Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Veal is the meat of young male off-spring of dairy cows. Veal has traditionally been valued for being as different as possible from beef: pale, delicate in flavor, with a softer fat, and succulently tender thanks to its soluble collagen, which readily dissolves into gelatin when cooked. Calf flesh becomes more like beef with every day of ordinary life, so most veal calves aren’t allowed an ordinary life: they’re confined so that exercise won’t darken, flavor, and toughen their muscles, and fed a low-iron diet with no grass to minimize the production of myoglobin pigment and prevent rumen development, which would saturate and thus harden the fat. In the United States, veal generally comes from confined animals fed a soy or milk formula and slaughtered between 5 and 16 weeks old, when they weigh 150 to 500 lb/70–230 kg. “Bob” or “drop” veal comes from unconfined, milk-fed animals three weeks old or less. “Free-range” and “grain-fed” veal have become increasingly common as more humane alternatives, but are more like beef in the color and flavor of their meat.