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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC. Searching for the Finest Beef in France. This is Only on French Menus between February and early June. –

The Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC is rarely seen;
however, when it is on the menu
this will be among finest beef you will find in France.
Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Updated 2016.

Finely marbled beef.
Photograph courtesy of avlxyz
The Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC cattle have finely marbled beef and will be on menus between February and early June.  The cognoscenti watch specific restaurants that every year will have this beef on their menus with their calendars in hand. Even in Paris and Lyon, France’s two capitals of fine-dining, relatively few French diners have the opportunity to taste this remarkable beef  as less than 800 head of cattle reach the market every year, and France has over 65,000,000 citizens!
Two French friends whose judgment of good food I respect told me that steaks from the Fin Gras du Mézenc are excellent; however, the real  flavor and texture of this beef they see in Carpaccio’s or a Fin Gras du Mézenc tartar,  as well as in stews and roasts. They know that, among the best AOC beef in France, all the steaks will be excellent; but the unique taste of beef from the Fin Gras du Mézenc is best appreciated when its taste and texture may be noted without heavy sauces or grill or frying flavors.
The Fin Gras du Mézenc cattle are raised on the Mézenc Massif that runs through the département of Ardèche in the Rhône Alps and the département of Haute-Loire in the Auvergne, in France’s mountainous Massif Central. Here, the pastures are over 1,100 meters high and the rich grasses, upon which the cattle graze for over six months a year, include over forty different herbs and many mountain flowers. It is here in the Mézenc Massif  that one may begin to understand the importance of the French concept of terroir. Terroir, indicates a single location where land and climate combine to provide consistently superior and unique food products, wines, or as in this case unique grazing, and following that the finest beef.  Here, the contribution of nurture combined  with nature clearly shows the difference as all other French AOC cattle are specific breeds; the Fin Gras du Mézenc are not, they are raised as mixed herds and their taste is down to terroir.
Hikers with a farmer and his calf in Mézenc
Photograph courtesy of Peter Lorre
If you are in France between February and early June
 look out for menu options like these:
Belles Tranches de Bœuf AOC Fin Gras du Mézenc Justes Marinées et Condiments d’une Béarnaise – Beautiful slices of Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC beef lightly marinated  and served with a Sauce Béarnaise. This dish is a Fin Gras du Mézenc take on a Carpaccio.
Pièce de Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc Rôti à la Plancha et Purée aux Cèpes – A rump steak, fried-grilled on a plancha and served with a porcini mushroom puree.  A plancha which was originally a Basque cooking tool is a solid, thick, flat sheet that achieves a taste somewhere between grilling and frying.   The Basques claim ownership of the plancha, as do the Spanish. The modern plancha may look like the flat cooking plate of a fast food restaurant, but look again carefully, it has three times the thickness and produces a very even heat.
Bourguignon de Boeuf  "Fin Gras du Mézenc" AOC - A beef Bourguignonne made with the beef from the Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC. Bœuf Bourguignonne is the most famous beef stew of Burgundy and the beef from Fin Gras du Mézenc is especially noted for the taste given to these types of dishes. In this dish, the chef is matching burgundy red wine with the Fin Gras du Mézenc. 


Bœuf Bourguignonne
Photograph courtesy of Taekwonweirdo
Tartare Fin Gras du Mézenc de en Rouleau, Croquette de Joues et Queues de Bœuf au Sésame – A steak tartar from the Fin Gras du Mézenc rolled and served alongside fried croquets made using the meat from the beef cheeks and tail flavored with sesame.
Steak Tartar
Photograph courtesy of andhong's 09
 Côte de Boeuf de Fin Gras du Mézenc, Simplement Poêlée, Jus Corsé à la Syrah (pour deux personnes) - A cut from a beef rib simply fried in a jus corsé, the natural cooking juices, flavored with a Syrah red wine.  A jus corsé is made with a the natural cooking juices possibly with added veal or beef stock and bone marrow and here the Syrah red wine flavors this sauce. Syrah is best known outside France as  Shiraz. This serving is for a minimum of two diners as a beef rib is a very large portion.
Before being taken to market these  animal must have passed two summers freely grazing on the Mézenc Massif above 1,100 meters, and when they are brought down for the winter they may only be fed hay that was grown in the same pastures where they grazed in the summer; there are additionally specifically  limited amounts of cereal and  other naturally grown products
The 1,100 meter high pastures seen below Mont Mézenc, itself 1754 meters.
Photograph courtesy of Thomas Valadon
The cattle are only sent to market between the months of February through June, and that means that the youngest cattle go to market at 24 months, while most are over 30 months. As with all AOC cattle they must be raised free of antibiotics and growth hormones. 
The Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC also have a traceability which prevents other cattle being sold under this valuable name. All cattle being raised for sale will have a piece of cartilage taken from their ears, and that allows  a  DNA test  to made at any time in the marketing of the beef; it  connects the dish on your plate to the farmer who raised  the beef.
Farmer with a young bull he is bringing to the fete.
Photograph courtesy of the Maison du Fin Gras du Mézenc
The Mézenc Massif set with France’s mountainous Massif Central is very sparsely populated; for the visitor this area offers a view of a distinctly different France well away from the crowds.  Even in the winter when the area has cross-country and some downhill skiing those who visit are the sports lovers who want to get away from the long lines of the most popular skiing areas. In the summer, here is rock climbing, hiking, fishing and   mountain biking.
Cross country skiing route in the Mézenc Massif
Photograph courtesy of Thomas Thomas
The first weekend of June is the Fête du Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC, the feast of the Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC.  Then during the fete the villages grow from a few hundred inhabitants to 4,000 and more; all the visitors will have come to watch parades of the cattle along with sales of other farm made products that include local cheeses, conserves, honey and more. Of course, the festive dinners based on the Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC are the main attraction. As the Mézenc Massif runs through the département of Ardèche in the Rhône Alps and the département of Haute-Loire in the Auvergne, the villages in the two départements divide the responsibilities for the fete alternately.  

The French government tourist office will have the names of the villages hosting next year’s fete as will the website of the Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC beef.   The website is in French but easily understood using the Bing or Google translate apps.

The Fête du Fin Gras du Mézenc
Photograph courtesy of the Maison du  Fin Gras du Mézenc
At any time of the year if you are in the area of the small village of Chaudeyrolles,  in the Haute-Loire, visit their Maison du  Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC;  their information center for this fine cattle. Here, they will tell you all about their cattle, emphasizing their traditional methods of farming, show videos, and also offer recipes; the information center also sell jars of sel de cistre, a salt made from the plant called the cerfeuil des Alpes or fenouil de montane, in English this  plant is generally known as Alpine fennel. This wild herb, according to the locals, adds tremendous flavor to any steak and in the cattle’s hay it is considered an especially beneficial ingredient.

Alpine Fennel
Photograph courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library
Cerfeuil des Alpes, cittern, or Fenouil de Montagne -,(English - baldmoney, spignel or Alpine fennel), (German - bärwurz), (Italian -   finocchiella or finocchio montano), (Spanish  - eneldo ursino).
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2016
For more information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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