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Published: Tuesday, 2/28/2006

Beefy terms for the savvy shopper

When buying beef, it helps to understand the terms swirling around the product, whether it's in the supermarket or at a restaurant.

According to Mary Bartz of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, America's beef producers offer four types of products: conventional, branded, certified organic, and grass-finished.

Most beef found in grocery store meat cases is conventional beef, which is from cattle raised in pastures for most of their lives, typically 12 to 18 months, and are then fed a grain-based diet for 120 to 200 days.

Branded beef is marketed by a company based on product specification and is increasingly common.

Certified organic beef must meet USDA standards for food labeled organic and must be fed 100 percent organic feed, but may be given certain vitamin and mineral supplements. These cattle may not receive hormones to promote growth or antibiotics for any reason.

Grass-finished beef comes from cattle that have grazed in pastures their entire lives.

All beef is subject to government oversight and is checked by a USDA inspector or veterinarian. Most fresh beef you find in the meat case is natural, which refers to beef that has been minimally processed and contains no additives, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. This applies to all meat that does not have an ingredient label.

Beef also can be either dry-aged or wet-aged.

USDA Choice Certified Angus Dry-Aged Beef is being sold at select Giant Eagle locations including the store at 6930 West Central Ave. Dry-aged means that the beef is held in a storage cooler with controlled temperature, light, and humidity for 18 to 30 days, says Dan Donovan, a Giant Eagle corporate spokesman. The product is similar to USDA prime. There's a distinct color or darkness that is part of the aging. It's more tender and cooks faster. Others describe the product as having a "more concentrated flavor and not as juicy." It is priced at $14.39 per pound for ribeye delmonico steak and roast, and $16.99 for loin boneless strip steak.

Newly opened Carson's Steakhouse in Sylvania has wet-aged Certified Angus Beef on the menu. "This is a more consistent high-quality product," Chef Mike Rosendaul says of the branded product. "The breed is a stocky, big-muscled animal with good flavor. Marbling should have moderate fat. Abundant fat would be prime. When those little lines of fat in the muscle cook down, it makes the meat juicy."

"Our meat is wet-aged 21 to 45 days. The enzymes start working to break down the muscle fiber to make it tender," says the chef. "Dry aging is expensive. It's the same concept as wet-aging to make it more tender, but you lose so much product."

Another brand of beef is Great Lakes Family Farm's Ohio Signature Beef Brand. It is an all-natural beef. The cattle are corn-fed for flavor. The Andersons stores in Maumee and Toledo are selling frozen Ohio Signature Beef Brand patties and bulk ground beef.

A complete line of fresh Ohio Signature Beef Brand beef is available at Stanley's 5 Star Market at 3302 Stickney Ave. The product is dry-aged, says market owner Joe Zychowicz, who also sells other choice grade beef. "The dry-aging is done by hanging it in a cooler versus aging it in Cryovac [food packaging]." Butchering is done in-house.



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