The local butcher and a 14 month old bull carcass

While waiting for the first saleable meat to finish we wanted to try out the local butcher to see if he would work out for us. We also have four children and are totally fed up with paying for beef at the supermarket when we have health and flavor walking around the fields. So we selected a 14 month old intact bull for slaughter. Yes folks, beef comes from cows.

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Here’s the local butcher’s room. Not too fancy but nicely equipped. That band saw on the left is useful.

Our expectations for a young bull were: lean, little marbling, some flavor, some tenderness. A young intact male (i.e. a bull not a steer) can give you good beef especially if you are one of those folk that likes your beef lower in fat. The question was going to be how well do our techniques bring out the flavor?

Here are the best parts of the cow. You have the rib-eye/faux filet/porterhouse on the right of the t-bone and the filet on the left. These are meats you can cook quickly. When you want a good steak it is from this part of the animal. There are other sources of steak on a beef carcass, but this is the fanciest (and most expensive) part.

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Splitting it into two give you rib-eye steaks on the right and t-bones on the left, or you can split the t-bone into its constituent parts. We decided to keep them as t-bones just for fun since you can’t find them in France.

The whole carcass was dry-aged for 19 days, which is a lot for a lean young bull.

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The meat has a little marbling, but not where the older animals will get to. The bits of fat sticking to the meat on the t-bone below come from the marrow in the bone, some of the best fat there is. Maybe you remember eating the marrow as a kid. I certainly did.

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Shank cuts for braising.

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Filling up big bags for flavorful stew meat. The bones and scraps on the left will go some very happy farm dogs.

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The meat all cut.

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The pasture-feeding stores a lot of flavor in the meat, the dry aging concentrates this flavor. The lack of wetness in Salers beef lets you brown the steaks in a strong Maillard reaction. All three things combined to make this beef very tasty, which was a surprise to us. We’re waiting to see how the first fully matured animal will turn out. Now we can be beef eaters again.

15 responses to “The local butcher and a 14 month old bull carcass

  1. I’m glad to hear you could find a local butcher and especially one who’d let the carcass age as long as that! How far away was he?

    I’ve been learning to do the butchering and the cutting myself and I’ve started to feel a bit uneasy about not doing it myself and not being there for the animals I’ve raised. I don’t want them to be hurried or rushed through all new facilities before they go. If the local butcher was still in business I’d probably feel otherwise. It’s a bit odd maybe and not businesslike, but it’s how I lean anyway. So far I’ve been able to eat enough meat, mostly.

  2. In the picture of the T-bone, did they trim the fat off the edge before that picture, or was there just no fat on the skin side?

    I’ve eaten a couple of steers that were too lean for me — and so this time I’m graining the cow a bit before slaughter.

    What was the diet of this cow prior to slaughter? Only grass, or grain or…?

  3. Bruce, he was an intact bull, young and only pastured so he was lean. While I was there the butcher wasn’t trimming any fat off, but he processed the carcass a little before I got there. It was in several pieces whereas when it arrived it was in two halves. I had already inspected the carcass a few days earlier. Now given the length of aging for such a young animal (19 days) maybe he was trimming off the fat but I doubt it. I think he was just lean.

    As a live animal he was pudgy but not fat. Remember this isn’t the beef for sale but something for the family to eat since we were fed up with paying cash for meat when there was beef walking around the paddocks.

    It is hard enough to compare US beef to British beef (US is way more marbled) let alone French beef. For example, see the wikipedia photo of an entrecôte, or rib-eye steak from a Charolais: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Entrec%C3%B4te_charolais_01_fcm.jpg

    The biggest problem with comparing steaks is you compare what you can measure and taste is a hard thing to measure. US carcasses are graded based on visible fat, not on flavor.

    As an experiment the results were surprising to us. The flavor was beefy and the steaks were juicy. It is hard to communicate what that means to people that do not live here. We haven’t had beef flavor in our steaks since we have come here. It has been three years of disappointment. That taste alone is something special out here. This is why we do cows. There’s such an opportunity in the marketplace for beef with flavor. My biggest challenge will be selling to the locals with a vastly different taste and eating experience to us.

    Even though he wasn’t finished as we want him to be we let a few folk try out the steak since we liked the flavor. The results were very positive. I should write up a quote page but I’d rather wait until the first of the mature beef goes out.

    This guy ate grass and hay (mix lucerne/grass). If I wanted him fattier I would have castrated him and waited another year or two. For some breeds they talk about finishing steers at 4 or 5 years! Even the intact bulls tend to wait until 24 months before slaughter and they’re still lean. The farm I visited a few months back served 22 month old bull beef that had been inside eating corn silage and cereals since a few months of age. We don’t do that.

    It’s a long learning process and we’ll be improving our methods for years. There’s a big risk we can’t get the balance right between flavor and mouthfeel without grains, but we’re going to take our time figuring it out and see if we can do it. I’d rather my family grew up eating pasture fed (and finished) beef. I think we can get it right, and the big variable will likely be how long we spend on aging. You’re not getting finished animals at 15 months with grass feeding like you can with grains but a 26 month old heifer? A 30 month old steer? I’m curious. First heifer is in about four weeks.

  4. Did you make any hamburger? How many pounds of beef did you take home? I aim to visit your farm and have you feed me a good steak some day. 😉 Oh and how do you dry age beef? Hang it after slaughtering in a cool house?

  5. Mark, we didn’t make any hamburger because this beef was young we figured we’d stew the lesser cuts. Now there are three large bags of beef cubes in the freezer and Jean just ground some as I update the site.

    The rules are odd for hamburger. If you want to sell pre-ground beef it cannot be aged more than 5 days. That would suck for the rest of the carcass, but I presume you can split the carcass and age the good parts. You can sell ground beef aged more than 5 days but it has to be ground in front of the customer. Each supermarket has a grinding machine that makes beef patties from cubed beef and when you order steak haché they make them on the spot.

    First the abattoir hangs the carcass in a really cool dry room then the butcher picks it up and hangs it for a few days in his cool dry room. There is this thing with fancy steaks, the rib-eye part, where they age just that rib portion. There are fancy restaurants that have a room for their aging rib-eyes. Then there’s this Aussie butcher chain called Super Butcher that uses a dry aging room in its marketing. See this vid – it is pretty good. I need to post on these guys they do some interesting videos that tell us a fair bit.

  6. Until full growth or at least almost full growth is attained, the animal can’t truly marble, that’s why grassfed beef gets such a bad name because most animals in the US are butchered too young. You can force the marbling with grain, but it doesn’t have the health benefits of true grass fat beef. That being said we can’t afford to go more than the two year mark, but the three year old we butchered several years ago was divine!

  7. Thank you, thank you, for this fascinating post! We will never be able to see our beef (just as we couldn’t see our pork) in processing because of USDA rules. Arrgh! The butcher can’t even have a window for people to look through. Mystery meat is not a good thing, IMHO. Fortunately, we trust our butcher to give us back what we gave him; I’ve heard stories about butchers who give you who-knows-whose meat.

    It was so educational for me to see this, as well as the Australian video. I wonder how much $40 Australian per kilo is in USD per pound. It sounds horrendous! 🙂

    I don’t blame you for wanting your own beef. So glad you’re happy with your experiment to date! Do I understand that you’re going to butcher a heifer? Is that because you have too many, don’t have a buyer for a heifer, or she isn’t breeding quality?

  8. Susan, I don’t know what the French rules are but this is Gascony and the rules can be optional. AUS$40 for an aged steak like that is good value, I’d say. It’s about 30€ a kilo or slightly more than local rib-eye that isn’t tasty or aged. In US terms it is $18.18 a lb.

    This isn’t the USA for many reasons – clients, climate, soils, subsidies, markets. One day I’ll get my act together to talk about some of the things I haven’t mentioned yet like subsidies and cattle markets.

    I do need to go through the slaughter process at the abattoir and take some photos if M. Sabathier will let me. The smaller local abattoirs seem to be facing financial pressure at the moment so we may have to switch to one further away in a couple of years. Still, 35 minutes is close by US or Australian standards and not much further than the current 20 minute trip.

    We have a lot of heifers and don’t want to enlarge the cow herd much more at the moment. We had 4 births last year, 14 this year and the current plan is about 30 for next year. The 2yo heifers are the only finish-grade animals we have this year. If we don’t sell them we have nothing to sell and it slows down our learning cycle by a year. Steady-state we’ll be finishing heifers and steers. It is a pain separating the finish heifers from the main herd and running two herds while the bull is in and I can’t say we have any great solution yet short of extra work. Some folk run leader-follower herds but I’m keeping them on separate parts of the farm since there are only a handful of animals in the finish herd this year.

  9. Mark, I forgot to say the weight. The carcass was 217kg, so 477 pounds. I probably took 120-130 kg of beef, so maybe 270-280 pounds. I didn’t weigh the final amount. The farm dogs get the bones and scraps.

  10. Matron, thanks again for commenting. You guys have more experience than us and we’re always willing to learn.

  11. Like I mentioned in your post about veal, Author Gene Logston says baby beef that has been grass feed is the best he has eaten. He says it juicy and flavorful and in his opinion is better then USDA Choice. This is what I plan to eat from my herd. The T bone you have in the picture looks great to me. If you are looking to add marbling to your grass feed beef you might want to try what you were talikng about buying a Scottish Highland Bull and interbreeding with your Salers. Highlands are said to develope marbled meat from grass only. That was another reason I plan to raise Highlands.

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