This week the Independent newspaper reported that French cows are being fed a tipple of wine to improve the flavour of their beef in their article: The Moo-ton Rothschild for madam? Apparently some farmers have taken up the practice in the Languedoc – in the southern village of Lunel-Viel, in the Hérault department. However this is by no means a first – the Australians have beaten them to it. In 2007 Australian farmers have put their prized Wagyu cows on a diet laced with red wine in the hope of creating an even more succulent beef.
If you are wondering what a Wagyu cow is (apart from being a very discerning herbivore) it refers to several beef breeds of cattle in Japan genetically predisposed to intense marbling, and produces a high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat. Also known as Kobe-style beef, the meat from Wagyu cattle is known worldwide for marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavour, tenderness and juiciness, and thus a high market value that makes it the world’s most expensive red meat.
The wine quaffing Australian bovines live in Margaret River, in Western Australia, which produces some of the country’s most celebrated red wines. In Japan the black cattle are notoriously pampered; they are fed beer to stimulate their appetites, massaged with sake to relieve tired muscles, and played classical music to soothe their nerves. Cows that feel mellow and relaxed before they are slaughtered are said to produce beef of an exquisite tenderness. In Margaret River, the Wagyus are being raised on a diet supplemented by a litre of red wine a day.
Local farmer Claude Chaballier fed three animals last year – in a trial run that he’s preparing to repeat next month. He says the resulting beef was “lean, marbled and tasty”.
Two Angus and one Camargue were given a mix of leftover grapes, barley and hay before about two litres of wine were integrated into their diet.
According to the founder of the “Vinbovin” brand in the region, Jean-Charles Tastavy, the animals can consume up to a litre and a half per day, a quantity he compares to two or three glasses for humans. The only downside seems to be the price – last year’s trial run tripled the cost of the animal feed and would push up the price of the best beef cuts to close to €100. He and other farmers ultimately plan to supply high-end restaurants and are already targeting the big culinary establishments in the region.
According to the Telegraph, Chaballier is thinking of trying Muscat so as to give the meat a more musky taste.
Laurent Pourcel, a Michelin-starred chef, is among those enthusing about the ‘luxury meat’ saying: “It has a very special texture – beautiful, marbled and tender, and which caramelises during cooking. All the best Parisien restaurants will take it.”