Tasting Terroir In A Surprising Way

Which rib-eye will be victorious?

Its flavor was straightforward. Perhaps a little mushroomy. Maybe a little gamey. And as I swallowed, the finish lingered moderately so.

Nope, it wasn’t a glass of Pinot Noir that I was tasting blindly.

It was a rib-eye steak, of all things.

It was a steak-off in the comfort of my own home, where I tasted four different rib-eye steaks from four different ranches, without knowing which one was which. If you’re used to just chewing without giving it much thought, tasting meat in this way is an eye-opening, palate-awakening experience. When you concentrate on texture (or body), flavors, and finish, just as you do with wine, you pick up a spectrum of nuances you might otherwise miss.

The box of meat.

Santa Rosa-based Oliver Ranch invites you to experience it for yourself. The company, which sources sustainably raised beef from across the country, has created a tasting pack of steaks, each from a different rancher. Choose from filet mignon, New York strip, top sirloin, or rib-eye packages. Prices start at $79.95.

Cook each steak the same way, then taste, jotting down notes with the handy tasting guide that comes with each kit. At the end, you can peek at the pamphlet to discover where the meat was raised, how it was aged, and what breed it is.

“It’s a way for people to enjoy the terroir and provenance of beef,” says Oliver Ranch founder, Carrie Oliver. “The breed, the growing area, the practices of the rancher and of the slaughterhouse — all those things can make a difference in taste and texture.”

Oliver created the kit in 2007, after noticing that when she tasted beef blindly with friends, they all had different opinions on what they liked best. The kits are now the most popular items the company sells.

“It’s not a hard sell,” she says. “I ask people, ‘You like wine tasting? How about trying a beef tasting then?’

“You should see their eyes light up. And it’s not just men.” 

Many folks give them as gifts. Some host parties around the tastings. And when people figure out their favorite type of steak and from which ranch, they can order more of the same of just that one kind.

When we cooked up the rib-eyes in the sample pack that Oliver gave me, my husband (aka Meat Boy) and I were not surprised to find out in the end what our favorite one was. Even though we tasted blindly and independently, we both picked the Kobe Beef America Ranchers rib-eye as our top choice.

What can we say? We like fat. The grain-fed, 50 percent Waygu, 50 percent Angus from Colorado was wet-aged for a minimum of 21 days. After the first chew, we both guessed  it had to be some sort of Waygu- or Kobe-style because of the tenderness and richness of the meat. The fat just coated your entire mouth, lingering there with such force.

Four rib-eyes cooked the same way, just before being tasted blind.

My hubby has always thought himself partial to dry-aged, rather than wet-aged beef, because of its firmer texture and supposedly more concentrated flavor. Sure enough, his second pick, even done blindly, was the 14-day dry-aged N-Bar Ranch/Dave Workman rib-eye that was grain fed, 100 percent Black Angus.

Second place for me was the Robert L. Beechinor/3 Brand Cattle Co. grain-fed, Holstein-Friesian that was wet-aged for 21 days. I liked its robust and peppery flavors, as well as its firm texture.

I’d love to tell you which particular ranch raises the beef that’s the clear favorite among all who have experienced the tasting kits. But according to Oliver, no obvious winner has yet emerged; it’s still a neck-and-neck race.

You know what that means?

You’ll just have to try it for yourself.

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  • Those steaks sound really good. I will put it on my wish list, wouldn’t it be a nice gift.

  • Great and very interesting!



  • So when are you having us over? 😉

  • I’m not usually a huge meat person but that sounds simply fabulous.

  • This is the perfecting tasting for my husband!

  • In a way, the blind taste testing, reminds us of the restaurants that create an eating event for you based on the fact that you can see nothing. Not the food, not the wine, not the floor in front of you. It makes you think how eating is truly an experience.

  • Would love to know “meat boy’s” cooking technique. Were these cooked on the grill? Does he sear first? Gas or charcoal? Lid or topless?

    (Forgive me if this has been covered in a previous post.)

  • I loved this! I did a beef tasting once with Women Chefs, and it was one of the best experiences ever!!

  • I too, am a big meat lover and have been wanting to try this. We’d try the rib-eyes first as that is a favorite.

    But I agree with the question of how you cook them. Do they suggest grilling? Broiling?

  • You can cook them however you wish. But you should cook them all the same way, of course. And at the same time. Take care not to mix them up, so you can find out after the tasting which is which. I cut small hunks of each steak for both of us to try, and used painter’s tape stuck on the edge of the plate to keep track of the different steaks.

    Meat Boy would normally grill his steaks. (And yes, rib-eyes are his cut of choice, just like yours Mrs. L.) But alas, it was one of those dreary, rainy nights. (Gee, imagine that!) So he opted to broil them instead. It worked perfectly.

    To round out the meal, we did, of course, have some veggies and potatoes. (Even Meat Boy can’t live on just meat alone.) But we didnt’ dig into those until after we completed our initial tasting of the steaks, and finished marking our score sheets.

  • What a great idea! I’ll have to remember this the next time I have people coming over for dinner. I’ve given up on going out to steak houses here in NY as the quality doesn’t justify the price and they never quite get them how I like them. It’s better to splurge on a nice steak like this and cook it at home exactly how you like it.

  • AWESOME! Carolyn, you have single-handedly solved my “what the heck gift do I get for my daughter-in-law-who-has-everything and whose taste in ‘stuff’ differs so widely from mine” dilemma. She’s a die-hard carnivore and this will be *so* well-received. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!

  • Addendum: We enjoyed our first taste of Kobe beef while on vacation recently. Oh my, oh my — methinks there’s no going back!

  • Thank you so much Carolyn – my husband’s bday is coming up and I had no idea what to get him. We had wanted to make our first trip to French Laundry, but it is just too hard to justify the cost.

    We’re kind of steak snobs though. Would you rate these steaks to those at Mortons & Ruth Chris? We usually go there for steaks.

    Also, did you season the meat at all before cooking? We usually use a light montreal seasoning rub and a few drops of worchestire, but very little at all.

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