Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc AOP. The Finest Beef in France and Only on French Menus Between February and Early June.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2019.
Finely marbled beef.
The Fin Gras du Mézenc cattle are raised on the Mézenc Massif that runs through the departments of Ardèche and Haute-Loire in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes 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 mountain flowers.

These AOP cattle have finely marbled beef and will only be on the menu 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. Less than 800 head of cattle reach the market every year, and France has a population of over 65,000,000.
This beef makes excellent steaks, but the real flavor and texture of this beef is best tasted in a Carpaccio or a Fin Gras du Mézenc Steak Tartar, as well as in stews and roasts. 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 grill or frying flavors.
Hikers with a farmer and his calf in Mézenc
Photograph courtesy of Peter Lorre.
On a few select menus between February and early June:
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 accompanied by mashed potatoes with porcini mushrooms.

A Pièce de Bœuf might seem to translate as a Piece of Beef which doesn’t inspire, but there are four unique French cuts from the rump  that may be called a Pièce de Bœuf; cuts that are the very best but usually considered too much work and preparation for the UK and North American butchers.

A plancha, which was initially 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" AOP - 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
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
Côte de Boeuf de Fin Gras du Mézenc, Simplement Poêlée, Jus Corsé à la Syrah (pour deux personnes) - A bone-in beef rib simply fried in a jus corsé, the natural cooking juices, flavored with a Syrah red wine. A jus corsé is made with the natural cooking juices 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.

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, and as in this case, the finest beef. Here, the contribution of nurture combined with nature clearly shows the difference as the other French AOP cattle are specific breeds, and the Fin Gras du Mézenc is not. They are mixed herds, and their taste can only be down to Terroir.
Before being taken to market, these animals must have passed two summers freely grazing on the Mézenc Massif above 1,100 meters. 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. Also permitted in winter are limited amounts of cereal and other naturally grown products
Mont Mézenc, 1754 meters
and  La Grosse Roche, Haute-Loire.
The cattle are only sent to market from February through June, and that means that the youngest animals 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 and the calves raised by their mothers.

How do you know the beef really is the Fin Gras du Mézenc?
The Fin Gras du Mézenc AOP also has traceability, which prevents other cattle from being sold under this valuable name. All animals 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.  Now high tech tests can connect the meat on your plate to the farmer who raised the beef.
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 Massif has cross-country and some downhill skiing, those who visit are the sports lovers who want to get away from the crowds in the most popular skiing areas. In the summer, here is rock climbing, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.
Winter in the Mézenc Massif

The Fête du Fin Gras du Mézenc

The first weekend of June is the Fête du Fin Gras du Mézenc AOP, 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. Then, of course, the festive dinners based on the Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC are the main attractions.  The villages in the départements of Ardèche and Haute-Loire alternately divide the responsibilities for the fete. 

Farmer with a young bull he is bringing to the fete.

 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,  Google, and other translate apps

Parade in the Fête du Fin Gras du Mézenc

Alpine fennel
if you are in the area of the small village of Chaudeyrolles at any time of the year, in the Haute-Loire, visit their Maison du  Fin Gras du Mézenc AOP;  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, Alpine fennel. This wild herb, according to the locals, adds tremendous flavor to any steak.
Alpine Fennel
Cerfeuil des Alpes, Cittern, Fenouil de Montagne or Fenouil de Alpe -  Alpine fennel or baldmoney  in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan – fonoll),  (German - bärwurz), (Italian -   finocchiella or finocchio montano), (Spanish  - eneldo ursino). (Latin - meum athamanticum).

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019

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The Plancha or Planxa in French Cuisine. The Plancha on French Menus.


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