…starring happy cows, wise farmers, skilled butchers, enchanted costumers and the overall French genius because it was cut from the beautiful carcass of a Fleur d’Aubrac cow. I give a bow to the beast who once upon a time was fed on the pastures of Southern France where the rustic lands of Cantal, Aveyron, Haute-Loire and Lozère meet. Don’t call a Fleur d’Aubrac just a cow. It’s so much more than a cow; every single one of them is in fact a well-crafted masterpiece of world-class agriculture.
You can say it in the language of a lengthy EU bulletin, defining the criteria which alone entitle a cow to be called a Fleur, a flower of Aubrac. There you can read that this cattle is “born, reared and fattened” only in a tiny area of France, that it is “reared by one farmer only from birth to slaughter” (and we’re talking about just 200 or so farmers). You can read that it is slaughtered only in the area where it was born and fed. And that it’s fodder only consists of wild herbs and the grass it finds, moving freely, on the meadows. A Fleur d’Aubrac cow is, in other words, the exact opposite to industrialized food.
I owe this eye-opening experience to my dear friend Victor who knows food like not many people. It was him with his unmistakable instinct for the good stuff who traced the only butcher in the entire city of Paris (!) who works and sells Fleur d’Aubrac beef. And when Victor talked about it for the first time, like a man in love, like trapped in a real coup de foudre, I knew for sure that I had to try it as soon as possible.
It’s easy to miss the butcher shop where you can only find it in Paris (unless it’s a week-end when people wait in long queues to get their share). It’s a tiny boutique with the aura of a stuffed (yet clean) attic, the owner is a short, humble guy who almost disappears behind the loaded counter and he’s a man of few words. On display are the purple coloured, brownish chunks of desire, rump and loin, rib and brisket, turned into French cuts called entrecôte and rumsteck, rosbif and onglet.
I bought a thick slice of entrecôte, a 700 grams or so piece. And back in my kitchen I tried to focus and to concentrate in order to really not ruin this one. I let it rest outside the fridge. I peppered it and salted generously. I seared it in my cast-iron pan, I didn’t touch it, quite exactly the way David Chang recommends it in his fabulous Momofuko book. I put in the hot oven for a couple of minutes, always frightened to do too much. I brought it back onto the fire. I basted it with butter, garlic and thyme. I let it rest, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, I felt like smoking a cigarette to calm down but then…
…it was done. Not well done, of course, just perfectly rare/medium rare as a perfect steak should be. But this wasn’t just a steak; it was a Fleur d’Aubrac steak. And believe me, this cow’s meat has not much in common with that of its poorer brothers Charolaise, Blonde d’Aquitaine, Parenthaise or whatever they’re called. It’s surprisingly tender, astonishingly juicy, it’s hearty yet somewhat friendly, it feels, compared to the meat of other races, remarkably relaxed – and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if all of this is due to the loving and careful raising that the cow enjoyed in the first place, in lovely Aubrac.