The ancestor of modern bovines was the auroch, hunted by humans for food since the dawn of time. It was domesticated in about 8,000 BC in the southwest of Asia and northern Africa.
It was a sacred animal in a number of ancient civilizations (cows still are in India). It was also a draft animal that also provided its hide and milk, not only meat.
It was introduced into the New World by Christopher Columbus on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti). From there, cattle would spread to the rest of the Americas, from north to south.
Hundreds of breeds were developed over the centuries, but now only a few dominate the market.
The age of the animal, the distribution of fat, and the level of maturation play an essential role.
Good beef is fleshy and firm, light red in color, lightly and evenly marbled with a light whitish fat, and, depending on the cut, a thin layer of fat visible on the surface.
European laws require strict labeling with a traceability number, country of slaughter, country and facility where the animal was quartered, the member state where the animal was born, and the member state where it was fattened.
French born and raised cattle are subject to a strict system of permanent individual animal identification (IPGA). Each animal is given a certification document that is valid from its birth until its slaughter. The meat of the animal bears a “Viande bovine française” marking.
In cool room or refrigerator between 3º and 5ºC, with the cuts stored in their wrapping.
Like all meat, beef contains a great deal of protein, and it is richest in iron.
Depending on the cut, there is more or less fat. Most of the fat is saturated fatty acids (harmful for the arteries) and comes with cholesterol.
Like all meats, beef is often blamed for leading to certain cancers, such as colon cancer, when it is consumed in large quantities (which is the case, for example, in the United States). Grilling beef also releases carcinogenic compounds.
There are hundreds of cattle breeds in the world, and often several dozen are raised in each country.
Typical French breeds include:
- Beef cattle, specialized in the production of meat and divided into two groups:
Traditional breeds: Charolaise, Limousine, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Rouge des Près, Parthenaise
Hardy breeds: Salers, Gasconne, Aubrac
- Dairy cattle, raised for milk production: Holstein, Prim’Holstein, Bretonne pie noire, Jersey
- Mixed breeds, known for both their milk and meat: Normande, Montbéliarde, Abondance, Tarentaise, Simmental
Certain breeds or ways of raising cattle are certified:
AOC : Bœuf Maine Anjou (Pays de Loire, Ile-et-Vilainel, Deux Sèvres), Fin Gras du Mézenc (Haut plateau du Mézenc), Taureau de Camargue (Bouches du Rhône, Gard, Hérault).
PGI: Bœuf de Bazas (Gironde and Landes), Bœuf de Chalosse (southern Landes), Bœuf fermier de Vendée (Vendée, southern Loire), Charolais du Bourbonnais (Bourbonnais), Flezur d'Aubrac (Plateau de l'Aubrac)
Label rouge (red label): Bœuf Belle Bleue (North, Pas de Calais), Bœuf blond d'Aquitaine (all over France), Bœuf excellence (Aquitaine Midi-Pyrénées), Bœuf fermier Aubrac (mountain areas), Bœuf fermier du Maine (also holding the Label Bleu Blanc Rouge, includes flaxseed in their feed), Bœuf gascon (Gascogne), Charolais Label rouge (all over France), La Parthenaise (western France), Limousin Blason prestige (all over France), Salers Label rouge (all over France).
In Italy, the chianina is one of the world’s oldest known breeds. It is also bred in other parts of Europe, South Africa, and the Americas. Piemontese cattle are raised in the Piedmont area, hence their name.
In Great Britain, the Aberdeen Angus and Hereford breeds are the best known.
In Switzerland, the Simmental breed originated in the Bernese Oberland region, but is now raised in many other countries: Eastern Europe, South America, and the United States.
In Argentina, the Criollo breed is the most widespread, and the Brangus is also very popular, although a large number of other breeds from elsewhere are also raised there.
In Japan, the Wagyu breed produces Kobe beef (with its distinctive fat marbling, with beer included in its feed, and massaged with sake), but this breed is also raised in Australia, Canada, the United States, and in the Aisne region of France.