Confinement veal has a bad reputation. Standard veal production requires the calf to be separated from the mother after birth. The calf is confined in a pen just big enough for the calf to stand or lay down. The calf is fed only milk or a milk substitute for 18 weeks and then slaughtered. This feeding schedule brings on anemia in the calf which produces the characteristic white meat of veal. The meat has a very mild favor and is known for tenderness that can be cut with a fork. These calves are prone to illness and must be medicated to survive.
Grassfed veal is different. The grassfed veal calf stays with its mother on pasture. The calf has access to the mother’s milk and grass. The calf is butchered at 6 to 9 months old, giving a pink meat with more flavor, though it is not as tender as confinement, milk-fed veal. The calves are very healthy and rarely need medical attention. The calves have a better life, even if it is short. You will not be able to find grassfed veal without a serious search and you will pay top dollar for this premium product. Most grassfed veal is purchased by chefs in high end restaurants looking for more flavor from this old favorite. If you are interested in this specialty food please read The New York Times article called: Veal to Love – Without the Guilt.
Traditionally, grassfed veal was a side product of the dairy industry. The male calves would become veal and the females, unless culled, would become part of the milking herd. Traditionally, the offal from the veal calf is greatly prized. The stomach of the young calf is used to produce rennet required for cheese production. I had a chance to try this premium product when Patty’s calf went to slaughter. (Patty is our milking Jersey cow.) The grassfed veal was the best beef I have ever tasted. It was truly delicious. If anyone knows a rancher in the Kamloops area producing this product, I would like to know. Please email me and I will update this posting with the information.
Updated October 2, 2009: I have just talked to Susan McGillivray at Jocko Creek Ranch. They have grassfed veal for sale. These animals normally go to the feedlot for grain fattening over the winter. The steers are worth more that the heifers because the steers will fatten-up better in the feedlot. This product is seasonal and must be bought in October or November before they go to the feedlot. You purchase by the animal. The calves will weight about 500-600 pounds and you will have to pay for slaughtering. Right now the cost is $1.00/pound for heifers and $1.12/pound for steers. This is a live weight price. I would buy the heifers because they are cheaper and it doesn’t matter how well they do in the feedlot. If you are interested in getting this wonderful meat please call Jason or Susan McGillivray at 250.374.9495.
Updated June 23, 2010: Grassfed veal may be wonderful but I have found something even better. Last year we bought half, of an eight-year-old spent Dexter Jersey Cross milking cow. A cow is considered “spent” when she is getting old and does not conceive. When this happens it is time to replace the cow. This cow spent her life on green pasture with a small amount of dairy ration during milking season. The butcher wanted to grind her up into hamburger, which would have been standard procedure for a cow of her age. Since the cow was over thirty months old, by regulation, no part of the spinal column can be consumed. We had the butcher cut her up into roasts, steaks, stewing meat and hamburger.
That eight-year-old cow has been the best meat we have ever tasted. I think back in horror that she might have been ground up into hamburger. The meat had a tender, beefy, full flavor with marbled fat throughout. Part of the reason the meat was so delicious was the cow was part Dexter, a breed known for its wonderful meat. We would even lightly barbecue the stewing meat. It was tender and juicy. Can you believe that! Unfortunately, this meat will be impossible to get from the Industrial Food System. The only way to get this meat is buying an animal directly from the rancher or dairy farmer.
So, Harold McGee was right: “Full-flavored meat comes from animals that have led a full life? Life intensifies flavor, and modern meat animals are living less and less.” He believed cattle reached their peak of flavor around four years of age, but this was before the time of Mad Cow Disease. What Harold McGee fails to mention when he says “modern meat animals are living less and less” is that, you could not find a confinement animal from the Industrial Food System that was eight years old. If you did, it would be so diseased and sickly, no one in their right mind would eat it’s flesh. I sometimes wonder if the whole thirty month rule has more to do with the general poor health of confinement animals, rather than avoiding Mad Cow Disease. For more information about Mad Cow Disease please read Visit to the Killing Floor at Kam Lake View Meats and read the series of essays by Mark Purdey.
If you are looking for a small family cow that is good for milk and meat, please see the Canadian Dexter Cattle Association.