Westminster -- I was digging into a tenderloin at the Maryland Beef Festival when I heard a voice from my past.
It said "moo."
I followed the sound through the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum and found that the noise was being made by an old friend, an Angus. Black and Red Angus steers, along with other well-regarded beef cattle -- the Simmental, the Charolais, the shorthorn, the Polled Hereford and the Belted Galloway -- were making guest appearances at the beef festival.
Despite the reputation of the other celebrity steers, I only had eyes for Angus. It was the steer of my hometown, St. Joseph, Mo.
Back where I grew up, the marbled meat, meat with fat in it, of the Angus was held in such high regard that the town's best restaurant was named in honor of the breed. I grew up waiting for the day I would dine in the Black Angus Room in the Hotel Robidoux.
It was an elegantly dark room that served fabled steaks that came from the city's then-thriving stockyards and meatpacking plants.
I never made it. Before I got back from college, the Black Angus Room and all the rooms in the Robidoux were demolished. All that was left for my memory was the film footage of the destruction. Scenes of the grand old hotel being blown to bits were background in a "Miller Time" commercial about a beer-drinking demolition crew.
Years have passed, but I remain sentimentally attached to Angus cattle. And last Sunday when I served as a judge in the festival's beef cook-off competition for chefs, I was delighted to sink my teeth into two dishes made from Angus beef.
The winning dish, made by chef Ron Leese of the Westminster Inn, was a marinated 5-pound tenderloin that had been rolled in black pepper, grilled over charcoal, and served with grilled mushrooms and a bourbon sauce. Another contestant, John Robinson, chef of Maggie's Restaurant in Westminster, rubbed a beef tenderloin with garlic and black pepper, and then cooked it for about seven minutes over charcoal. He served it with a glaze made from reduced beef stock, and topped each slice of grilled tenderloin with a dab of Dijon mustard.
Both pieces of meat were so tender I could cut them with my fork. Chefs Leese and Robinson said the texture and consistent quality of the meat were why they went to the extra trouble and expense of securing Angus beef.
Depending on the cut, prime Angus beef can cost up to $1 more per pound than beef from other cattle, said Dennis Steele, vice president of Maryland Hotel Supply, the business that sells the premium beef to area restaurants. (I was able to find a couple of grocery stores that sell Angus beef: Graul's at 7713 Bellona Ave., and Geresbeck's at 2109 Eastern Blvd.)
Just as winemakers designate their finer wines by tracing the grapes to distinct sections of the vineyard, so Angus ranchers have begun marking their premium cuts of beef as Certified Angus Beef. They can track a fillet all the way back to the herd of cattle it came from, Steele said. The beef also has to meet strict standards to prove it is of Angus heritage, he said. No beef, for example, can be called Angus, if the steer it came from had a hump on its back, Steele said. He explained that the hump is a sign that other breeds have made their way into the family.
My loyalty to the breed increased even more when my Uncle Charlie told me our family was connected to Angus royalty. My Uncle Charlie lives in Memphis now, but when he grew up on a farm outside King City, Mo., his father, J. F. McKenny, raised Angus. And in 1929 one of their steers, Jimmy, a short-legged Angus, was named Grand Champion Steer at the International Livestock Show in Chicago. When you are a steer, it doesn't get any better than being named Grand National Champion.
Even though I am connected to Angus royalty, I remain fond of other breeds of cattle. The face of a Hereford, actually a menu from a restaurant, adorns the wall of my study. Whenever I drive near the Kansas City airport and pass the headquarters of the Charolais breeders, I bow my head in respect to the image of the great white steer that sits near the highway.
And I liked other beef served at the contest -- the brisket cooked by Willard Chapman of the Flaming Pit restaurant in Gaithersburg, and the New York strip grilled by Bucky Thrift from the Montgomery County Agricultural Center. And the top loin steaks that Marjorie Farr of Rockville grilled to win the amateur cook-off contest were, I am sure, full of flavor.
But while I know there are many cattle on the farm, I have a soft spot in my heart for the tenderloins of Angus.
(In Wednesday's column I misidentified one of M.F.K. Fisher's husbands. Her second husband was Dillwyn Parrish.)