There are many, many moments when it is good to be a carnivore: tucking into that Sunday roast lunch, biting on that first barbecued sausage of the summer, gnawing on a long-simmered bone of lamb shank.
But the happiest carnivorous time has to be the first time you're asked to judge the Beef and Lamb New Zealand Steak of Origin Competition. I joined 11 other judges to sample nearly 70 pieces of meat, perfectly seared to the right state of medium rare doneness, delivered to pairs of judges for the semi-final round.
Last night an Angus sirloin from Forbes and Angus Cameron's Ashhurst farm was crowned the Grand Champion of steaks. Based in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, these guys must be exceptional farmers - their lamb took out the New Zealand Golden Lamb awards ("Glammies") in 2008. Countdown North Island won the Supreme Brand Award after finals were judged by Beef and Lamb Iron Maiden, Sarah Walker and a panel of chefs and food writers.
Last week, the Herald joined 12 judges - food writers, teachers, butchers - to munch through 69 steaks submitted by the country's top beef farmers, butchers and processing plants to select the 20 semi-finalists.
Fortunately we didn't all have to try all 69 cuts - a dozen each was enough. Chefs from AUT's kitchens cooked the steaks in an identical method, sending them through for deliberation. We had no idea whose steaks we were trying, only later learning the semi-finalsts' names.
Farmers or processors were competing for best of British, European or cross breeds, as well as top retailer and wholesaler. Before they even hit the pan, the sirloins are aged for three weeks, before being assessed for tenderness, marbling and other traits by Cambridge's Carne Technologies.
The good news is that there is no such thing as too much steak. The better news is how distinct the character of each cut. The good steaks were terrific: deep, savoury profile, with lovely caramel notes, juicy, melting texture, with a pleasant after taste.
Sadly, we also learned that a bad steak is a sad thing: tangy, metallic ("like dental fillings" snorted one of my fellow judges, Julie Buiso), chewy, sinewy or dry, with an unpleasant aftertaste. One poor judge likened his worst-scored steak to a dead sponge "not that I've ever eaten dead sponge". There was mention of old socks. Fortunately, the goodies out-weighed the baddies.
We had no idea which farmers had submitted their steaks. Only later did we learn that this is the fourth time Malcolm Entwisle of Te Kauwhata has made the European breed finals with his Aubrac steak. His family brought the hardy French breed, first recorded with Benedictine monks in tNew Zealand's best steak revealedhe seventeenth century, to New Zealand in the 1990s and choose their competition carcass purely on eye appeal. Experience clearly matters, the section winner, Leeston's Tony Partridge has also run his Simmental stud since 1979.
Good old Angus breeds provided three of the four finalists in the British best of breed class, up against the lesser known Red Devon. Cross breed finalist Ian Grogan clearly has an eye for both as his Angus/South Devon beast made the cut, alongside glorious combinations of Hereford/Shorthorn, which won this section for Gisborne's Tom Savage, Angus/Salers and a Piedmontese X that has been a finalist for the past ten years for Taumaranui farmer Don Buchanan.
Last year's Grand Champion and Supreme Brand Winner was Angus from Cambridge farmer Colin Brown, a guy who admits he is obsessed about producing great beef.
He reckons New Zealand can produce the best beef in the world.
His secret to success - running a low stress environment for his animals, right up until the moment they are on the truck.
2015 Beef + Lamb New Zealand Steak of Origin results
Forbes & Angus Cameron, Ashhurst (Angus)
Processor of Grand Champion:
Supreme Brand Champion:
Countdown North Island (Countdown Angus) (Angus) - Takapoto Angus
Class 1 - Best of Breed: European
1st: Tony Partridge, Leeston (Simmental), processed at Ashburton Meat Processors
2nd: Tony Partridge, Leeston (Simmental), processed at Ashburton Meat Processors
3rd: Jon Knauf, Wairoa (Simmental), processed at Land Meat
4th: Malcolm Entwisle, Te Kauwhata (Aubrac), processed at Ruakura Meat Processors
Class 2 - Best of Breed: British
1st: Forbes & Angus Cameron, Ashhurst (Angus), processed at Land Meat
2nd: John & Joss Bayly, Paihia (Angus), processed at AFFCO Moerewa
3rd: Alistair Sharpe, Waihi (Angus), processed at Auckland Meat Processors/Wilson Hellaby
4th: Karen & Bob Schumacher, Inglewood (Red Devon), processed at Land Meat
Class 3 - Best of Breed: Crossbreed & Other
1st: Tom Savage, Gisborne (Hereford/Shorthorn), processed at Land Meat
2nd: Ian Grogan, Feilding (Angus/South Devon), processed at Land Meat
3rd: Don Buchanan, Taumarunui (Piedmontese X), processed at Land Meat
4th: Forbes & Angus Cameron, Ashhurst (Angus/Salers), processed at Land Meat
Class 4 - Best of Brand: Retail
1st: Chef's Choice (AngusPure) (Angus) - Rangitatau Trust
2nd: Bowmont Wholesale Meats (Hereford Prime) (Hereford) - Waikaka Station
3rd: Countdown South Island (Countdown Angus) (Angus) - Pendarves
4th: Bowmont Wholesale Meats (Hereford Prime) (Hereford) - Waikaka Station
Class 5 - Best of Brand: Wholesale & Foodservice
1st: Countdown North Island (Countdown Angus) (Angus) - Takapoto Angus
2nd =: Angus Meats (Angus Reserve) (Angus) - D.A. & K.A. Winchester
2nd =: ANZCO FOODS (Riverlands) (Angus) - G.A. Brasell
4th: Lake Farm Beef (Angus) - Lake Farm