A calf is generally divided into four parts: two forequarters and two hindquarters. However, there is another part that should not be underestimated, after all, a calf is not just a collection of steaks. It has a selection of by-products that are just as essential to a butcher's yield as they are to gastronomy. These by-products are sometimes referred to as the fifth quarter, i.e. anything that is not part of the fore or hindquarters. The skin is a good example, as is the stomach, the feet and the head. Each of these has its own uses in cooking, and other internal organs can also be put to good use. French cuisine particu- larly favours the intestines and the head, and has special shops dedicated to tripe.
We will be visiting one of these triperies later on in the chapter: a traditional tripery in Vienne, France. Two of the organs in the fifth quarter are the liver and the kidneys. In fact, the kidneys and liver from calves are delicate and coveted ingredients. Yet there are many more organs to consider for cooking, which appear in different cuisines throughout the world. Most of the time, their culinary applications seem to have been introduced during times of poverty, when throwing away even one small ounce of food away was unimaginable.
For this very reason, organs such as the heart, spleen, stomach, intestines, and yes, even penises are eaten in a wide variety of countries. The same goes for calf's head. Celebrated European dishes are made from veal cheeks, the tongue, and the brains, and in some cultures, people go take the different parts of the fifth quarter even further.
The stomach is a whole different story. Ruminants have four stomachs: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum. As long as a calf only drinks milk (or as little supplementary food as possible), then it only needs to use the abomasum. This stomach contains hydrochloric acid and pepsin, which is an enzyme that digests the milk. In cheesemaking, the lining of the abomasum in veal calves, called the rennet,
has always been an important product. This is because of the enzymes it containes, including pepsin, which separates milk into curds and whey. The liquid whey is then pressed out of the curds or drained off to make cheese. The modern cheesemaking industry has other uses for pepsin, and the demand for pepsin nowadays is much larger than can be provided by calf production. However, the pepsin from calves is still used
by traditional cheesemakers.
Calves’ feet are particularly sought after by chefs, which they use for making the veal stock for their sauces. The feet (and the tail) are extremely gelatinous and form the basis for superior bouillon and fond.
Sweetbreads are the glands found in young animals which will shrivel as the animal ages. Two of a calf’s glands are referred to in culinary terms as sweetbreads. These are the pancreas and the thymus. The first is firm to the touch whilst the second is softer. The thymus or heart sweetbread plays a very important role in gastronomy. In fact, it is viewed as one of the most luxurious of ingredients, and sweetbreads require a lot of preparation. The looser consistency of the pancreas makes it popular for use in terrines and mousses. They are poached (soft boiled) in veal stock. Then the outer membranes and imperfections are removed. Once they have been left to drain and cool, they can be floured and fried.
Calf's head in Vienne
In France, processing the by-products of the meat industry has been a profession since the thirtheenth century. In the Paris archives, there is a declaration dating from
1297, stipulating that only six families had permission to buy and sell the by-products from veal production. Even when the profession felt pressures more recently from wider industry and the BSE crisis, there were still a number of Gauls who kept it up; mainly in large cities such as Paris and Lyon. One contemporary example is Luc Avenel, who owns a tripery to the south of Lyon, in Vienne. Originally from Le Havre, this butcher fell in love with the gastronomic culture that surrounds Lyon and decided to take his chances there. That was thirty years ago. When he started for himself, he worked solely with
tripe. Then the BSE crisis triggered a need for him to diversify and he became a butcher. This diversification certainly has not affected his passion for the fifth quarter. One of his greatest specialities is tête de veau. His recipe involves deboning the head and rolling
it up around the tongue and tying it together. He buys his beef and pork from the slaughterhouse in Lyon, but brings his veal in from the Limousin region. “We don't buy veau sous la mère. Everyone makes too much fuss about that, and I want to provide quality for a sensible price. We're not trying to win beauty prizes!” The tripery has a remarkable number of regional customers. Luc cooks the rolled calf's head we mentioned earlier in a herby veal bouillon and turns it into a spectacular dish. He does this with his veal hearts, which he braises whole, or slices and pan-fries like steak. Needless to say,
Luc only uses products that are of the freshest and highest of qualities. Which is reflected in the surplus of customers he gets in his shop, and well illustrated in the short time we were there.
One problem Luc still has to overcome, is supply. “Triperies are directly reliant on the slaughterhouses and how quickly and accurately they can supply us with produce.
It's essential that we get the right volumes, and meet that is a week old needs to rest, whilst a veal heart that is a week old is of no use to us whatsoever. Then there are the veal cheeks to consider! One animal can only produce one kilo, so what would I do if I needed a thousand kilos by morning? Fortunately, because we also work as a butcher, we have the room to say no to our customers occassionally, and offer them an alternative.”
We had a burning question which we thought Luc might be able to answer: How come you have veal skirt steaks in your shop, whilst you can never find it at the local butchers? Luc: “It is the diaphragm muscle that helps the animal move its chest, and which is attached inside the carcass to the liver and the lungs. The majority of butchers don't view this as proper meat, and it's often overlooked. Quite curious really.” The discussions within the syndicate of triperies about marketing are also quite curious. Should we advertise or not? “It would appear we have become the victims of our own success! On the one hand, there are food trucks driving around Paris that tell people about tripe and different ways of eating it, whilst on the other, there is already considerable demand for our products in the shops.
The demand for our products grows even further when people are tightening their purse strings. Which when you add it up, makes too much marketing a bad thing!”