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Veal describes the meat of a very young calf, one that is no more than 18 weeks old, and traditionally one that has never eaten anything except milk. This meat is prized because it has a very fine texture, is a pale color and contains little or no fat. The veal shoulder is a specific cut of meat that is the upper portion of one of the front legs of a veal calf.
The veal shoulder may be made into a variety of different cuts, depending on what is needed. Chops, steaks and roasts are all common uses for veal shoulder meat; excess pieces may also be used as stewing meat or to produce ground veal. Whether or not the meat is graded depends on the local butchering laws, and in some countries, grading of the meat is optional. A veal shoulder is normally graded as either prime or choice, but it may also be graded lower and be marked as good, standard or utility grade.
Hormones are not normally used in the production of veal. Antibiotics may be used if necessary for the health of the calf, but they are not typically administered routinely, and penicillin is rarely, if ever, used in veal calves. Only medicines approved for use in food animals should ever be used in veal calves.
Modern veal production farms have special housing for veal calves. The houses contain individual stalls for each calf, artificial light, temperature control and air circulation. Calves have enough room to move and turn, lick themselves and lie down. The conditions are much better than those veal calves may have on small farms where only a few animals are raised.
There are seven main cuts of veal, including the rib, leg, sirloin and the veal shoulder. These, along with their smaller portions such as chops, cutlets, roasts and steaks let consumers know what part of the animal the meat is from. It also helps people to know how to prepare the meat.
In many places there is a great deal of controversy over the raising of veal. Since veal calves must eat only a certain diet, they are never allowed out of their pens to graze, spending their entire lives in a very small area. Another reason to keep them confined is that if they are able to run and play they will build muscle, resulting in tougher meat. Confinement is intended to make certain that the veal shoulder and other cuts will be as tender as possible.