The Holy Grail for the Tender Steak

I have spent the last 4 years on the internet and talking to butchers to try and find a really good, tender steak. Funnily enough I found some amazing steaks by sheer accident a year or so ago. We were at our flat in St Cyprien, Languedoc...and I did a quick shop on the day we arrived at Lidl...and found American Steaks in the freezer around 10 - 12 euros for two steaks, but frankly...I was missing a good tender, pink steak. It turned out to be the most fortuitous shop I had done in a while...the steak melted on the tongue...superb. Sadly they stocked them for 3 months and then no more. I found this article on line, and it explains a lot. Written by an American in the food industry who has moved to France I gather.

French beef is different to US beef in many ways. Firstly, you’re likely to be eating a culled cow of 4-10 years. That is way older than any US beef. US beef is usually under 2 years of age. In the US, culled cows make hamburger meat.

'In the US when you get a steak you will likely be getting a steer (castrated male) but in France you will get a fattened retired mother cow. The male calves in France usually go to feedlots in Italy and Spain. They are the premium product.

The word ‘boeuf’ means a steer when you say ‘un boeuf’, but you aren’t likely to be eating one in Paris unless your butcher has a special (and expensive) deal with a farmer.

US beef is also mostly feedlot beef where the young animals spend some months in a facility where they are fattened up in large numbers. France has its feedlots up north where you Parisians are. I’m not sure of the percentages but there’s less feedlot beef here than in the USA.

As you point out, a lot of beef is retired dairy cow. THe number I have read is 60%. I wouldn’t say it is lower quality offhand, since I think a Normande gives a better steak than the big three beef races (Charolais, Limousine, Blonde), but each to their own taste.

French beef will on average eat more grass than an American feedlot cow but those dairy girls could be eating fancy pellet rations and they will all be grain finished rather than grass finished. The big difference in marbling comes from the races of the cows. It would be a miracle to get a US Choice or Prime rating from a Limousine, Blonde or Charolais. They’re just not bred for it.

Your best bet for marbled beef would be the three local cows, the Salers, Aubrac and Gasconne. The Salers has the reputation of being the most marbled of the European cows. We have a herd of them down in the SW. ![:-)](upload://uGBK7y9bMS1cBiDmuCVPRPSbQKC.gif)

As you say, talk to your butcher and they’ll know what they can get. Best of luck finding good steak!'

Which explains a lot to me about the meat. I honestly thought it was just down to not ageing it properly....obviously, France actually exports the best of its meat to Italy!

You could well do John if I get to travel down from the Dordogne!

I had better get in quick with my order Brent all these interlopers will have the lot, hope i'm not going to loose the title of furthesr travelled

Hello Carol, thank you for reading it. I am and I think sending me a message here gets to the same address. I'm new on the site.

There are a few things on the grasspunk blog about grass-feeding cattle, but I should probably write up more about beef finishing. Mostly it is pictures of cows and grass because that's what I like taking photos of. :-)

Hello Ed,

Thanks for telling me I showed up here. I would have missed all this lively discussion otherwise!

Cheers, bc.

Brent I was delighted to come across your blog...and for me it explained why for 4 years I havent found reliable, good beef. We travel down to St Cyprien in the Languedoc fairly frequently, driving through the Gers..if you could let me know how to contact you.....I will try and find a good time to collect some beef from you....and once again, thank you for an excellent article.

John, thanks for pointing us out. Yes, I wrote that a while back as a comment on someone's blog and I am glad to see it used in a discussion about beef.

Thanks Carol for these interesting facts. As an American I also crave the tender American steaks. Didn’t know why there was a difference between French beef and American. Learned a lot from you. Thanks !

In New Zealand they use kiwi fruits and the effect is the same. Probably easier to source.

ok John...thanks for this...we go to St Cyp probably 5 times a year...and I have a large chest freezer so am sure we can work something out....looking forward to trying out the meat...

Jane I love tender meat...I dont want to encourage arthritis in my jaw by chewing for half an hour! I know many French people locally who are happy to eat what I consider tough steak. In the US and Canada we eat fabulous meat that can be flash fried or grilled or thrown on a barbeque...that melts in the the UK if you use a decent buther or buy the more expensive cuts in a supermarket...ditto....I really dont think it is exageration to say a lot of the beef in France is too chewy to eat unless you slow cook it. Ive tried all cuts...Ive eaten at many, many restaurants. Ive bought direct from farmers, butchers, supermarkets....I have had the occasional good steak...but it is the occasional one. As I said, the best Ive ever bought in France were from Lidl and they were imported from the US. Actually...I like the Buffalo Grill restaurants too.....the steaks there are fantastic... and all imported.

Many thanks John; I've sent him an email.

I am amazed with this forum subjetCome on guys aren't you exagerating just a little bit.We buy all our meat either in monoprix in Meudon or Auchan in Velizy and never had a problem you just have to know what cut you prefere I never buy at the butcher as its far too expensive and anyway find filet de boeuf tender but not much taste.All this talk about marinating thats not for real beef lovers!!Try "poire" "hampe" or onglet They are for me the best

Julie the guys name is Brent Curtis his site is grasspunk

John, could you please let me know how to contact the Gers breeder/butcher? We live in the Gers and would love to have his contact details. Many thanks. Julia

You maybe dissapointed Carol as the next order is May he slaughters only so many times a year and the meat comes straight from the butcher not frozen so ice box and ice packs required but give him a shout he could have a cow ready to go

I am convinced! we have a place in the Languedoc, so drive through the Gers on our way to and from...what better excuse to pick up a box of fact on our way next Sunday...will email him and see if we can collect some coming back. Thank you for that John.

Gillian...I am going to find these under ripe paw paws...and have a go at this...will let you know how we fare!

Well....thats an interesting history you have Wayne...and I am sure you know plenty about beef....but Ive had restaurant cooked beef in France and its been tough....grisly and expensive...and as the chef would be French...that counts! I am a cordon bleu trained cook, so believe me, its not my cooking at fault....and I on occasions have found decent meat, one source has been an English butcher who delivers in the Dordogne...I have beef farms surrounding me, the animals are treated of the farms produces rose veal and we see the calves with their mothers in the fields and its a delight. But even there the meat Ive bought is not as good as I get in Ireland, Belgium or the UK.

I dont have a problem eating older animals...but wouldnt expect to cook a blue steak from an 8 year old dairy would provide good braising steak...that would be tasty...but not cooked quickly and rare. I have had 3 good butchers in my present one in Newbury provides me with meat from a local farm....I can eat the meat raw, its like eating butter....sirloin steaks that melt. Maybe its the type of cattle, the age, the time it is hung for.....but something makes French steak less reliable than steak from other European countries.

I am amazed that good, tasty, tender steak is so difficult to buy here. I know if I go into any of the UK supermarkets..and buy their upmarket range...I will eat soft and tender steak. If I buy in a butcher, he wont sell me rubbish if he wants me to come back. In France Ive been served meat that is supposed to be cooked for 10 minutes in a pan and be edible, when in fact it would take 6 hours in a slow cooker to make it edible. I think its what the French are used to often...a friend of mine said she complained to a couple of French women friends about the steak and they said you are eating at the wrong places...and took her to their favourite place...she said she was chewing for half an hour and they had long since finished their meal and basically said that was wonderful steak eh?