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Meat is a staple for many people. For others, it’s a delicacy to be celebrated. Those people keep cattle as costly as dressage horses. They care for and optimize their stock. They rear noble breeds and then refine and modify their flesh. The fruits of their labors elicit a blissful sigh from connoisseurs. Fat that melts in the mouth like butter. Fillets so tender they can be spooned like ice cream. Steaks as thick as a dictionary and carpaccio as thin as tissue paper. Ham a deep black and slabs of red meat sporting a bloom of white mold – we present six meat specialties no connoisseur would wish to miss.
Many a legend surrounds the Japanese beef cattle from the region around the city of Kobe, but one thing is certain: A more exclusive food would be hard to find
Tales of cows being massaged and fed beer go the rounds, attempting to explain the unique quality of Kobe beef – meat as tender and yielding as butter that you have only to glimpse and it will practically melt on your plate. The rich umami flavor it releases onto the palate. All the bewilderment about the specialty may be due to the strict regimen without which Japanese beef would not be “Kobe.” Only tajima beef from Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture with a particular color, texture and marbling qualified to be classified post mortem as “Kobe.” Only around 4000 cattle make it into this lofty league each year, and of those a mere ten percent are exported. Exports of wagyu (literally: Japanese beef) to Europe have been permitted since July 2014; a kilo of Kobe filet costs some 550 euros on the German market. Thanks to its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, Kobe fat begins melting in your hand – like ice cream. Sliced into thin strips, the meat melts in the mouth, unlocking a buttery, nutty flavor.
Ibérico de Bellota
Iberian pigs must be happy creatures: They spend their lives among Spanish oak groves, and their hindquarters supply what is reputedly the best ham in the world
The ham of the Iberian pig is a rich and dark and gleaming with fat; it has a tendency to crumble, but this does not detract from its exquisite tenderness. Only pigs that spend a good portion of their life in the oak woods of the Spanish hills have that typically nutty aroma. When at least 40 percent of the lean, black animals’ diet consists of acorns, their ham is graded as de bellota. To be sure the ham you purchase is genuine ibérico de bellota, you should be prepared to invest around 500 euros in an entire ham, and it should come with the pig’s trotter intact because the date of slaughter is stamped on the leg. Only if the animal was slaughtered between January and March can it have eaten its fill of ripe acorns. A further clue is in the hoof: If it is worn down and dull, the pig will have spent many days grubbing in the ground for acorns. The flesh of Iberian pigs has a unique flavor because the animals are kept semi-wild and feed on acorns. They have a “secret filet” hidden in the fat of their back, a muscle flap that has escaped the notice of many German butchers even though it is a veritable delicacy – especially when grilled.
The white chianina cattle have been a part of the Tuscan scenery for the past 2500 years – and the flesh of these sturdy beasts is incomparably delicate in flavor
Chianina cattle are imposing animals, massive, and porcelain-white in color. First bred around 2500 years ago and therefore one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world, today they can be found grazing in the Chiana Valley, south of Florence. The sturdy bulls can weigh as much as 1700 kilos and their steak, a bistecca alla fiorentina, for example, can easily weigh in at a kilo. The flavor of chianina surprises with its understated elegance: The meat is lean, its texture especially tender thanks to a high protein content, and the flavor subtly aromatic. To deliver genuine quality, the cattle must be pure-bred and kept in conditions appropriate to the species. However, rearing these huge animals places great demands on the Italian farmers: Chianinas grow slowly, eat a great deal, and the cows need all of their milk to suckle their young. This explains the price of up to 90 euros per kilo their meat will fetch. That’s why genuine chianina is also a rarity in Italy. In restaurants, the label “Amici della chianina” issued by the eponymous association for the protection of the breed tells you it’s the real thing.
The castrated rooster known as the “capon” is a treat in its own right. But if you leave it to mature in linen and milk soon after slaughter, the meat matures into a delicacy
The flesh of the capon becomes a top product if the roosters are robbed of their masculinity at an age of roughly ten months. Castration causes fat to lodge in the meat, leaving it delicately marbled, creamy and pale. After slaughter, in December, capons are wrapped in milk-soaked linen and matured for three weeks. The meat tastes even more intensive and creamy if it left to mature for a few more weeks, a practise not common in normal trade. The result melts in the mouth, tastes like liquid raw-milk cheese, full-bodied and ripe. The capons sold on the German market usually come from France, where they are traditionally eaten at Christmas. That’s why retailers only sell genuine capon in December. An entire bird will set you back around 350 euros.
Many things improve with age. If this adage can also be applied to beef, then txogitxu is officially the best steak in the world. The cows that supply the meat can be as much as 18 years old at slaughter
Imanol Jaca is the inventor of a specialty with an unpronounceable name: txogitxu. It’s a product that many connoisseurs view as the best meat in the world. The quality of txogitxu, pronounced “choghichu,” has nothing to do with the breed or the origin of the cattle. What makes the meat so special is that it comes from fat, old cows. For his butcher’s shop in San Sebastián, in the Basque Country, Jaca selects milk cows of between 8 and 18 years old that were never destined for slaughter; cows that spent their lives in meadows, mostly in Galicia and Portugal, that have born calves and given thousands of liters of milk. Because of their lifestyle, these cows build up a great deal of muscle with a fine tracery of fat – similar to wagyu. A thick, yellow layer of fat covers the meat and protects it from drying out. Critics opine that meat from elderly cows is unappetizing and its flavor too obtrusive – and it’s true, the intensive taste of txogitxu is not for the sensitive palate. The raw flesh of a carefully selected cow smells of cream and hay; the rich, marbled slabs of meat are ideal for dry-ageing and when mature fetch a price per kilo of around 60 euros.
A special mold culture eats its way through the connective tissue of selected steaks and lends Luma beef its exceptionally mellow, tender quality
Two Swiss businessmen have succeeded in bringing a new sensation to the oversaturated delicatessen market: They spray meat with a special mold culture, leave it for months to mature and then sell the product as deliciously tender Luma beef. In the company’s curing chambers close to the Rhine Falls in Switzerland, sirloin and silverside lie coated in a centimeters of thick white fur, while the spores of the mold eat their way into the firm connective tissue, subverting the collagen and making the meat tender and yielding. After aging for up to eight weeks, the end product has an earthy and nutty flavor slightly reminiscent of liver. In Germany, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has not yet given the official green light for Luma beef, which costs around 90 euros a kilo. Before that can happen, a decision has to be reached on whether or not the mold cultures are a food additive. On its website, the Luma Beef company lists where the meat can be purchased in Germany: luma-dac.com
Pictures: Dave Zangger / picture alliance / picturedesk.c / Cultura / beyond / Tips R / Soleil Noir/Photononstop / Picture Press/Ulrike Holsten
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