Her secret to tasty beef? Buckets of wine

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The Seattle Times

Her secret to tasty beef? Buckets of wine

Happy Cattle, Too

The idea is the brainchild of Kelowna, B.C., beef producer who says daily imbibing by the cattle enhances the flavor of the meat. Plus, the animals really seem to like it.

By Jeremy Hainsworth
The Associated Press

Vancouver, British Columbia- Western Canadian beef producers have found a novel way of putting the "bar"  in barbecue.

Her secret to tasty beef? Buckets of wineAngus cattle in British Columbia's Okanagan wine and cattle region are being fed red wine with their grain. Chefs in this Canadian Pacific Coast province said it makes for a unique beef taste, but Canadian food inspectors appear to have doubts.

The idea is the brainchild of Janice Ravndahl, of Sezmu Meats in Kelowna, B.C. Ravndahl said the beef produced has an enhanced flavor, the marbling is finer and the fat tastes like candy.

"You don't get any better than steak and a wine," she said. "We just start a bit earlier."

But Canadian government food inspectors apparently had a problem with giving wine to cattle. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency called Ravndahl recently and questioned her about sediment in the wine, but they didn't order her to stop.

"They said they had some concerns about wine being fed to cattle. We are not being shut down. We are being allowed to sell the product," she said. "I am trying to work with them at getting it officially approved."

Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesman Tim O'Connor later said they investigated the case and concluded there is no risk to human safety. He said concerns were about animals being fed winery waste byproducts, such as dead yeast or residual yeast as a feed supplement.  

The idea of giving wine to cattle came to Ravndahl late last year during a TV food program that featured beer-swilling pigs. As the Okanagan is one of Canada's premier wine regions, getting local beef on the bottle seemed like a good plan.  

Ravndahl said she started with one young cow who took to the bottle immediately, quickly earning the nickname "Wino."

"It definitely changes their personalities. They moo a lot more with each other and get really chatty," she said.

Trying to find the optimal time to serve the cows their wine course was vital to getting the best beef. They've determined 60 days produces a great taste in the beef.

"At 90 days, the costs get a little out of control," she said.

The first bovine wine tasting was in April 2009 with the 20-day-dry-aged beef first hitting the market in February 2010.

"We just put it in a pail and said, 'Who's going to drink it?' she said. "Wine has a very strong aroma. They were curious about it right away."

The cattle get a liter-blend of red wines daily but their preference is for sweeter vintages, she said.

Ravndahl said the wine appears to make the cattle more docile, which enhances the texture of the meat.

"Cattle that are relaxed taste better," she said. "You don't want tense beef."

John Church, a cattle researcher at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, said the wine does not appear to have any negative effects on the health of the cows.

University of Missouri cattle nutrition professor Justin Sextena agreed. He said the long-standing use of brewing-industry byproducts containing residual alcohol does not appear to have harmed cattle.  

"From a feeding standpoint, these products seem to work well in [cattle] diets," he said.

Peter Van Soest, a Cornell University emeritus professor of animal science, said he thinks a little wine could be beneficial to the cattle. The alcohol is easily metabolized by the cows' livers, he said.

"The animal could get a little happy on it," he said.

He said a liter of wine would make a man tipsy but would have little effect on a 500-pound cow.

"A liter in that size animal is not very much," he said chuckling.

Canadian chefs who've tried the beef think it's a great idea.

Quail's Gale Winery, of Kelowna, was among the first to put the beef on its menu. Chef Roger Sleiman uses it in a tenderloin carpaccio served with a touch of truffle, arugula and Reggiano cheese.

With the beef served raw in the carpaccio, he said, the flavors in the fats come through.

"We've had great reviews from our customers. At first I thought it was a gimmick," he said. "It costs a bit more, but we think it's worth it."

And diners think the whole thing is a bit of a novelty.

"Drunk cows," Sleiman said laughing.

Sleiman said a pinot noir complements the dish.