“Terroir” is the most important word in the wine world, the summing up of what gives each wine its distinctive flavour and qualities. Winemakers say everything that “feeds” a grape – from climate to soil quality to terrain and area-specific farming techniques – can be sensed, and tasted, in the final product.
As with wine, the flavour of a piece of beef doesn’t just vary according to the breed of cattle or what part of the animal’s body the cut came from, but also external factors such as diet and ranch management, not to mention how the final product is cooked. Lately, ranchers and butchers have been speaking about place and farming practice in almost romantic terms – ideas that sound awfully like terroir.
“I’m a beef lover and it was the best beef I’ve ever had in my life,” recalls Bob Choquette of Calgary’s Urban Butcher chain. He uses words such as “rich,” “nutty” and “buttery” to describe the meat produced by his late friend and colleague Paul Froehler, his voice aching with nostalgia for both the meat and Froehler, who died last spring.
Froehler managed his cattle with particular care. He farmed Highland cattle and Galloways, which are bred to withstand colder climates such as those at his ranch in Strome, Alta. In the last stages of the animals’ lives, he fed them a special homemade feed blend made primarily with legumes grown on his own property, as opposed to the barley-based manufactured feed that most Alberta cattle are fattened up with. Choquette believes such techniques, and Strome itself, directly contributed to the superior flavour of the end product.