Gary West Meats is a brand of smoked meats that has been in business since 1966, operated by a company of the same name, based in Jacksonville, OR.
It's a second generation-run family business first started by, none other than, Gary West. But the company's meat products goes back further to Gary's grandfather Fred West, who taught the old family recipes to Gary. In 2004, West sold the business to his daughter and son-in-law. In addition to jerky, the company also makes smoked hams, turkeys, and sausages.
The Gary West brand of beef jerky seems to have made a name for itself in a new genre of "artisan jerky". I still haven't figured out what "artisan jerky" is, because if you ask any other jerky brand out there, they'll tell you they work really hard at creating great tasting jerky. But I keep reading various food journals that describe certain brands of jerky as being SO good, that people sip wine with it. The Gary West brand seems to always get mentioned with this.
This Silver Fork Natural variety appears to be a new offering, as I can't find it mentioned in the company's catalog or website. The package describes Fred West summering his cattle in the Silver Fork Basin, high above the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon, and recalls a time when beef jerky was simple, pure, and free of modern-day chemicals. This is not marked as organic however, but simply "natural".
Beef, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, spices.
A sweetness is the first thing I taste, mainly because of the sweet glaze that encompasses these pieces. It's not an very sweet taste, just a light one. But a bite into a piece provides a light beef taste with a moderate amount of smokiness.
There is also a saltiness to this, but not strong either. I'd say that it's a moderate saltiness. And while the ingredients lists black pepper, I don't really taste any of it on each piece, but I get a faint black pepper aroma in the back of my mouth after eating several pieces.
If I could compare this to a beer, which I often find myself doing with beef jerky, this is like a honey blonde ale, being very light on taste, with a hint of sweetness, a hint of hops and barley, and goes down easy. But while some folks out there are sipping wine with a strip of Gary West jerky, I'd rather have a beer.
I allowed a piece to sit in my mouth and soften up, and now I'm getting some really good meat taste out of it. I chew on it slightly enough to break it open and let the flavors leach out. And, as for that meat taste, it's an exceptional taste. In trying to come with words to describe it, I keep wanting to use "smooth", "mellow", and "buttery".
And despite not containing any preservatives, I found this with a fresh taste.
Overall, this is a jerky that's light on flavorings, and is perhaps meant to compete on its merits as a "natural" jerky. The natural meat flavors is really what dominates this jerky, along with its smokiness.
This appears to be cuts of real meat, sliced into strips of about 2-3 inches in length, and about width of a meat stick.
Gary West Meats says their jerky is more moist than traditional jerky, and is why they emphasize the word "beef strips", instead of beef jerky. I'd agree there is a moistness to the meat, but I'd classify this as "semi-moist", similar to the "soft and tender" jerkies that you often see on the market.
Even though the photos below make these strips look like they're brimming with moisture, it's merely a wet coating on the outside. When you break open a piece, it's actually dry, though soft and tender.
Biting a piece off is easy, requiring minimal effort, and they chew easily also. But you'll want to let a piece soften up in your mouth, maybe chew it slightly enough to break it open, and enjoy the natural meat flavors.
I found no pieces of fat, tendon, gristle, or anything chewy.
Overall, these pieces have a great meat consistency, though the wet coating will have you licking your fingers clean.
While I don't have a price for this Silver Fork Natural variety, Gary West Meats sells their other jerky varieties at a price of $4.50 for a 2oz package. That works out to $2.25 per ounce, making this an expensive buy. If you buy it in larger package sizes, you can get it as low as $1.63 per ounce.
I'd say that it's a weak buy for general jerky purposes. But let's start off by saying that if you bought the 2oz package, you'd didn't buy it for general snacking purposes. If you bought the 16oz package, then I'd say it offers a good value.
But as a beef jerky that touts itself as "natural", and describes the old world traditions of simple and pure beef jerky, I'd say that it offers a good value again. What you're getting is a beef jerky that provides a tasty meat flavor, with a bit of smokiness.
I'm giving this a best rating.
What really iced this for me is it's wonderful meat flavor. If a wine lover likes to swish some wine inside their mouth and detect all the subtle flavors, you'll want to let this jerky sit in your mouth, and allow the natural meat flavors leach out. That's really what "natural" jerky varieties are about, enjoying the essence of beef.
For general beef jerky purposes, this is actually rather bland, having only sparing amounts of flavoring, with salt being the most recogizable spice. I actually toyed with giving this a lesser rating just because it's bland. But I found the exceptional meat taste to really this set apart from many of the other jerky brands out there. As I continued eating piece after piece, I found myself craving it more and more.
My recommended beer pairing for this, try Blue Moon's "Honey Moon Summer Ale", the lighter flavor should allow the natural meat flavor still take center stage.
Note: Originally reviewed August 9, 2008.
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