The Salers is a breed of cow from the Massif Central, specifically the region of the Auvergne. They are mountain cows that spend summer up in the estives, the mountain pastures of the Auvergne. As mountain cows they have been bred to perform well on a range of sparse grasses. This means they are not fussy eaters and are reported to have the fastest eating rate of French cows – more nibbles per minute.
If you stand in the herd after you move them to new pasture it is quite an experience. They don’t mess about. Everyone stands and eats. They eat right up to you as though you aren’t there. There is only the noise of munching.
Here in there Gers we don’t have any mountains. Gascony is Club Med for these cows. Plenty of year-round grass and the weather never gets as cold as the Auvergne.
The Auvergne is not a grain-growing region, and as a consequence the Salers cows have always been bred to perform on grass alone. This makes them different from the majority of French cows, like the Limousine, Charolaise and Blonde, which need cereals to properly finish. Salers love grass.
Many people believe that the Salers have some of the oldest genetics of European cows. With the red fur and the long horns they do look old-school. What is important to us is that the genetics of the breed have not been messed with in recent decades to make industrial feedlot cows. These are grass cows, they are healthy and happy on grass and they make incredible beef on grass alone.
The beef from Salers is different to all other French cows. The meat isn’t wet, so when you pan-fry a steak it does not dump a lot of water into the pan. You can properly brown a steak to get the good maillard reaction and the full beef flavour. Try this with your butcher’s meat and you often get pale steamed beef.
The colour of the beef is much redder than butcher or supermarket beef, even when cooked well-done. The animals also marble well, with the most marbling of any French breed.
For us the biggest test was the taste. Beef flavour was something we had missed since we moved to France, and we needed to raise our own cattle on grass to get it back again. Now we have Salers beef available in 10kg boxes and you can be a beef eater again too. Remember beef?