Just so that you know, this is a review of a product of which I was sent a free sample. The opinions in the post are, as ever, mine, and the review is honest. Please note my Patrick Stewart-worthy sentence arrangement in the first line there.
Veal is a meat subject to a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. It’s understandable, too – the cruelty of the veal trade has been well publicised, with consumers hearing the story of calves being kept held in constrictive crates that don’t allow them to move, in order to produce a white coloured meat. What many people don’t know is that these crates were outlawed in the UK and Europe in 2006, and in fact the welfare standards for veal calves in the UK has been considerably higher than that of the EU since the 1990s. In the UK, veal calves must have sufficient space to move around, a proper diet including roughage, iron and fibre and proper bedding to rest on. The results of this better welfare is a pink meat, rather than white, which is known as rose veal. The Freedom Food website has an excellent document, giving more information on this, and you can find it here.
The other common misconception is that veal is from baby cows. People, we eat lamb like nobody’s business, and a lamb is slaughtered at about five or six months. Chickens are in for the chop at just 46 days, and nobody seems to mind that. Rose veal is from animals at about eight months old, making it practically a teenager by cow standards. On the flip side, the situation at present is that male calves from dairy cows are killed at a day old, because they can’t be raised for either meat or milk, and as such they’re a ‘waste product’. A living, breathing waste product. If you drink milk, eat cheese or enjoy any other branch of the dairy industry, you should be eating veal.
I think that’s probably enough of the heavy stuff, but here are some links if you’d like to find out more you can visit the RSPCA Freedom Food website, or read this article on the John Penny site, on the case for veal. These people are more knowledgable than I am, and the Freedom Food website also gives you the option to ask any questions you might have.
So, let’s cut to the chase here, shall we? I got involved in a chat with Kate from John Penny on Twitter. John Penny and Sons are a farmers and wholesale butchers – selling to retailers for you and I to buy – from Yorkshire. The upshot of our conversation was that she asked if I’d like to write a blog post as part of their Meat Crusade. I was interested to learn more, and once I had I was very excited to take part – and flattered to be asked. Here’s their description of the Meat Crusade’s goal:
to put quality butchers meat back onto every dinner table in Britain by raising awareness in quality and taste and offering a greater understanding of how ethical meat operations work.
Sounds reasonable to me! Now, it’s important for me to be honest here and say that I am frightened of going to the butchers. I find it intimidating, as though they will know I don’t know what I’m on about. I fear that I’ll get tongue tied, and ask for the wrong amount of meat and go home with half a cow. I know that this isn’t sensible, but it’s the truth. At present, I do most of my shopping at the supermarket. I’ve been meaning to change this for some time, and with the advent of the Meat Crusade I feel more inspired to do so. Butchers are people too, you know. In times like these, it’s more important than ever to support local butchers and farmers – I’ll make a point of it. I hope you do too – please send me your success stories!
To get back to the story at hand, John Penny sent me a glorious joint of veal to try and to blog about, and here it is:
Just look at the colour, and the marbling of fat:
Outstanding quality – you can tell even before you roast a joint like this that it’s going to be a treat.
I kept it very simple and made us a Sunday roast. First, I seasoned and massaged the meat all over with Cullisse rapeseed oil, salt and pepper. Then I rested it on a bed of sliced shallots and branches of rosemary and sage.
I roasted the meat at 180C for an hour and forty-five minutes, then rested for fifteen while the G man and I scurried around finishing off the rest of the dinner – Yorkshires, gravy, veg, roasties, mash. The works.
When we carved the meat, it was just blushing inside – I’d say medium-well done – and so, so moist. You can see this in the photo below; the juices were literally trickling out of the meat, like an advert on TV, but completely real.
The flavour of veal is somewhere between pork and beef, and you can see how much paler than roast beef it is. It still has an appealing pink hue, though, and unlike pork you can cook it to medium quite safely. The texture of the meat is so soft, which is another benefit of cooking gently at a low temperature. I can’t recommend it too highly, it was the best roast dinner we’d had in ages.
We had the leftover meat in sandwiches, which was a luxurious lunch and no mistake.
With veal, as with all other meat, you cannot assume that the product you are buying, especially from the supermarket, meets the high welfare standards you would hope for. If, like me, you tend to do our shopping in a supermarket, check the labels, and make sure that if you are buying veal, it is British veal. In fact, check all your labels for any meat for the Freedom Food stamp. The best way to make sure you’re getting ethically reared meat, of any kind, is to make friends with your local butcher and chat with them about where their meat comes from, or buy at farmers markets where you can meet the producers. I take a pledge to do so now, or at least to make a conscious effort to try to. I hope you’ll join me.
Thank you again to John Penny, and in particular to Kate. The veal was delicious, a real treat, and you’ve inspired me to shop properly from here onwards.