Myth about calves raised in darkness hampers veal image
By Greg Burliuk, Kingston Whig-Standard, 2002.06.01
Mention the word veal and some people cringe.
“How can you eat baby cows?” was the cry I heard years ago. A British friend once told me that was why veal consumption was so low in her animal -loving country.
The other night as we were eating some gorgeous veal chops, I looked at my wife, who wasn’ t exactly attacking her plate. She was bothered because, like many people, she has heard stories about calves being raised in the dark and bottle-fed milk, so their carcasses would make better veal.
Jennifer Haley has heard all those stories. She has also been told by consumers that although they love ordering veal in a restaurant, they feel unsure about cooking it at home or blanch at its high price. She has seen even big grocery stores offer scant veal varieties. And she knows her opponents are the powerful beef, chicken and pork industries.
Jennifer is the executive director of the Ontario Veal Association (OVA) and her job is to raise the profile of veal.
Veal is a step-brother to the dairy industry. All dairy cows must give birth to a calf a year to provide the milk we drink. Half of the calves will be females who will be used for milking. The male calves are used for veal.
“With artificial insemination only the odd bull calf is needed for breeding purposes, so the dairy farmer usually sells the bull calves to the veal producer,” Jennifer says.
Because Ontario and Quebec are the biggest dairy producers, it’s not surprising they’re also the top veal producers. Ontario produces 15,900 to 18,000 tonnes of veal annually out of some 140,000 animals and from 500 growers. Ontario beef cattle last year produced 181,802 tonnes of meat, according to Kelly Daynard of the Ontario Cattleman’s Association. That’s roughly 10 times more beef than veal.
There are two methods of raising calves for veal: grain-fed and milk-fed. The grain-fed calves are weaned at eight weeks and then switched to a corn and protein supplement diet; the milk-fed continue to be individually fed milk.
The result is two kinds of meat.
Grain-fed veal is more rosy-pink and has a subtle beef texture and flavour; milk-fed has a paler pink colour, and a more subtle flavour.
“The full production for a grain-fed calf is seven months and a milk-fed five months, compared to beef which is 12 months,” Jennifer says.
“They weigh between 500 to 600 pounds at production time, so they’re really not babies.”
And no, the milk-fed calves are not raised in the dark.
“If a human didn’t have any light it wouldn’t be healthy and it’s the same with a calf,” Jennifer says.
“Some farmers use stalls, some use open group pens, and some use hutches which are white plastic igloos you’ll sometimes see. The hutches are used to isolate calves, which have underdeveloped immune systems. That way they can monitor that animal and keep it healthy and responding. The lighting is both natural and artificial. But if it’s the night and the farmer’s not there, the barn will be dark, just like it is for other animals.”
Jennifer says more grain-fed veal is being produced now than milk-fed, and in Toronto grain-fed veal has become quite popular. Eastern Ontario, however, remains a bastion of milk-fed beef.
Indeed at my butcher shop, Hind Quarter Quality Meats, owner George Fairbairn says that with the exception of some wholesale business, he sells only milk-fed to consumers. And he was surprised to even hear there was an Ontario Veal Association.
“I get all kinds of stuff from the beef and pork people, but never the veal,” he says.
That’s too bad for Kingston consumers. George says a kilo of milk-fed scallopini sells for $32, and Jennifer says grain-fed would be half that price.
“That’s because milk-fed is so labour-intensive. You can put a load of corn out for the grain-fed calves, but you have to feed the milk to each of the animals separately for the milk-fed.”
As difficult as it is to overcome myths about veal, Jennifer says she faces an even bigger problem.
“In surveys we’ve taken the major obstacle to consumers buying veal isn’t the myths but rather the product variety and a lack of confidence in preparing it,” she says.
“The popularity of dishes like Marsala and parmigiana has been a bit of a barrier to greater cut selection. But veal also makes a great roast, chops, stir fry, ground, and kebabs. One of our jobs is to show people that.”
Because veal comes from young calves, it is very lean, and so doesn’t require as much cooking as beef does. The tendency is to overcook and so you end up with a tough piece of meat.
I tried three veal recipes and had no problems with any of them.Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a blood-thirsty meat cooker. I like some pink showing when I’m through (and when it’s steak I don’t mind a little red either).
I was most nervous about trying the Santa Fe Grilled Veal Chops. It was an expensive cut of meat (equivalent to the priciest steak) and the recipe required me to rub the chops with some spices and then grill them.
I ended up with two beautiful chops. They were juicy and to die for. George cut me up some less pricey veal for the Orange Ginger Stir Fry. It didn’t require much cooking and was thoroughly enjoyed, especially after I mixed it with my own stir fry sauce.
For the grand finale, I returned to an old favourite. I bought some scallopine and made veal parmigiana. I even bought some Sicilian wine and made some oil and garlic pastato go with it.
I intend to come back to veal, and maybe see if I can get George to bring in some more grain-fed, making it a little easier on our pocketbook. It’s as lean as a piece of skinless, boneless chicken and has plenty of zinc, B12 and iron.
But I just love its melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
Posted by FFC on July 19th, 2009 :: Filed under Consumers,Education and public awareness,Veal,Vegetarian
Tags :: activists, animal welfare, meat, Veal, Vegetarian
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