History Of Veal

History of Veal

In one of the oldest civilizations, about 2500 BC, the Sumerians are documented to have penned up and subdued the wild cattle that roamed the plains of Mesopotamia. .

Among the Sumerians, veal was a luxury, often consumed by those who could afford to lose a work (milk or draft) animal, in order to satisfy their taste buds.

Wealthy nobles and priests of ancient Sumeria and Babylonia ate veal and drank wine at elaborate banquets, portrayed in great detail on mosaics and bas-relief sculptures. Cattle, otherwise, worked until they became too old and were eventually killed for beef.

Biblical References to Veal

There are many biblical references to the enjoyment and use of young calves.

When God came to inform the patriach of the Jewish people, Abraham, that he would have a son, Abraham ran to the herd and selected a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant who hurried to prepare it.  …and they did eat.  Genesis 18:7 and 18:8.

According to Exodus 32 of the Old Testament, the Jewish people created a golden calf despite being prohibited directed by God from praying to false idols.

In the New Testament, feasting on the fatted calf conveyed an air of luxurious indulgence meant to mark a momentous occasion. In the story of the return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), veal was served.

The New Testament also tells us that veal was served at The Wedding Feast (Matthew 22), confirming its importance as a long-standing tradition for matrimonial celebrations.

Veal in European History

The taste for the tender meat of young animals was passed on to the Romans, who gourmandizing reached the point where the Emperor Alexander Severus (222-235AD) had to issue a decree forbidding the slaughter of young calves, since the breeding stock was being deprived.

Veal mentions appear in the history books over the centuries and among them some debates are still raging about who is credited with introducing veal and certain recipes.

A question exists as to who really created Wiener Schnitzel. While the Viennese (from Austria) are credited with this classic veal dish, the Milanese (from Italy) claim that as far back as 1134, when a banquet was given for the canon of Milan’s ancient Church of Sant’ Ambrogio, the menu included “lombolos cum panitio,” breaded veal scallops.

The Italians are also sometimes reported to have introduced veal into France via Catherine de’ Medici, the Italian-born Queen of France who reined from 1533 to 1589. It appears that Catherine did like veal, which was natural for anyone who came from Florence where veal was considered so luxurious that it was decreed if veal was served at a wedding dinner, no other meat could appear on the same menu. While Catherine did bring many Italian artists, poets, musicians, and dancing masters to France, historians counter that several veal recipes were located in France at least a century and a half (late 1300’a) prior to Catherine ascending to the French throne.

In England, two fifteenth-century cookbooks offer recipes for veal dishes; and one for a veal pasty appeared in The Forme of Cury, the date is 1378.

During the mid-1700’s, veal was immortalized by the Jean-Baptiste Oudry, in his still life oil on canvas painting entitled Veal depicted a Quarter of Veal along with wine and fruit.

The famous French writer and philosopher, Voltaire, used an offer of veal stock instead of traditional fatty sauces, called gravy, to entice his friend to come and visit him, during the mid-1700’s. Voltaire wrote to his friend Saint-Lambert, “Come to Ciety [where Voltaire was living] where Madame du Chatelet [his cook] will not let you be poisoned. There is not a spoonful of gravy in her cooking: everything is made with blond de veau [obtained by boiling veal shanks in water with carrots, onions, celery and a chicken carcass. We will live one hundred years and you will never die.” [Voltaire did live to be 84.]

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