Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

beef the meat of domestic cattle, Bos taurus, eaten mainly in N. Europe, the Americas, and Australia. The word derives from Anglo-Norman bœuf; less desirable parts of the animal are referred to in English with the Saxon prefix ‘ox’ (oxtail, ox cheek, etc.), reflecting the social divide which existed in England after the Norman Conquest.

Beef usually comes from castrated males (steers, or bullocks), which are killed at about 18 months to 2 years, providing tender meat. Heifers not required for breeding are also used. Up to the age of 6 months, the meat of young cattle is regarded as veal. The consumption of veal in France and Italy, where it is most popular, runs at about a third that of beef. Cattle that are older than veal yet younger than adult beef are sometimes eaten in countries where the climate is too hot to permit hanging the meat without extensive refrigeration. In Normandy, where this type of meat is well liked, it is called bouvillon.