I'm writing this from a hotel room in Cleveland, Ohio having just returned from what I've deemed "the Cleveland Crawl" with members of the food, consumer and agriculture media. I'm spending the weekend discussing food trends and issues - from a culinary perspective - as a guest of Certified Angus Beef.
CAB, as you likely know, is the world's largest premium branded beef product, and I daresay one of the most successful premium food brands in any segment. Now in its third decade, CAB has figured out a lot of things over the years in understanding, addressing, and dealing with consumers.
Unfortunately for many of us in food production, we often don't understand consumers all that well.
I'll have several stories, interviews, pictures and observations from the weekend's activities in the coming days. Tomorrow we'll visit a farm near CAB's headquarters outside Wooster, Ohio, take part in a session involving carcass fabrication, and close the weekend with the grand opening of a new culinary center created by CAB to further involve the food community with this premium branded beef product.
John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef, said something really profound to me in conversation tonight outside Michael Symon's iconic restaurant Lola: "Beef is a very emotional product." And I think he's very correct, for a variety of reasons. I can tell you with certainty that at my table this evening - at which was seated a farm broadcaster, two beef industry journalists, a Cleveland-area food writer, my wife and yours truly - there was no shortage of emotion for the beef served at the Greenhouse Tavern.
I think the reason Stika's otherwise off-the-cuff remark really hit home with me is that I was enthralled with the evening's conversation, particularly my chat with the aforementioned food writer Laura Taxel. Laura writes for, among other publications, Cleveland Magazine, specifically about food, wine and spirits. Her perspective as an urban food writer is fairly different from my own as a Southern Ohio farm boy raised on a small-time cow-calf operation.
That conversation reinforced for me that it is critical for us to get off the farm or ranch and sit across the white-table-cloth-covered table from other food experts outside production - writers, chefs, consumers, food retailers... others who know as much or more about food as we do.
In truth, I wanted to write before nodding off this evening to share with you the really cool picture I took at Greenhouse Tavern... One of the dishes we sampled tonight was their roasted pig face. Yep, that's right: half a pig's head, roasted and barbecued. And yes, it was every bit as good as I'd imagined. Hey, we've always said the pork trade uses everything but the squeal, right?