It's raining, coldish, muddy with a bit of what cattle do — every reason for a townie to stay inside.

But for Northern Hawke's Bay farmer Jon Knauf and daughter Lauren the elements are barely anything to bat an eyelid at as we venture outdoors to get a look at the weaner cattle in the paddocks.

Where townies fear to tread its literally the golden sands on the farm, where such conditions have - according to top chefs, other judges and an exacting testing process dating almost back to the paddock itself - produced the top steak in the country.

Not surprisingly, they love their steak, medium-rare all-round, Jon Knauf preferring the accompaniment of mashed spud and lots of veges ahead of eggs and chips anytime.


The irony is that, thanks to the weather, he missed the best steak of all after he and mother Colleen were named PGG Wrightson Steak of Origin Grand Champion at the National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek just over a fortnight ago.

The weather had closed the Napier-Taupo highway and realising that even when it reopened it was too late to get to Mystery Creek in time, he headed home, leaving his mum, already at Mystery Creek, to bask in the glory of the sentimental triumph of Kerrah Simmentals at Tangiwai Station, inland up Hereheretau Rd from Whakaki, northeast of Wairoa.

With First Light Foods, of Hastings, named Brand Champion, it was a double success for Hawke's Bay which, while a regular feature among category finalists, has not carried off the major award for some years.

Armed with three major trophies — the plaque for Best of Breed European, the permanent trophy as Grand Champion, and the historic National Beef Carcase Challenge Shield, which was first presented in Hawke's Bay almost 70 years ago, Colleen Knauf was able to return in some triumph to the property her husband, who died seven years ago, developed a sheep and beef operation after buying it and moving from King Country in 1994.

The stud started, as part of the operation, in 2005.

Jon Knauf went to Massey University to study economics and then travelled shearing in the UK, France and Belgium for several years before returning to the 2000ha of mainly hill country, which rises from 500-2500ft above sea level, with rainfall around 2500mm a year.

He lives there now with english wife Pam and their four children, when they're home.

Lauren is in her second year at Lincoln in Canterbury doing a BSc, and two are at high school in Napier.


The win was a rare victory of its type for the breed which has had to spend some time in the shadow of the successful Angus Pure marketing campaign.

"This is the pinnacle of our breeding," she said at what was Steak of Origin's first appearance at Mystery Creek.

"It's why we breed, to get this shield and the recognition for our work. For Simmental – a European breed – to win, when Angus and other breeds have done so well in the past, is fantastic."

Kerrah Simmentals had the formline, having over the past six years been a regular among the finalists, including their first Best of Breed European title two years ago.

This year there were 266 entries, having first to pass a series of stringent examinations at Carne Technologies, Cambridge, where they were scientifically tested on tenderness, percentage cooking loss in weight, marbling, colour, water binding capacity and pH.

Head judge Graham Hawkes, the president of the New Zealand Chef's Association, said: "The PGG Wrightson Steak of Origin is the pride of New Zealand's red meat production - the celebration of all beef breeders in the country. This is how the industry decides the best tasting steak, helping to guide chefs like me on top quality produce."

"The winner ticked all the boxes for me and really was the hero on the day," he said.

"It was tender, it was tasty, it had texture and it was so succulent. It really was the champion of champions."

"Genetics is important," says Jon Knauf, describing how the result was finally achieved.
As for what it means, he said: "Probably a bit of publicity, a good sense of achievement ... It's just really good to beat Angus."