Hugo Desnoyer, established on Rue Boulard 45 in Paris, France, is an internationally renowned name in the world of gastronomy. He was born in the Loire valley and moved to Paris as a young man in search of work with the country’s best butchers. After a rigorous apprenticeship, Hugo joined André Rajot’s business, a butcher who owned four of his own farms. Discovering and experiencing for himself where the meat came from, shaped his life for good, and today, Hugo Desnoyer is best known for his veal.
“We have all kinds of meat, but veal is something I am particularly devoted to. I used to drive sixty thousand kilometres a year in search of the best calves, normally the breeds Limousin and Bazadaise. I did that for a long time. Nowadays, I have people doing the sourcing for me.” Is it really that difficult to find milk-fed calves? “Yes, definitely when it comes to the animals I am looking for. The farmers who still breed them are disappearing.
It seems that only older generations, the grandpas and grandmas, are still farming using the more traditional methods, and there’s no one to continue their legacy. Even for the very best farmers, production levels are about three or four calves a year.” Hugo explains how this traditional system works. The calf is raised by its mother and an auntie. It lives in the dark for three to six months and is given a muzzle outside of feeding times so that it cannot lick the metal in the pens. That would spoil the whiteness of the meat. In its last two weeks, the calf is given two to four eggs a day, which enhances the quality of the fat. Hugo walks over to a carcass and shows us the best way of checking the fat class, around the kidneys, where it needs to be fine enough to break with your fingers. “The tradition for this kind of calf goes back to the kings of France, to King Louis XIV who only ate the whitest of meats. It has always been a symbol of wealth.”
Now you have explained the background, we can only assume this meat is very expensive. “Especially now that the milk-fed calf has become so rare, the prices are considera- bly high. Nowadays, I have to pay 18 or 19 euros per kilo, dressed weight.” That must make the prices for chefs and consumers astronomical. Is there still a market for it? “There is definitely a market for this, certainly since the explosion of organic produce. Our customers
feel reassured when they buy from us.” Hugo is well aware of the amount of cheating going on in this area. “I’m surprised that the trade in bogus milk-fed calves is able to grow so steadily. A good butcher can spot the difference just by looking at a carcass and the very minute you touch the meat, you know for certain!” Is there still a future for this type of
calf? “We used to sell to the more mature consumer, but that is changing. We see more and more people in their thirties coming into the shop. These are people who love to cook and realise the importance of a quality product. So yes,” Hugo concludes quite unquestionably,
“the future looks good.”