Before I moved to Pennsylvania, I admit I thought very little about Columbus Day. Really the only way I ever knew it was Columbus Day was if the Post Office was closed or open. This holiday recognizes the day on which Columbus arrived in the New World, and in the United States, some consider the holiday to be Italian-themed. Living in Kansas and Oklahoma for the previous eight years before moving to PA, it probably comes as little surprise that such an event was off my radar. In fact, my neighbors to the north and east, New York, recognize this day as a state holiday. Currently, Pennsylvania and New York are two of the top veal-producing in the nation, and that is attributable to their extensive dairy industries (and proximity to veal consumers). I have heard reports that as much of 60% of Pennsylvania-raised veal comes from Amish farms.
Just as the turkey is to Thanksgiving as Lamb is to Easter, veal is associated with Columbus Day. That makes sense considering most of the popular veal recipes are based in Italian cuisine. Veal Parmigiana, saltimbocca, piccata. Though most veal is consumed in restaurants, it is also available from a variety of supermarket chains. The Beef Checkoff has prepared many simple veal recipes that any home cook, regardless of skill level, can prepare. For those recipes, visit VealMadeEasy.com.
I would be remiss if I did not mention something about the controversies associated with raising veal calves. I have been to many veal farms and packing plants and my observation is that, among at least the places I’ve been, the calves are well cared for treated well by farmers. Here is a video I shot at a veal farm last spring, and here is a different video I shot at a dairy farm at about that same time. Often overlooked is the fact that the American Veal Association has set a goal to phase out veal crates by 2017 (ten years from when this was announced in 2007). That may seem like awhile, but consider that a change in production system comes at a significant expense to the farmer and such changes take time. Some larger companies have been assisting their contracted farmers to change their barns for several years.
There are many different types of veal that you can try. There is the typical “special-fed” veal, which are depicted in the linked video. Those calves are raised to about 500 pounds and are about 5 months old when they are slaughtered. That is about the same age as an average market pig. There are also different varieties of pasture-raised veal and others … a whole host of options available in the marketplace.