Calves, like their parents, are descended from the auroch, which was hunted by humans for food before we invented cattle breeding.
The ancient Romans were very fond of veal. It is still a popular meat in Italy today and is actually more widely consumed than beef.
For a long time, eating veal was a sign of wealth: you had to be rich to afford to slaughter an animal with so little meat on it. It was also reserved for celebrations, inspired by the parable in the Bible, in which the prodigal son returns and the father kills a fatted calf in his honor.
In parts of France, when the calves were almost ready to be slaughtered, they were given eggs or biscuits mixed with milk so that their meat would be even more tender and white.
The French expression Coûter les yeux de la tête (literally "cost the eyes from the head", meaning to cost a fortune) originated in the Middle Ages, when the eyes from the calf's head were highly sought after.
There are huge differences in meat quality depending on how the calves are reared.
Veal from crated calves is generally bland, dry, releases lots of water during cooking, and has soft fat.
In this category, there are two official criteria used in France: the Veau d'Origine Française (veal of French origin), which applies to calves that have been born, raised, and slaughtered in France, and the Veau élevé en France (veal raised in France), which is a way of subtly announcing that the calves were born elsewhere (Italy, Poland, or another country of the European Union), and were later transported to France, where they were raised and slaughtered.
The meat of farm-reared calves, and especially the meat of calves that were not weaned, is white/pink, very tender and melting, with white and creamy fat. It is also healthier because the Label Rouge prohibits the use of antibiotics.
Meat from grass calves has more color and the meat is often firmer.
The meat of the grain-fed Canadian calves is quite red, stronger in flavor, but tender.
France and Italy are the largest European consumers of veal. It is not widely consumed in the United States.
All pieces of veal and veal offal can be used.
Depending on the cut, veal can be roasted, broiled, fried, braised, or poached.
Roasted, fried, grilled: noix, noix pâtissière, filet, côtes, longe
Braised, poached: épaule, quasi, longe, poitrine, tendron, jarret, flanchet, collier, haut de côtes.
There are many traditional recipes for veal, such as blanquette (a veal stew), veal Marengo, rolled veal, stuffed breast, the Italian osso buco, Wiener schnitzel, also known as veal Milanese, veal Orloff (created by Urbain Dubois and dedicated to the Prince of the same name), and Pojarski veal chop, the minced veal balls invented in the 19th century by Pojarski, a Russian innkeeper, and much loved by Tsar Nicholas I.
Not forgetting, of course, calf's head, which has inspired a number of recipes in France, Germany, and Italy. Or the foot, used to make such a beautiful gelatin.
The refrigerator or cold room at 3–5 °C for 2–3 days, the pieces still wrapped to prevent dehydration.
Rich in protein, veal is a lean meat, especially in the eye and the knuckle. The neck is the part with the most fat. It is low in iron.
Calves' liver is of impressive nutritional value, providing a lot of B vitamins, vitamin A, and iron. However, always choose liver from a farm-bred calf so that it is free from drug residues.
The rest of the offal is high in cholesterol, especially the brain. Sweetbreads and kidneys contain a lot of uric acid.