Lesser known beef cattle
By Sam Wass, Medium Well
While popular beef breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, and Hereford get much of the meaty coverage in the press, and you may have heard of (and almost certainly tasted) Limousin and Charolais, there are a number of lesser known beef breeds worth checking out for the discerning steak lover.
Mainly found in the alpine region of Austria, Switzerland and the Allgau region of Germany, Braunvieh is a Swiss cattle breed renowned for mountain climbing abilities and grazing on very steep hillsides. With a brown (almost grey) coat colour, the breed is often referred to as ‘Brown Swiss’ in America as Braunvieh translated to English is, quite literally, ‘Brown Cow’. Typically the cattle includes a black muzzle with a white border, and is kept as dual-purpose, as they are good milk producers used in both milk and cheese production. Due to the longevity of the breed, the meat is proving popular for the growing trend of eating old dairy cattle, which is increasingly seen as a delicacy.
Piedmontese cattle originate from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. The breed is believed to be a descendant of the Zebu that migrated from Pakistan over a thousand years ago. The breed has a light, white-grey coat with darker pigmentation around the eyes, horns and snout.
Known for it’s extremely muscular physique, which originally meant it was used as a powerful draft animal and dairy cow, today they are reared predominantly for meat. With an elongated torso, they are currently in high demand for the good yield of lean, tender meat they provide. Increasingly popular with health conscious consumers, demand currently outstrips production demand.
Large and extremely powerful, these cattle were modelled by the Ancient Romans as animal sculptures. Capable of being over 2 metres high (shoulder height), they are thought to be the largest breed of cattle in the world, originating from the Chiana Valley in central Italy. Bright white in colour, their natural power made them ideal draft animals for centuries, until agricultural machinery made this obsolete. Although now reared exclusively for its extremely flavoursome meat, as the breed is not suitable for quick fattening, fewer farmers are rearing, which may mean that the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a 1.5kg T-bone steak cut from a Chianina, may become a thing of the past.
Tajima is a black Japanese cattle breed, most famously known as the breed behind what is now known to the rest of the world as Wagyu, which literally means Japanese (“Wa) Cattle (“Gyu).
Often (incorrectly) labelled as Kobe cattle, the name Kobe is reserved for cattle that were born, raised and slaughtered in (or around) Kobe, a city in the south Japanese prefecture of Hyogo. The meat from Tajima cattle from Kobe has gained an international reputation, and is often referred to as the best (and most expensive) meat in the world. An exclusive speciality is the fattening of heifers in the region of Matsusaka, whose meat is even higher quality than that of Kobe bulls, and comes with an even bigger price tag. The urban myth that animals are massaged with Sake and played music, is in practice, rarely applied, but the animals are slow grown over a long period, and are renowned for perfect marbling, and a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Due to high demand, and high value, the ‘Wagyu’ breed has been taken on by farmers in the UK, Europe, the USA, Australia and just about anywhere else you can think of, where people want ‘exclusive beef’. In contrast to Japan, where the cattle are mainly kept in cow sheds and fed concentrated feed, Wagyu in new production countries is generally kept on grasslands.
Now you have this arsenal of cattle expertise, you have the knowledge behind you to explore further than the Aberdeen Angus burger or Hereford steak. There’s more to try and enjoy when it comes to quality beef, so why not get exploring?