OUR FAVOURITE MEAT

“Comes from cows between the ages of 14 and 20, the older the better. I like them with not too much muscle and not too streaky, matured for between 10 and 15 days and barbecued on charcoal grills by expert hands.”

OLD, FAT COWS

This is the meat preferred by the Basques, cows aged 12 to 14 and that have been fat all their lives, always well fed. But today it is increasingly difficult to find this kind of cow in Europe. 
Because today cows are bred for their milk; at the age of 4 they no longer produce as much milk and are fattened quickly with energy feed to sell their meat six months later. This meat has no character and is of poor quality.

We find old, fat cows in the odd remote part of Galicia and Portugal. Places where men in their seventies still live with their cows, giving them whatever they have to eat, so that they live long, fat lives. Imanol Jaca heads for these places, studies the cows and buys them.
¨I listen to them and say nothing. The countryside demands silence. To ensure that they’ll sell you the best, you have to earn their respect. And that’s something you achieve by listening to them. “These cows have eaten cabbages, corn, carrots and, above all, grass in the fields. The meat varies depending on the grass: the dry, hard grass of the plateau, the damp Galician mountain grass, the grass on the hills along the coast, which gives splendid meat, because the sea air impregnates the grass with salt and if the cow spends its life eating it, that ingested salt favours the retention of salt in its meat.

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The quality of meat is measured by the quality of its fat. “Every week my hands feel thousands of cows slit open from head to tail: I know whether meat has good fat by feeling it. If the cow has been fed naturally, its fat has a very low melting temperature: on stroking it, the simple heat of my palms melts the fat. Excellent meat! And what a smell it leaves on your hands. The fat smells of a subtle mixture of milk and grass. I don’t wash my hands after it. I love that smell.”

This process is found in Iberian acorn-fed hams, the exudation of fat reveals its quality. You only have to press the bulges beside the slaughtered, quartered cow’s rectum with a finger: if your finger sinks into that fat, we have good meat.