Friday, July 20, 2012

Boeuf de Bazas. The Beef from the Bazadais Breed of Cattle. Among the best Beef on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

                                   Bœuf de Bazas – The Bazas beef
               Photograph by courtesy of Bruno Compagnon.
The Bazardaize Beef.
Boeuf de Bazas or the Boeuf Bazadais, Label Rouge,  the Red Label,  is a very special breed.   Whether as a steak, stew or a roast this is a uniquely flavored beef. Adult Bazadais beef cattle do not go to the market under 36 months.  That is the age when beef will be naturally well marbled.  Organically raised Bazadais beef is also available.
The breed developed from Aquitaine and Spanish breeds and developed into an easily recognized breed  700 years ago. However, towards the end of the Middle Ages the Bazas had been pushed back to being bred for milk and as a work animal.  With modern farming techniques  the few farmers who did breed the cattle decided to organize. Today the breed is raised in the Gironde and other departments of Aquitaine. The beef is  named after the town of Bazas in  the department of Gironde just 45 km (28 miles) from Bordeaux.
The Bazadais cattle brought back from extinction.
From just 700 animals that could be certified  as real  members of the Bazas breed fifty years ago the breed was brought back from the brink of extinction. Twenty plus years ago, they were commercially reintroduced for their highly rated beef, though the Bazas milk is also considered excellent.  The association has just 300 farmers in the Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne and Gers including those who raise organic beef. For more about French organic produce click here. AOC and AOP on France's Foods and Wine labels? Why is the AOC becoming an AOP?
The Label Rouge, the Red Label

The Label Rouge, the Red Label, is awarded by the French Government office that controls and continually inspects all Red Label rated food stuffs.  To meet the requirement for the Label Rouge all the beef must be of a unique and consistent quality and raised with modern forms of animal husbandry. Calves must be raised by their mothers and allowed to graze freely.  No antibiotics or growth hormones may be used.

In the winter, Bazas' cattle are kept in barns; however,  they may only  be fed  grasses that were collected  from their pastures during the summer. That, along with natural cereals is their complete diet. No animal additives may be part of their diet.
Boeuf Bazadaise on your menu:

Le Marbré de Bœuf de Bazas au Poivre Verte et Moutarde à l'Ancienne -  A well-marbled green pepper  steak from  the  Bazas beef  served with a traditional mustard.

Green pepper is the pepper of choice for most pepper steaks; these  are the same peppercorns that produce black and white pepper, but picked before they are fully ripened and then pickled in brine and dried. The result is a pepper with a slight herbal flavor, much less pungent than black pepper.

Steak au Poivre.
Photograph courtesy of avlxyz.
Moutarde à l'Ancienne is  mustard in the traditional manner. That usually indicates that the chef is making his or her own mustard.  Dijon is the most famous of French mustards: however,  there are a number of  regional mustards.  For example the Moutarde de Reims, the mustard of Reims, the hometown of Champagne. Also the  Moutarde de Meaux, the mustard of Meaux, the hometown of one of the two most famous French Brie cheeses.
A chef  who makes his own mustard told me that good mustard depends on the freshness of the grinding.  He mixes white and black mustard grains and to the ground mustard seeds, he adds a fruit vinegar, sugar, and a little salt. He lets his creation mix its flavors in the refrigerator for a day or two. When ready to use he achieves the final the taste he desires by adding more vinegar, fruit juice, sugar or occasionally Worcester sauce. The final taste will depend on the dish that the mustard will be served with. Since he doesn’t sell his tasty mustard outside his restaurant,  its pale brown color is of no commercial importance. He makes fresh mustard, three times a week and no preservatives are used;  anything older than three days will be thrown out.. When you see,  Moutarde à l'Ancienne  on the menu ask  the waiter or Maire D’ for more information. The mustard they offer may be something very special.
 Bœuf de Bazas en Pot-au-Feu, Brochette de Légumes, Bouillon à l'Huile de Truffe  -  A beef stew made with the Bazadaise beef. Here the traditional beef stew has been upgraded by preparing the broth with truffle oil and the dish is accompanied by skewered vegetables.  With a menu item like this, always ask for more explanations from your waiter.  Some pot-au-feus can be two stage servings, a meal in itself.  Truffle oil  may be a step down from real truffles, but it should provide a hint  of what a fresh  truffle can add to a dish.
 Joue et Queue de Bœuf de Bazas, Effilochée en Salade d'Huile Vierge. The cheeks and tail of Bazas beef thinly sliced and served  with a salad made with virgin olive oil. Beef cheeks and beef tail are a traditional bistro dishes; this menu listing makes the traditional dish into a salad. The meat will cook for hours until it is really tender. The word effilochée which is part of the listing  means ripped apart, however, here the word effilochée indicates the meat is so tender it will  fall apart. The virgin olive oil will be added just before serving; using the oil to cook with would destroy its flavor.
Pavé de Bœuf de Bazas au Pinot Noir d'Alsace – A thick slice of Bazas beef served with a sauce made the light  red Pinot Noir wine of the Alsace.  When a menu offers a Pavé de Bœuf that will probably be a French rump steak; if it had been an entrecote or a fillet the menu would have said so. This cut is usually the USA sirloin or the UK rump steak. French rump steaks are very well prepared, certainly much better prepared than similar steaks in the USA or the UK.  The meat will have been chosen by the chef or the sous chef and personally prepared by them. . French chefs cannot order  beef  by grade like US prime, choice or select, etc. The chef or his or her sous chef will personally select the meat that the restaurant will serve, and that is all the diner's benefit.   All the beef will be carefully prepared and  marinated before  being grilled or fried. The Pinot Noir d'Alsace is a light red, and its taste will not interfere with the taste of this unique beef.
Carpaccio de Boeuf de Bazas, Chutney de Figues et Crémeux au Parmesan. A beef Carpaccio served  with a fig chutney and  a creamy Parmesan  sauce. Carpaccio is so much a part of French menus that few French citizens realize that it is an Italian creation.  However, the French have never refused great recipes brought from other countries.  When  Catherine de Medici came to France in the 16th century to marry Prince Henry, later King Henry French menus changed.  France exports its great creations and imports others.
Entrecôte Bazadaise- An entrecote from the Bazadaise beef, Entrecôte is a  rib eye steak in North America and the UK the rib-eye, forerib and may also be a UK sirloin.  The French entrecôtes cover a wider area than the UK  or USA  rib-eyes..  The name entrecôte is French and means between the ribs, and that it is. A French entrecôte steak is usually prepared without the bone, and is one of the tastiest steaks that any restaurant can offer
Entrecote with Sauce Béarnaise on the side.
Photograph courtesy of Malmaison Hotels and Brasseries.
Faux Filet de Bœuf de Bazas, Mousseline de Carotte, Blettes au Citron. Faux fillet or Contre Fillet is, cut just below the entrecote.  In the USA, this may be called a Strip Steak, a Kansas City Strip or a Delmonico among other names. In the UK, this would be a UK sirloin steak, a cut above the rump.  Here is is served with a very light carrot puree and Swiss chard flavored with lemon. These are very juicy steaks; order yours as thick as possible. A contre-filletwill be grilled, or lightly pan-fried, and never well done. Well done, this cut will be very tough. For ordering a steak the way, you like it click here: Ordering a Steak in France, Cooked the Way you Like it.
Apart from the winter the only time the Bazardais cattle are not allowed to range freely in the summer is just before they go to market.
The Town of Bazas

  Bazas  is a small but pretty town in the department of Gironde  with  history books going back to Roman times. The town still has late medieval houses and narrow streets  along with Cathedral built  in the 13th and 14th centuries

The Bazas Tourist Office English website:
The Confrérie Bazadaise du Bœuf.

To improve the local menus and keep out the competition there is the Confrérie Bazadaise du Bœuf, the brother and sisterhood of the Bazadaise beef. The Confrérie was formed way back in 1995 when the Bazas began to be a significant  commercial enterprise. Confreiries are a unique French idea where those who work with or enjoy a particular food or wine form an organization to promote their choice.  There are hundreds of confreiries including one that support fresh mayonnaise, the real Tart Tatin, pink garlic and more.  They dress up in would be ancient costumes and organize fairs and dinners.  For many members, their primary job, apart from the Mardi Gras celebrations is to have a good time holding banquets for their members and choosing a good wine to accompany the beef.
Members of the Confrérie Bazadaise du Bœuf.
The brother and sisterhood of the Bazardais beef
The celebration of the Bazardais beef.
         A butcher and a member of the Confrérie Bazardais du Bœuf 
                             getting ready for  the parade.    
Photograph by courtesy of Boucherie-lucbert
This brother and sisterhood claim that they have reintroduced a  tradition dating back to when the English ruled Aquitaine. The English finally lost Aquitaine in 1453.  Even if you argue with that date  the tradition is certainly over 300 years old. The confrérie’s fete  coincides with Carnival.  The celebrations begin with a parade the day before Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, in French). On Mardi Gras, special meals for carnivores are served, and a great deal of wine will be drunk. For observant Christians, Mardi Gras is followed by the days of prayer of Lent, when no meat was eaten, then everyone ate as much as they could afford before  the 40 meatless days. 

The Fête des Boeufs Gras de Bazas.
The fete of the fat beef of Bazas.
Children on stilts leading part of  Mardi Gras parade.
Photograph by courtesy of Lezzles.
The only problem is that Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) moves around each year as it linked to Easter. So Mardi Gras can be anywhere from March 22 to April 24.  To check the dates, click on the Union Jack for the English language website of the Bazas:

In the modern Fete, the Confrérie organizes a parade where the bulls are paraded through the town.. The parade is led by horses followed by children playing on fifes and drums with others on stilts. Parades and contests end with the finest specimens wrapped with flowers and ribbon on their horns. The smallest specimens weigh in at least 800 kilos.  To win an 800 kilo bull to take home and show the folks buy a lottery ticket when you arrive.  

Decorated bulls getting ready for the parade.
 Bazas is a small and beautiful town  with a long  history Today, with less than 5,000 inhabitants, its restaurants and happenings are important for they bring additional visitors and income.  Many visitors come to the town not knowing anything about the great Bazadais beef. They may be on their way to Bordeaux or have come to see the Bazas Cathedral. The Cathedral of St Jean Baptiste de Bazas was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Confrérie will try to have these tourists stay for lunch. Bazas has other fetes and celebrations that may interest you, and the Bazas Tourist Office has them all registered. 


The IGP label stands for Indication Géographique Protégé, the English  PGI,  Protected Geographical Indication.  This is a Pan European  geographic area of Protection. Outside this area, you cannot have authentic Bazadaise  beef.  The farms that raise the Bazas beef  are all within the agreed geographical area and with less than 300 farms raise these cattle, and that allows  for easy inspection.  Being only 45 kms from Bordeaux will not make choosing a wine that difficult.

The French language  IGP Label

The English language PGI Label.

The Italian language  IGP label

Cathedral of St Jean Baptiste de Bazas in Bazas
Photograph courtesy of Lezzles.
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Bryan G. Newman
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