Meat Lovers Get Bullish on Beef That Comes From Old Dairy Cows

Producers such as Butter Meat Co. are challenging the American preference for tenderness over flavor.


By Matthew Kronsberg, Bloomberg

June 25, 2020


Steak from “old” cows is something of a national obsession in Spain. What Spaniards know is that even more than time spent in the dry-aging locker, great steaks come from time spent on the hoof. The country’s Rubia Gallega cattle can live for more than a decade munching grass, packing on muscle and developing layers of buttery golden fat before they’re considered plate-worthy.


Finding such beef in U.S. restaurants has traditionally been a challenge. When chef José Andrés was looking for American beef that he could serve in Las Vegas as vaca vieja (old cow) at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, he tried some 500 different cuts of steak in his search. He eventually discovered Mindful Meats of Point Reyes Station, Calif., where he sources steaks from former dairy cows that are from eight to 10 years old.


While it was hard for restaurants to reliably find that sort of beef, it’s been nearly impossible for home cooks.


Virtually all the beef sold in the U.S. comes from cattle from 18 to 30 months old. After all, the faster a head of cattle can get to market weight, the higher the profit margins on that animal. There are pragmatic reasons, too: the Department of Agriculture requires any beef carcasses from cattle more than 30 months old to have the spine removed as a precaution against BSE, or Mad Cow Disease. 


A few meat producers are pushing back against the focus on young cattle. And they’re marketing their beef with the kind of descriptions that connoisseurs of aged bourbons and vintage wines might find familiar, teasing flavor and texture that’s foreign to American palates that prize mildness and tenderness above all.


The Butter Meat Co., for example, invites...


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