|NYT photo caption: Chefs are serving veal once more, finding the grain-fed meat more flavorful. Il Buco's chop, above, has a rosemary and bread crumb crust. Photo by Andrew Scrivani
Veal to Love, Without the Guilt
|D'Agostino, the 20-store supermarket chain in New York, said that its sales of veal have jumped 35 percent since it began carrying "certified humane" veal only.
NEW YORK TIMES by Marian Burros Apr 2007 4/18/2007
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THE most successful animal rights boycott in the United States started more than 20 years ago and had nothing to do with foie gras.
When photographs of formula-fed veal calves tethered in crates where they could not turn around appeared across the country, sales of veal plummeted. They have never recovered. In the 1950s and 1960s Americans ate four pounds of veal a year on average. Today per capital consumption is around half a pound a year.
Veal from calves fed sufficient grass or grain as well as milk has real character and flavor. For anyone who knows only the bland old-fashioned veal, it is as if a brand-new ingredient has been discovered. Tasting this new veal is not unlike biting into your first heirloom tomato from the garden after a lifetime of eating supermarket tomatoes bred for durability.
Even Stanley Lobel of the fine-meat purveyor Lobel's of New York -- where veal from crated formula-fed calves was once valued beyond all others because of its "cut it with a fork" tenderness -- says the new veal is better. "Veal becomes more flavorful if it's allowed to walk around," he said.
Unlike the formula-fed veal -- prized for its whiteness, which comes from a lack of iron -- almost all grass- or grain-fed veal raised outside crates not only is rosy or pink, but has a delightfully clean, subtle beef taste. The names it is sold under reflect the changes: meadow, red, rose, pastured, grass-fed, free-range and suckled. Not all of it can be cut with a fork, but an ordinary dinner knife works fine.
In a tasting of 20 samples raised by the newer, more humane methods, the tastiest veal was from animals raised on grass or grain, or both, along with milk. The samples -- from producers, restaurants and grocery stores -- were from calves four to six months old. Those fed formula only, even under the more tolerable living conditions, were not as flavorful.
Chefs who once refused to serve formula-fed veal because of its blandness are now delighted to have the newer version.
"I just never liked it because it didn't have a lot of flavor," said Bill Telepan of the old-style veal. At his restaurant, Telepan, on the Upper West Side, he now serves veal whenever he can get it from Duane Merrill's farm in upstate New York. "This tastes like something very much like mild beef. If veal is on the menu it sells, and people like it."
In a sentiment repeated by other chefs, Mr. Telepan added, "People are more hip to eating things that are raised right, and they trust I will get something that is well taken care of."
At Wolfgang Puck's restaurant Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., Wiener schnitzel from humanely raised veal is the third most popular item. "If we feed the animals better, treat them better, we will have a better product and a healthier product," Mr. Puck said in a telephone interview. He recently announced that he would serve meat only from humanely raised animals.
Farm Sanctuary, an organization that sponsors a campaign urging people not to eat veal, acknowledges that raising animals in pens rather than in individual crates is more humane. But the organization believes, as its president, Gene Baur, put it, that "the least objectionable way to do it is on pasture." That said, he added, "We think vegan is better."
Pen-raising gets some backing from Humane Farm Animal Care, an organization approved by the Humane Society and the A.S.P.C.A. Animals raised in pens can earn the organization's "certified humane" label, but they must be fed some kind of forage (grain), and they must be raised under a strict protocol that governs their living conditions, their transport to slaughter and the slaughter itself.
The changes in the industry have had a measurable impact on sales. D'Agostino, the 20-store supermarket chain in New York, said that its sales of veal have jumped 35 percent since it began carrying "certified humane" veal only.
People like Elaine Burden of Middleburg, Va., who stopped eating veal about 10 years ago, have come back. Ayrshire Farm, an 800-acre organic farm in nearby Upperville, is selling certified-humane veal at its Home Farm Store in Middleburg, and she is buying it. "I'm delighted we can have it again," she said. "Psychologically you feel better because it can graze on the fresh field of grass. It's a more natural and wholesome way to eat. But in fact, the taste is better."
Even a vegetarian can have a change of heart. Zach Schulman, a community garden organizer with Green Guerillas, a nonprofit group that helps establish and maintain community gardens in New York, considers himself mostly vegetarian. But he worked for a time at Bobolink Dairy and enjoys the veal raised there.
"I know the cows at the farm and have seen how they live and where they live and how they are treated," Mr. Schulman said. "And it makes sense from an ethical standpoint, and it makes sense sustainably and in terms of supporting a small local farm."
"Eating that veal felt right," he added, "but it's really just occasional -- a few times a year."