“Flavour’ the new ‘tenderness’ in beef judging

Jon Condon, 07/06/2011

Beef Central publisher, Jon Condon's observations, live from the judging room floor at the RNA branded beef competition being held in Brisbane this morning…


Flavour has now overtaken tenderness as the key consideration in Australia’s biggest and most influential branded beef competition being held in Brisbane today.

Where once consistency of tenderness was the paramount issue used to decide winners, industry science, led by the Meat Standards Australia program, has now largely solved the tenderness irregularity in quality beef circles.

There was not the faintest sign of unacceptable toughness among 24 entries in this year’s contest, sourced from every Australian state bar WA.

As a result, flavour, followed by juiciness, mouth-feel and overall liking, has now become the major preoccupation among judges officiating at this year's competition.

That trend is clearly reflected in MSA taste panel testing work, where recently, sensory points awarded for flavour were elevated to equal status as tenderness. In years gone by, tenderness scores and overall liking ultimately dominated MSA MQ4 score assessment work.

This year’s Brisbane competition threw up a few surprises, as well as some predictable outcomes.

To start with, there was a dramatic improvement in the eating characteristics and consistency in the grassfed MSA class, compared with this judge’s experience last year, and more particularly the year before.

Grassfed entries in 2009 were generally disappointing and inconsistent, largely reflecting the tough seasonal conditions from which many of the entries came. With the huge season across most of Eastern Australia this year, however, it was a different story. Many grassfed entries exhibited grainfed-like fat colour, and some evidence of marbling – particularly among older entries.

Several judges saw the full-flavoured grassfed class as the stand-out division in 2011.

Grainfed MSA entries were remarkably consistent, making distinctions between one and another particularly difficult. Flavour played a key part. Some carried salty notes; some metallic; some mushroomy or earthy; some reminiscent of popcorn.

None were lacking in appeal, making points allocation largely a matter of personal taste. The abundance of marbling in some grainfed entries took some judges by surprise.

The Wagyu class – the blockbusters of the beef spectrum – lived up to expectations with some truly remarkable beef on display from some of the nation’s biggest stakeholders.

Judging the first phase in the uncooked, portion form, it was apparent that most Wagyu entries were probably F1 or F2 in origin, given the coarseness of marbling present.  Interestingly, some Wagyu exhibitors appeared to seek some middle ground in selecting their entries, providing mid-range marbling scores around 4/5/6, instead of creaming the chillers for a 9+.

That strategy would appear to be responding to Australian tastes, where the richness of a piece of Fullblood Wagyu beef can be a little overwhelming.  

Convenors of the event, the Brisbane RNA, have responded to suggested changes in the judging sequence used in previous years. Previously each entry was judged first in its raw state, followed by cooked.

That presented a risk of clouding judges’ perceptions, based on the way each sample looked in raw condition, before the more important taste consideration came into play. This year judges are tasting the finished product first, where marbling and other visual cues are masked, and then judging a second sample on raw product appearance.

A further minor refinement for next year could be the application of a larder trim on all entries. This year all Wagyu entries had a larder trim, but not others. Retail presentation should become the standard, not works trim

All in all, a super-impressive lineup of some of Australia’s best known and most highly regarded beef brands that would stand up against the best beef produced anywhere in the world.

  • Full results and photos will be uploaded later this afternoon.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Beef Central's news headlines emailed to you -