Welfare conscious? Then opt for English veal

PUBLISHED: 16:30 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:31 07 September 2010

Customers are asking for Dutch veal. But when they re still rearing calves under an intensive system, it s best to choose homegrown – where animals are farmed more humanely, suggests cookery writer Frances Bissell Are we really serious about animal wel

Customers are asking for Dutch veal. But when they're still rearing calves under an intensive system, it's best to choose homegrown - where animals are farmed more humanely, suggests cookery writer Frances Bissell

Are we really serious about animal welfare - or do we just pay lip service?

I was speaking with Patrick Bourne, from Meat Naturally in Hampstead Community Market, and commented on the calves liver. I assumed it was English. But no, he told me, his customers ask for Dutch veal. And I'm told the same by the butcher in St John's Wood.

While calves for Dutch veal are no longer housed in crates - crates were banned throughout the EU two years ago - they are still reared under an intensive system, using a somewhat bleak loose-housed system.

The very young animals are kept together, away from their mother, in sheds with bare slatted floors, without fresh air, exercise and daylight and fed a diet which deprives them of iron, thus keeping the meat white.

The calves are very often the product of the British dairy industry, since exports to the EU began again a few years ago.

We love our artisan British cheeses and our West Country ice creams, yoghurt, cream and butter. It is a pity we do not eat more English veal, which is the direct by-product of this huge industry.

Female calves are reared, of course, to produce more milk. Bull calves have no such useful function and are exported or destroyed, apart from those which are reared for English veal.

Unlike veal from loose-housed calves, English veal comes from young animals reared with their mothers and suckled, either at pasture or, if the weather is unsuitable, in airy barns.

Their diet is grass or hay, as well as their mother's milk, which produces a light pink meat, rather than the iron-deficient flesh of calves reared in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Such veal is becoming increasingly available and it is getting better and better as farmers learn how to manage the rearing of calves for veal production.

Sold as English rose or rosé veal, it is an appetising pink, with a good texture and flavour when cooked. Waitrose stocks this veal and you can also find out more about it at www.helenbrowning organics.co.uk.

Mike Belcher, from March House Farm in Leicestershire, is also beginning to rear calves for veal and you can find it from time to time on his stall at Swiss Cottage Farmers' Market on Wednesdays.

If you support British artisan cheese makers, it would be hypocritical to buy Dutch veal.

English veal is not cheap - no meat should be - but there are less expensive cuts than the loin or escalopes and one can make it go further with other ingredients.

Minced veal makes a fabulous sauce for pasta. And veal skirt is a lovely cut to quickly sear and serve with wilted spinach, some sautéed potatoes and a wedge of lemon.

If you decide on a prime cut to roast, since veal is good cold and slices well, it is worth buying and cooking a larger joint than you need. In any case, larger joints cook better than small ones, shrinking less and staying juicier.

For colder days, try my warming casserole. It is perfect with a bottle of Barbera or Chianti Classico.

o More of Frances' meat recipes can be found in her Organic Meat Cookbook, published by Ebury.

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