When dairy cows produce calves, which they must in order to keep the milk production up, the female calves can live in the dairy herd but the male calves are sold for meat. Although definitions of veal can vary by country, typically the meat of a male calf of six months of age or less is regarded as veal, and older animals are beef sources. Veal ribs refer to a particular cut of veal, which comes from the midsection of the animal's back and sides.
In modern agriculture, and the meat industry, cows are specialized for certain functions. Dairy cows are optimized to produce milk, and their meat is considered inferior to beef cattle, who typically have more meat on the carcass. The calves of female cattle in a beef herd are destined for the beef market when they have grown into adults. Female calves of dairy cows are also useful for a dairy farmer, as they represent the next generation of his or her herd that can produce milk.
Male dairy calves do not fit into either category. They are not considered suitable for the beef market, and they cannot produce milk for the dairy market. Farmers therefore raise them as veal calves for the food market. Veal farming was, and perhaps still is a controversial matter, as the calves are slaughtered before the age of six months, and, in the latter half of the 20th century, used to be brought up in unacceptable conditions with regard to animal welfare.
One of the major objections to veal in the second half of the 20th century was that the animals spent their entire lives in a small crate with no exposure to sunlight, and away from their mothers. Now that veal calves in countries like the U.K and North America have more space, more light and a nice environment to live in, veal products are more ethically acceptable to many people. Like beef cattle, butchers refer to specific parts of a veal carcass by specific names.
Behind the neck of the animal is the chuck, and the veal ribs are the portion further back which cover the back and run down to the end of the individual ribs. At about midway down the back of the calf the veal ribs stop and the loin begins. The ribs provide structure for the innards of the calf, and join up with the spine. Between the spine and the rib is a lean portion of meat, that generally comes with the veal ribs from the butchers.
All of the veal ribs on one side together, which is 7 ribs, can make up a rib rack, or without the bones, the cut can be a rib roast. Each individual rib and the lean meat attached is called a rib chop. Veal calves raised in the old crate method had white meat, which was desirable to diners then, but veal that has more room to move around has a pink color. Special diets for veal also exist which can keep the meat white.
Veal can also fall into specific groups depending on how old it is and what it was fed. If a veal product is labeled as "bob veal," then it is from an animal that is less than three days old. Some calves receive grain as well as milk to eat, whereas some drink only surplus milk. Generally a butcher is able to tell a customer what type of veal is on offer, or it may be marked on the product packaging.