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PostPosted: 06 Sep 2010, 11:43 
Grand Poobah
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Wine-fed cows a hit with chefs

Cooks love the unique flavour -- and cattle also seem to like a bottle of wine with supper


The B.C. wine industry just got a big boost from a new market segment: Cows.

Unfortunately, these cows meet a sad end -- but they do spend 90 of their last days living it up, drinking red Okanagan wine, and they do seem to like it. At least, they moo more and seem to "talk to each other." Could they be comparing vintages and talking about leathery notes in the wine of the day?

The idea of feeding wine to cows was hatched by Janice Ravndahl of Sezmu Meats in Kelowna. (Sezmu is the Egyptian god of wine.) She introduced it to local high-end chefs who, in turn, became drunk with glee.

It began one day when she was sitting around, having a glass of wine, watching The F Word, a Gordon Ramsay TV cooking show. She saw him giving a taste of beer to some pigs he was raising.

Coming from five generations of cattle ranchers, she thought, "why not cows?"

She phoned her brother, who told her exactly why not. "Because the carbonation would bloat them," he said.

Ravndahl then thought: "Why not wine?"

(If you're wondering at this point, how about those Kobe cows, raised on beer and massages? So sorry to debunk an interesting tale, but here's a reality slap: In the recently published book Steak, author Mark Schatzker is met with giggles in Kobe when he asks a beef producer about beer in the cows' diet. The Kobe rancher sometimes brushes his cows but only to make them look nice. And sometimes he sprays their coats with sake to enhance the lustre. Makes you wonder exactly who was drinking the beer in the first place, doesn't it?)

So back in Saskatchewan, on Ravndahl's family's fifth-generation farm, they did a test run, feeding a few cows homemade red wine. "We were thrilled with the results," she says.

Since she and the wine are in the Okanagan, she buys free-range non-medicated, hormone-free Angus cows from local ranchers.

The Angus cows are each fed a litre of Okanagan red wine (granted, nothing our wine writer Anthony Gismondi would drink) every day. It's mixed into the feed but some like to drink the wine straight up.

"When the cows first drink the wine, it's like 'what is this?'" says Ravndahl.

"But once they have it, they're happy to have it again. They moo at one another a little more and seem more relaxed. There are a few that lap it up out of the pail. After they've had it for a while, when they see us coming with the pitchers, they don't run, but they come faster than usual."

Some of the local notable chefs pitched in with advice and support. Michael Allemeier, who has cooked at Mission Hill Winery and Bishop's in Vancouver, loved it and thought it was some of the best beef he'd tasted.

Former Food Network celebrity chef Ned Bell (Cabana Grille in Kelowna), Stuart Klassen (Delta Grand Okanagan) and Matthew Batey (Mission Hill Winery chef) are serving Sezmu beef. Batey is a big fan.

"Absolutely." he says. "We're spoiled in Canada because of Alberta beef, but being able to have this product that's not only ranged in the Okanagan but finished with Okanagan wine -there couldn't be anything cooler. It already comes pre-marinated. Well, that's pretty cool."

He says there's absolutely a subtle difference with the wine-fed beef. "It's beautiful beef to begin with. It's just adding one more dimension."

Allemeier is similarly enthused. "I've cooked with almost all of the premium beef programs throughout my career and I have been very impressed with Sezmu beef," he says.

"Red wine and beef are natural pairing partners to begin with. Why not in the finishing program? I found the meat to have a wonderful texture -- one of the benefits of dry-aging -- but the aroma and flavour are what truly impressed me."

Ravndahl says they fed the cows wine for 120 days, but the flavour difference between 120 days and 90 days wasn't pronounced. "The difference between 30 and 70 days, though, is outstanding."

She says the beef is priced about 15-per-cent higher than regular free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free beef.

Researchers at Thompson Rivers University's agriculture department are also interested in the wine-drinking cows. In one study involving the cows, they're hypothesizing that the wine diet lessens methane production. They're also wondering if resveratrol in red wine might have benefits for heart health or disease prevention in cows.

And if you're drooling carnivorously, Ravndahl is in talks with some Vancouver-area butchers to sell her beef here in the next year.

In Kelowna, Sezmu meat is available at Johnny's Fresh Meats and Deli (they make sausages from the meat) and at Cook's Quality Meats in Westbank.

Blog: vancouversun. com/miastainsby Twitter: Twitter. com/miastainsby

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I'm guessing relaxed cow just tastes better...

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

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