How the quest for the perfect steak led this Alberta restaurant and ranch to buy an $80,000 bull

A restaurant in Calgary and a southern Alberta ranch have teamed up to buy a prize Angus bull and are using it to breed cattle with an ideal amount of marbling to make the perfect steak.

Prize Angus bull is bred with specially selected cows and heifers

Great marbling is the key to a terrific steak, something that can be engineered through breeding. (Erin Collins/CBC)

A restaurant in the heart of Canada's cattle country is going the extra mile in its pursuit of the perfect steak.

Stephen Deere, owner of Modern Steak in Calgary, teamed up with a southern Alberta ranch to buy an award-winning bull, all part of a plan to breed better beef.

"The fat is what gives you that rich flavour, that tenderness, so we wanted to buy the bull that is giving you those qualities," Deere said.

The prize black Angus is being cared for and bred at Benchmark Angus ranch operated by Michael Munton.

"Benchmark Modern Steak" (a mash-up of the restaurant name and the ranch name) — or Modern for short — cost the pair more than $80,000 in 2016, the year he won the title of best "marbled" Angus in Canada. 

Michael Munton of Benchmark Angus bought a prize bull with Calgary restaurant Modern Steak in 2016. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Marbling refers to the fissures of fat that add flavour to a steak.

Two years later, the investment is starting to pay dividends as cattle sired by Modern are now heading to market. 

From gate to plate

The hope is that breeding Modern with specially selected cows will produce "a higher quality grade of beef more consistently" that can be turned into the ideal, marbled steak, Munton says. 

The bull is surrounded by about two dozen heifers and cows that were chosen with this idea in mind. Munton says all the cattle at his ranch are tested with ultrasound equipment at one year of age to see which animal has the most marbling and the largest potential steaks. 

Modern Steak owner Stephen Deere has bought a share of a prize bull to try to engineer the perfect steak. (Erin Collins/CBC)

This collaboration between ranch and restaurant takes the concept of following an animal from "gate to plate" even further, allowing the animals to be tracked from "conception to consumption," Munton says.

At his steak house, Deere expertly carves rib eye steaks off a side of beef that has travelled around 300 kilometres north from the Benchmark Angus ranch.

As he works, Deere points out the marbling in the steaks he has spent two years waiting for: "All of this fat, intramuscular — this is why this is prime-grade beef," he said.

Buying a share in a bull was a big investment of both time and money, but Deere says it is a gamble aimed at producing perfectly marbled meat for his restaurant for years to come.

Michael Allemeier, a chef and cooking instructor at the Southern Albert Institute of Technology in Calgary. says it is unique for a restaurant to own its own bull. (SAIT)

He says he can already taste the difference in the quality of the meat he is serving. The fat is "so soft and buttery" it makes the mouth water, he says. 

Michael Allemeier, a culinary educator at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, says he is impressed with the lengths Deere and Munton have gone to attain a better cut of meat.

"I am amazed how science has become so much a part of the craft of raising animals, and in particular, the beef," said Allemeier, who holds a "master chef" certification from the Canadian Culinary Institute.

"To kind of hinge everything on the genetics of one specific prize bull — that is really taking things to the next level, I think."

About the Author

Erin Collins

Senior reporter

Erin Collins is an award-winning senior reporter with CBC National News based in Calgary.