The Blonde d’Aquitaine breed has been farmed in Italy since the 1950s, especially in the North and particularly in Piedmont, where over the years a whole production chain has been developed. Nowadays, the production chain comprises hundreds of producers who farm over 60.000 animals.
Animal welfare turns into quality
In the summer they follow their mothers to pastures and they live and get fed in a natural environment. Depending on the region, upon weaning (when they are about 5-7 months old) they are transferred to farms different from that of origin to start fattening. 80% of them are imported to Piedmont, in Italy, whereas a share is destined for the Spanish market and a small minority to north-western Europe.
In compliance with tradition, the Blonde d’Aquitaine is farmed in Italy through young male bovines (broutards in French) previously imported from France, particularly from the south-west region (Aquitaine) on the border with Spain, next to the Pyrenees.
Once they have been weaned in the farm of origin and mainly raised on pasture, the young animals arrive in Italian farms when they reach on average between 250 and 350 kg of weight and are 6-12 months old. These animals are no longer fed on mother’s milk and have a well-formed and functioning rumen necessary to star the so-called “fattening cycle”.
The fattening cycle of the Blonde d’Aquitaine starts with a first stage of adjustment which lasts about 30/40 days in which calves are divided into homogeneous lots by weight and age and are placed in multiple stalls which normally contain 6-12 animals.
In this first stage, their diet mainly consists of cereals (corn, barley, wheat, etc.), but hay and fibres are still important as they help cattle adapt to their new environment and it is a necessary step before they are fed more concentrate feed rich in starch and sugar.
In this phase, animal welfare plays a fundamental role since, after such a long and hard journey, the animals need to rest as soon as they are unloaded. Much attention is devoted to the management of litters and troughs so that the bovines can drink and lie down at their own convenience. Upon unloading, the animals are checked one by one and within a few days they are vaccinated against the most widespread viral respiratory diseases.
Very often they are given a skin anthelmintics so as to prevent bacteria responsible for skin disease from spreading.
After this first adjustment phase, the calves are ready to start proper fattening. Unless it is otherwise agreed, the homogeneous lots created upon arrival are not normally modified because within each animal group a hierarchy necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the stall has been established. The feed ration undergoes some first adjustments due to the need to increase the share of proteins and starch. This way, the animals are able to turn what they eat into muscle mass to their fullest genetic potential.
The core step of the fattening cycle lasts between 4 and 5 months and is at the heart of the productive cycle. During this stage, it is fundamental to minimize any kind of stress (thermal, food, or social related, etc.) as much as possible so that the bovines can grow without contracting any serious disease.
Before leaving the farm for the slaughterhouse, Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle still have to undergo a very important phase which is typical of this breed and of this bovine typology – the so-called finishing. It consists of a period of about 20-30 days whose main aim is to increase the bovines’ intramuscular fat so that the taste and tenderness of their meat can be improved. The feed ration undergoes further adjustments by adding sugars and slightly decreasing the share of proteins and fibres.
Once finishing is over, the bovines are ready to go to the slaughterhouse where the processing stage takes place.
The cattle’s average weight at the end of the cycle varies between 650 and 750 kg and the age of male animals is between 16 and 22 months.
The age of these animals varies, but in order for them to obtain a quality label they must be slaughtered before they turn 9 years old. The finishing period – a process carried out by 75% of French Blonde d’Aquitaine farmers – lasts between 6 and 8 months and takes place in the farm after the animals’ breeding career is over, according to protocols which may vary from region to region.
Some fattening houses are specialised in this kind of production.
About 100.000 Blonde d’Aquitaine cull cows are produced every year. Their carcass weight is of 480 kg (it is the heaviest of all French breeds) and 60% of the carcasses are classified as “U” according to European ratings.
Their meat is red and well defined. It is particularly appreciated by traditional butchers who offer their customers high-quality, quick-cooking cuts, an excellence of French culinary arts.
In Italy people normally consume meat from animals slaughtered at a young age (on average between 15 and 20 months old) and mainly from whole male carcasses. Less present are female cattle, which however play an important role because they are often sold in top-quality points of sales – the so-called meat boutiques – because of their exquisite taste.
Blonde d’Aquitaine meat is enhanced in some dishes typical of the Italian region where it is mostly consumed – Piedmont. Among the dishes that best enhance its taste we can find knife-cut tartare, roast beef, thigh steaks, and any other medium-cooked dish that doesn’t require long cooking.
Italy and France
Recognised by Decree No. 828 of 28/02/2018 of the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Consorzio Sigillo Italiano is a Consortium whose aim is to promote all products obtained by adopting any production regulations approved in the frame of the National Quality Scheme applied to Zootechnics (SQNZ).
Blonde d’Aquitaine farmers participating in this project adhere to the “Vitellone e Scottona ai cereali” production regulation and are represented by Asprocarne Piemonte within the Consortium.
A strong and authoritative brand aimed at helping consumers recognise the quality of Italian farmers’ produce. The Consorzio Sigillo Italiano label represents an absolute guarantee of the product’s origin and the quality.
In France there are of course many “Labels Rouges” which highlight the excellence of Blonde d’Aquitaine meat while meeting the needs of very strict production specifications. Indeed, there are two main types of labels giving further value to the Blonde d’Aquitaine:
- National labels such as Bœuf Blond d’Aquitaine or la Blonde de nos Prés;
- Local labels – for instance Bœuf de Chalosse, Bœuf de Bazas, Bœuf fermier de Vendée – where the Blonde d’Aquitaine stands as one of many other available breeds.
The ambition of public authorities and beef sector professionals is to significantly develop the Labels Rouges in the near future so as to better meet consumers’ needs in terms of product quality and animal well-being, all while highlighting farmers’ hard work.
Blonde d’Aquitaine meat is praised by both professionals and less-informed consumers for its exceptional natural tenderness, a characteristic which makes it a unique and popular meat.
Other specific traits of Blonde d’Aquitaine meat are the fineness of its muscular tissue and its low level of fat content which make it a dietary product without altering its gustatory qualities.
In France, consumers traditionally prefer meat from female cattle, particularly from cull cows which have undergone a long fattening and finishing process once their reproductive career is over.
Every year between 90.000 and 100.000 Blonde d’Aquitaine cows destined for the domestic market are slaughtered in France.
The majority of these high-end meat products are enhanced in traditional butchers’ shops and in traditional departments of supermarkets and hypermarkets, where they are sold in cuts under official quality marks or specific labels. Therefore, consumers purchase high-quality cuts to be braised or roasted, such as filets, tenderloins, T-bone steaks, sirloin steaks, rump steaks, entrecote steaks, and flank steaks, and they taste them with their family, their friends, or during festivities.
Thanks to its physical structure and its specificities, the Blonde d’Aquitaine, a large-format meat breed with premium performances, makes possible to have such a wide array of cuts – especially high-quality ones, provided one can process its meat professionally.
In other words, the Blonde d’Aquitaine is a naturally tender and generous cattle breed.