the Chef.
One of the best ways to eliminate the variations in quality is to start with a USDA Certified beef program that carries the Genotype GLA genetic Angus confirmation. Then make sure you work with a local meat purveyor who will properly age the beef for you to help ensure the most desirable and consistent taste and tenderness possible.