While visiting Paso Robles, California, last week, we took a day to explore the coast, including the gorgeous Hearst Castle--a must-see for anyone who loves art, not to mention 30s-era Hollywood gossip--and the surrounding land, Hearst Ranch. The ranch has been a cow-calf operation since 1865, but recently Hearst Corporation changed the business model so the cows would use the resources of the land (i.e., they reduced the number of cattle to 800, the number the land will support, and let the cows graze for food).
I talk a lot about the concept of terroir in wine--the wine's sense of place from the soil, climate, and region, but Brian Kenny, division manager at Hearst Ranch Beef, says terroir goes beyond wine. "Grass fed beef is the ultimate expression of terroir. The cattle eat grass, and the flavor result in the meat is an expression of the land."
Kenny remembers the time he gave Alice Waters some rib-eye to sample (Chez Panisse is a customer). She asked, "What do I taste? It's amazing." Kenny replied, "You taste the Central Coast."
And that, ultimately, is his goal. "When people come to visit the coast, we want them to go away with a sense of flavor," he says. I tried some Hearst Ranch Braised Brisket in Oaxacan Chile Gravy at Villa Creek in Paso and brought some jerky home with me. As to describing its taste, I can't do better than another of Kenny's customers: "It tastes like beef used to taste."
Click on the gallery to see photos of the beautiful castle and ranch.