Producing and purchasing Virginia grown USDA certified beef is now a little easier for producers, processors and consumers. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Livestock Services program staff have completed requirements to perform USDA quality grading for the inspection and ranking of Virginia grown beef.
USDA quality grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of high-quality beef. Consumers often use USDA quality grades to make beef purchasing decisions. Quality grades are also widely used by producers and processors within the beef industry to conduct business transactions. The assigning of a USDA grade potentially adds value to the beef cuts and provides the processor the opportunity to receive a premium price for the identified items.
USDA quality grade shields consists of:
*Prime beef, normally produced from young, well-fed beef cattle, has abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.
*Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime grades. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.
*Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. While fairly tender, these cuts may lack the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades due to less marbling. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.
*Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.
The USDA grader certification allows VDACS staff to grade for quality and yield of Virginia grown beef. Quality grades evaluate the tenderness, juiciness and flavor, while yield grade measure the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. Grading for quality is voluntary and must be requested and paid for by meat producers and processors who seek a higher product grading designation.
Producers and processors interested in the service may contact Mike Carpenter, VDACS Livestock Services Manager, at (540) 209-9143.