Grannies as cool cash cows
DAIRY farmers, who are sweating blood these days and facing penury with the collapse of milk prices, could do well to check the ages of their stock.
The beef value of the older ladies of the milking parlour should be considered on foot of an interesting revelation to me - and at least one dairy man I spoke to this week - that, although their livelihoods may be looking like a few drops in a bucket, the flesh on some animal bones could be more valuable than they thought.
And the older the granny the better, it seems! At least for one particular breed.
The beef potential of some elderly ex-milkers and the retail returns for the product at some top restaurants and food suppliers in the UK are mind-boggling.
Would you believe £90Stg for a rib-eye steak for two in Kitty Fisher's in London's Mayfair - or £80Stg a kilo for over-the-counter steaks at Selfridges in Oxford Street?
This information is courtesy of The Observer newspaper's restaurant critic Jay Rayner, a writer with a poetic touch and son of a famous media mother, Claire, who also wrote about 100 books which were read by millions.
Rayner belongs to that eclectic breed, the food and restaurant scribes who produce weekly pages in British and Irish newspapers about eating establishments that many readers enjoy but may only sigh and dream of visiting.
Last week he wrote about an experience in Galicia and the Basque Country, part of northern Spain known to thousands of Irish pilgrims who travel the Camino de Santiago. In one restaurant he had "the best steak I had eaten, before or since," which, he learned, had come from a retired animal from a dairy herd.
The beef had, he told us, "an extraordinary depth of flavour and a texture that balanced tension and tenderness." He rushed to the kitchen to find out what exotic, rare breed of animal the meat had come from to be told it was a 16-year-old Galician "ex-milker".
But great steaks are usually from animals that have been slaughtered in their prime - not from grandmas that have lactated their last! But that need not necessarily be the case, and especially Galicians, it appears.
These animals, blonds or Rubia Gallego, and sometimes crossed with Friesians or Alpine browns, are outstanding-looking creatures, large and robust, usually with cream or golden red coats. Their beef is renowned for its intense, pleasant taste and is tender and succulent.
I cannot personally vouch for this, as while in that country I have been usually a seafood eater with occasional nibbles at some unusual local fare such as cabbage or turnip omelettes! I regret not having sampled the steaks.
Back in Britain, Rayner tried to trace some vintage English beef but without success though one restaurant told him they were trying to track down the oldest dairy herd in the country.
Galician ex-milkers seem to have the edge in supplying top beef-steaks for the British market but what are the chances of a breakthrough for older Irish dairy cows, their milking days over?
I am sure the cattle trade, more than ever alert for opportunities, is well focused on this niche market. Granny cows of Ireland, your time may well be coming!