Raising the Steaks

20th April 2018

Meat from retired dairy cows is taking the restaurant world by storm, with chefs arguing that cuts from longer-living British animals could rival Japanese Wagyu.

Words by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

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For years, highly sought-after Japanese Wagyu beef has been the mainstay of exclusive restaurant menus. Widely considered the most tender, flavoursome beef available, its popularity has endured despite its high price point. But now this could be about to change. Britain’s leading organic farmers are selling meat from retired dairy cows, claiming that its flavour is as intense and delicious, if not more so, than that from the Asian breeds.

“It’s all to do with the marbling of the fat,” says Goodwood’s farmer Tim Hassell. “There’s a very high fat content on a dairy cow, and certain breeds are more suitable for this kind of meat than others – something like a Holstein, for example, isn’t as good as a Shorthorn, which carries much more fat.” Both Wagyu and dairy meat contain a high amount of marbling [fat found within a cut of meat], which melts as it cooks to create a rich taste with a tender, silky texture. Hassell speculates, moreover, that the Goodwood cows’ high-foraged, grass-fed diet might also contribute to the overall flavour.

“Demand for this kind of meat is absolutely growing,” Dan Austin, MD of Lake District Farmers, which supplies the likes of Le Gavroche, The Ledbury and Aviary, told The Telegraph back in October. “The [retired-dairy] meat has a fantastic, strong, rich flavour. It’s probably the best beef we produce.”

In fact, eating meat from animals that had lived long lives was common until relatively recently – it makes sense, given that the longer an animal lives, works, and fattens up, the more its flavour intensifies – but large supermarkets have driven demand for meat that’s intensively farmed, fattened quickly and slaughtered young – at around 30 months. Retired-dairy-meat sceptics need only look to the recent success of Galician and Basque beef, which is taken either from retired dairy cows or cows that have lived to around 17 years of age, and has met with approval in London restaurants such as Chiltern Firehouse, Barrafina and Kitty Fisher’s since around 2015. Chef Nigel Slater calls it “totally awesome”, while restaurant critic Jay Rayner went on a special quest in order to rediscover a steak he ate in the famously foodie Spanish town of San Sebastián.

a fantastic, strong, rich flavour. It's probably the best beef we produce.

Dan Austin

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For now, you can purchase Basque beef and organic retired-dairy beef from importers txuleta.co.uk, who also sell via turnerandgeorge.co.uk, while Coombe Farm Organic sells meat from its own dairy cows online at coombefarmorganic.co.uk.

“There’s been a rumbling about meat from retired dairy cows for the last couple of years,” says Hassell. “Chef [Darron Bunn of Goodwood restaurant Farmer, Butcher Chef] and myself have been talking about it for a while, so we’re going to age a couple of sirloins and ribs and give it a go. Farmer, Butcher, Chef prides itself on serving interesting new cuts and different kinds of meat, so we’ll try it out and see what the results are like. I like the idea in theory because it shows a bit more respect for the animal’s life than processing it for cheaper cuts. And if the meat really does taste amazing, then why not?”

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