Graeme Dyke won Gold and Bronze medals at Auckland last year in his class.

The top steak from each of the eight classes is tasted at the Grand Final by a panel of chefs to find the most tasty and tender steak in the country.

Tararua has two class finalists in the annual PGG Wrightson Steak of Origin grand final to be held at Mystery Creek on June 13.

Graeme Dyke from Pori is a medallist in Class 4 Best of breed — British: other, for his Red Devons. Nick Perry from Pahiatua is a medallist in Class 5: Best of Breed — Crossbreed and Other.

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Mr Dyke will not know until the grand final which of his three Red Devon animals has won which medal, but he is assured of getting gold, silver and bronze with his entries, scooping the pool in the class and is in with a chance to win the overall competition.

Last year he won gold and bronze medals in the same class at the competition with his gold medal heifer being the most tender steak in the whole competition. It was placed fourth in the final out of 300 entries.

This year Mr Dyke says he has produced his best Red Devons ever.

"The beef is so tender and well-marbled. Its down to the breed. Devons are so docile — even the bulls. I've never had a bull put its head down and go for me. It has a big effect on the pH of the meat," he said.

"Ask any of the top chefs in the UK which is the preferred beef and they will answer Ruby Red Devons. Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage runs his own herd of Ruby Red Devons.

"In a drought situation Red Devons will be the last breed of cattle standing, as long as they have a bit of water. This breed can live on the smell of an oily rag. Fertility, calving (100 per cent is achieved often), longevity, it all turns into dollars. It's nothing to wean some 300kg plus calves every year. When they are sent to the works, Devons will yield 60 per cent or more well finished," he said.

Mr Dyke sells his bulls mostly to commercial beef breeders.

"The genetics of the Red Devon have never been messed with like some of the other big breeds, which results in plenty of hybrid vigour in the calves. The farmers love them. There are lots of herds in New Zealand now that are slowly turning red," he said.

The Red Devon herd these cattle come from are under testing for M. bovis because cattle escaped from the Landcorp farm next door. The results of the first whole-herd test are negative. The second testing was done on June 6 and Mr Dyke is awaiting the results. The farm is rugged hill country at an altitude of 460-580m above sea level. It endures cold, high winds with harsh winters — with dumpings of snow. "The cattle handle it," said Mr Dyke.

Class 5: Best of breed — Crossbreed and Other

It was a very pleasant surprise for Nick and Carron Perry to learn they had made it through to the Grand Final of the Steak of Origin this year.

"We've been entering the competition for 10 or 12 years and been to the semi-finals twice but never the finals, so it was nice to get that far," said Nick.

Having been farming all his life, Nick has always had pure Angus cows.

"This time for a change we put a Gelbvieh bull across them. There is an advantage of hybrid vigour from that first cross. I've always been impressed with the Gelbvieh, they are a very docile to handle breed and complement the Angus well," he said. He sells prime cattle, steers and heifers and a few bulls.

"The calves are nice and quiet — we entered three heifers but still don't know which one went into the finals," Carron says.

Asked what winning qualities are required of a breed, Nick said it's a little bit of everything.

"Low pH because they are docile — that contributes a lot to the tenderness of the meat and its keeping quality. The marbling in our Angus cattle has always been reasonable — it's another plus in their favour."

This is the Perrys' first crop of slaughter stock from the Gelbvieh. This coming Spring it will be the third generation on the ground of their 182ha breeding and finishing farm at Mangamaire near Pahiatua. They run 70 per cent sheep and 30 per cent cattle.

They source the Angus bulls from Joe and Shaun Fouhy. Joe has won the Steak of Origin a couple of times.

"It's all about the consumer at the end of the day. It's trying to find out who can produce a consistent, good quality product on the plate. It's about the management of the animal," said Nick. "If they're not frightened of humans, it makes a difference when they're loaded on the truck. So much of the quality of the meat can be determined by the animal's stress levels in the last 24 hours of their life.

"We don't use dogs too much on them," Carron said. "I call them and they come through the gate. We don't use nitrogen, just a simple fertiliser regime. This year Alliance was the only local cattle slaughter facility involved in the competition. Gelbvieh is a terminal sire in our case — we're not breeding from any of the off-spring. We are buying in pure Angus females to replace our cows," she said.

The PGG Wrightson Steak of Origin Competition aims to find the most tender and tasty sirloin beef steak in New Zealand. It is open to beef farmers, retailers, wholesalers and food service suppliers.

It originated from a national carcass competition, when a taste element was introduced to raise consumer awareness of the qualities of beef steak. This is the 15th year the competition has been running.

The competition process involves an initial assessment of the sirloin steak at Carne Technologies in Cambridge.

Each steak is aged for three weeks before being tested for tenderness, pH, marbling and percentage cooking loss.

The most tender sirloin steaks reach the semifinal and are cooked to medium rare in a neutral flavoured oil without seasoning, before being tasted by a judging panel of food writers and chefs. The finalists — the top steak from each of the eight classes — are tasted at the Grand Final by a panel of chefs to find the most tasty and tender steak.
Judging criteria includes aroma, texture, flavour, tenderness and juiciness.