Why Is France Feeding Wine to Their Cows?

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Dairy cows in the French countryside oblvious to the Tour de France peloton behind them.
Corbis

THE GIST

- The French have taken a clue from the Japanese who serve beer to cows to create supple, tender Kobe beef.

- The French cows are getting a daily dose of up to two bottles each of wine.

- The daily cost of feeding the cows tripled from $6 to $18, which has led to a steep increase in the cost of the meat.

First there was Kobe beef, Japan-born cows raised on beer. Now, the French have experimented with what is now called "Vinbovin" -- cattle being served two or three bottles of Languedoc wine a day.

The idea came from the president of an association of wine, Jean-Charles Tastavy. Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy conceived of his plan after hearing of studies in Spain and Canada that highlighted the merits of keeping animals happy to yield better meat.

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"Why don't we do what others are doing elsewhere?" Tastavy said.

With the assistance of the General Council of Hérault and FDSEA, an association has been created, the brand "Vinbovin" trademark was created and the rules made.

2 or 3 glasses of wine a day

"For each animal, alcohol intake should be equivalent to the amount recommended by health authorities for a man, namely two or three glasses of wine a day. For cattle, it is 1 liter to 1 liter and half," explains Tastavy.

In 2011, the draft of an essay, a first in France, was launched. And it is Chaballier Claude, who owns a ranch where the bulls are in surplus for slaughterhouses, which agreed to embark on this adventure. A second experiment is scheduled from August to September.

After the last harvest, three cattle received grape pomace supplemented by the rolled barley and hay at will, all washed down with water. Then, two liters of wine from Saint-Genies of Mourgues replaced the marc. "The cattle liked the menu and ate with relish," said Chaballier.

Gourmet marriage

This marriage of gastronomy with wine livestock has fallen short of expectations placed by the initiator. "It has been eaten," remembers the breeder, within the "attractive returns" of an animal that has developed and particularly "tasty bits."

For Chaballier, remains a downside: the price. The value of daily meals of broilers in wine tripled, from 5 to 15 euros, or a kilo of meat around a hundred euros for the noblest parts.

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A luxury meat

This concept of luxury, Laurent Pourcel, Michelin-starred chef, does not deny. But in his view, there should no hesitation on the part of farmers to produce this meat that has a "very special" texture -- "beautiful, marbled, tender which caramelizes during cooking."

"She has a fine taste, very strong," the chef Pourcel said. "Allowed to go stale and relax, the better it is."

Pourcel has already convinced some of his confreres in a presentation made at his restaurant.

"All the great Parisian restaurants will take," predicted the chef, stressing that this meat is an outlet for farmers and growers in the region.

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