Do cows that drink wine make for better steaks?
A French duo tries to make feeding time a more enjoyable experience for the animals... on the theory that a happy cow makes for tastier beef
Move over, Kobe beef. Yes, Japan-born cows raised on beer are known for their succulent flavor... and exorbitant prices. But not to be outdone, two French men, a farmer and a winemaker, have teamed up to produce Vinbovin (a mash-up of the French words for wine and cattle), a beef from cows that are served wine as part of their daily diet. Is getting cows tipsy the secret to a tastier steak? Here, a brief guide:
Why give cows wine?Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy heard about studies in Spain and Canada which suggest that happy animals yield better meat, so he decided to conduct an experiment. He teamed up with farmer Claude Chaballier, who had a few cows he could spare to test Tastavy's theory that serving cattle wine would make their beef tastier. They started out by feeding three cows — two Angus and one Camargue — the remainders of pressed grapes, washed down with water, then decided to give the animals locally produced wine.
Did the cows get drunk?No. Tastavy and Chaballier calculated the servings so they would be roughly equivalent to the amount recommended by health authorities for a man — two or three glasses of wine a day. That meant that each cow got the equivalent of two bottles of locally produced wine per day. And it wasn't cheap swill — the cows got wine from the Saint-Genies des Mourgues vineyard in the Languedoc region, which is renowned for its fine inebriant. The animals, while drinking in relative moderation, lapped the stuff up. "The cows appreciated the menu and ate with enjoyment," Chaballier says.
How did the beef wind up tasting?Michelin-starred chef Laurent Pourcel sampled the beef, and declared it delicious. "It has a very special texture — beautiful, marbled, and tender, and which caramelizes during cooking," Pourcel says. "All the best Parisian restaurants will take it." There's enough of a demand for such luxury meat, or viande de luxe, among foodies that Tastavy and Chaballier plan to expand their four-month, three-cow experiment, and produce more Vinbovin for market.
Is it expensive?Yes. You'll pay dearly if you want to try Vinbovin. Serving the cows wine bumped up the daily cost of feeding from $6 to $18. As a result, the new beef brand will sell for $122 per kilo (or 2.2 pounds). That's steep, but fans of succulent, marbled Japanese Kobe beef — from cows that are fed beer and given massages — know that "a happy cow is a tasty cow," says Kiri Tannenbaum at Delish. And given the early reports on this new luxury meat, "it won't be a hard sell."