Tuesday, June 15, 2010

La Vache :)

My host mother is an amazing cook.  Not only does she serve me delicous cheese for desert, but she can serve up some of the best fish I have ever eaten.  She trumps Red Lobster or any other chain restaurant that attempts to serve legitimate seafood every day of the week.  She loves the art of cooking and combines it with my host father's culture in Southwestern France to make the best seafood almost daily.  Since I have arrived I have had salmon, tuna, mussel, crayfish, white fish and clams.  Yet, regardless of Lydie's Iron Chef skills with fish, I am starting to crave my favorite source of protien--BEEF.

Around the end of last week, I was starting to wonder if beef was even consumed in France.  I had seen cattle in the pastures along the roads, but I had yet to see a slice of red meat on the table in front of me.  I was starting to miss my favorite animal, in both the live and edible version.

Lucky for me and you...I found out that cows do exist for a reason in France and people actually do eat beef (just not my family) and that farms in France still do remind me of home.  For starters, a farm still smells like a farm...as all of the city folks complained about the smell, I loved the scent of hard work and dedication.  Second, a cow still looks like a cow...it still moos and eats grain and has calves.  The farmers still care about their product and work hard to raise a quality piece of meat (viande in French) for their consumers.  They still have the small farms that many of us are able to call home and they pass those farms from generation to generation. A farm is a farm whether is is Minnesota, France or China...the values never change and that was one of the best lessons I have learned on this trip so far.

 (This is an advertisment I found in Angers that promotes Beef.  It makes me think that some people may enjoy my favorite meat!)

But, let me be clear there are major differences in our production practices.

Now I know, that there are variations in production practices even in the United States, but realisticaly our main goal is usually efficeiency.  We punch numbers to determine which genetics will produce a fast-growing calf that will make it to market with the least amount of inputs...it is a matter of economics.  From what I am gathering, that is not the case in France.  Why?  Because French prefer old meat.  Wierd huh?  We prefer a fresh, "A maturity" carcass that is filled with marbling and they would rather have an extremely lean, tougher, older piece of meat.  So, in order to react to these demands a steer is usually fed out for 2 1/2 years and because of that, farmers often feed out bulls instead and harvest them at 15-17 months for beef.  That is just so odd for me.  That's a long time for one steer to be on my farm, but the differences don't end there--

  • Steers aren't typically castrated here until 12 months, sometimes at the earliest of 7 months.
  • There are no major feedlots in France.  Most steers and heifers get sold to Italy or Spain to be fed out.
  • There are many Appelations of Origins (AOC) dealing with beef breeds.  These AOCs guarentee the region, breed, handling and quality of beef from specific areas.  For example, there is an AOC Maine Anjou.
  • There is no real market for market heifers in France.  For example, the Maine Anjou AOC required all females to have at least one calf before they could qualify.
  • Cattle are not given hormones...ever.
  • Producers are given their prices on visual appraisal before the cattle leave the farms.  Little emphasis is put on our normal guidelines, such as marbling, size, condition and it is more on what the grader thinks that day.
My list could go on and on and on but instead, let me share with you some pictures from the birth place of the Maine Anjou, which happen to be one of my favorite breeds!  I was pretty excited about this visit, as I had made an assumption about their origin when I discoverent the name of Angers' region is Anjou and that a nearby river is named the Maine.  It turns out it wasn't just a coincedence and I was able to visit the farm where the first Maine Anjou (also known as Rouge des Près) was bred! 
However, the Maine Anjou in France are much different than the my heifer I lovingly showed in 10th grade or any of the steers we have ever raised.  These cows here are red and white and at home, they are definitely black.   It is obvious that there has been some crossbreeding in the American Maine Anjou breed, but I still love ours none the less.


The pictures above are from the AOC Maine Anjou (so basically like the breeds headauarters) and let me just say, while I love the American Angus Association, this office space was beautiful.  Plus, they still had the original stalls where the first cattle on the farm were stalled and they had two cows in their pasture, chickens in their yard and a barrell of cider the size of me in their barn.  I think the Angus Association maybe should take some notes :)

1 comment:

  1. I like this post! I'll pass on your suggestions as well :)