The word retinta refers to their colour, which can range from chestnut red to dark brown. The breed Bos taurus Turdetanus (I kid you not) probably originated in North Africa, but has been in the Iberian peninsular since ancient times and can be seen in cave drawings. Today it is found mainly in Andalucia and Extremadura, though there are small herds in other parts of Spain including the Balearics. Retinta cattle have recently been exported to Argentina, where they have adapted well and are being crossbred with local varieties.
|Springtime in Cadiz|
The dehesas or meadows around Alcalá are perfect for these beauties, although there are fears that they are being over-grazed. For six months of the year the grass is green and lush for grazing and provides enough hay to keep them going over the summer drought, while the groves of alcornoques and other oaks provide shade as well as tasty acorns to help flavour the meat.
So when looking for environmentally friendly sustainable industries to develop in the Alcornocales Natural Park, the Grupo de Desarollo Rural (GDR) got together with local ganaderos in 2004 to launch a project which would not only improve breeding techniques but also enable them to fatten and butcher the cattle locally, thereby enhancing profitability and providing more jobs in the area.
Unfortunately all has not gone smoothly. Resistance from the companies who previously profited from beef bred in Cádiz, and from some of the breeders themselves; a lack of slaughterhouses or cebaderos (fattening centres); a blue-tongue outbreak in the area, and the inevitable tangled web of Spanish bureaucracy have all contributed to the project not coming to fruition as quickly as it might have done.
Spain has one of the lowest levels of beef consumption in Europe, preferring pork. Traditionally cattle were used as beasts of burden rather than as a source of food. Beef became more popular in the 1960s but was generally of poor quality with most animals raised in sheds and unable to develop decent muscle fibre. But thanks to the efforts of projects like the one described above, things are changing. In 2008 the local carne de retinto was awarded the quality mark Carne de Vacuno Extensivo de Cadiz to help market this excellent beef further afield.
It is already the steak of choice in most of the quality restaurants in the Province, but potential markets close by include Gibraltar, Seville, Málaga and the restaurants of the Costa del Sol, and the two Spanish communities on the Moroccan coast, Ceuta and Melilla (taking advantage of a halal slaughterhouse in La Linea).
I once read somewhere that McDonalds Europe used to buy up most of the carne de retinto raised in Cádiz, but I can't find the source and I don't know if that is still the case. I'm not sure whether that would make me feel better about eating a Big Mac or not ...
Beef up your vocabulary:
This can be confusing as the same words are used to describe both the meat and the animal itself, and different sources supply different definitions.
- Añojo/a (n.) – a weaned calf, or meat from an animal between 12 and 24 months.
- Becerro/a (n.) – an animal between 12 and 24 months.
- Buey (n.m.) – a castrated bull or ox. Commonly used in stews; rabo de buey or rabo de toro (oxtail) is very popular here.
- Ganado (n.m.) – cattle, livestock.
- Novillo/a (n.) – an animal between 18 and 36 months; a bullock or heifer.
- Ternero/a –a calf less than 12 months old. Also used generically for meat from a youngish animal (carne de ternero). Veal in the English sense (i.e. white or pale pink meat) is ternero lechal (milk calf).
- Vaca (n.f.)– the generic word for cow (but the word ternera is often used for generically cattle bred for meat as opposed to dairy). Carne de vaca means beef from a a cow more than 36 months old.
- Toro (n.m.) – bull. A toro bravo or toro de lidia is a fighting bull; often eaten after the bullfight but the meat can be tough. Eating bull's testicles (criadillas) reputed to make you more manly.
- Vacuno/a (adj.) - bovine. Carne de vacuno is beef in general; you will see this on packs of supermarket mince, sometimes mixed with cerdo (pork). Be careful when ordering in a restaurant; vacuna (n.f.) means vaccine!