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White veal is the meat of a cow calf that usually was 18 to 20 weeks old when it was slaughtered. This type of meat is also referred to as milk veal or formula-fed veal. White veal is off-white or pale pink in color, has a firm, soft texture and is easy to chew. Veal tastes mild in comparison with beef from adult cattle.
Cow calves that are used for white veal are fed a milk-based diet of cow milk and milk replacer products that contain vitamins and minerals. This diet lowers the iron content in the blood, preventing the meat from turning the typical red that is associated with beef. The diet also influences the mild taste of white veal.
Veal is a popular ingredient in French and Italian dishes and has been used for thousands of years. This meat is a byproduct of the dairy industry. Dairy cows must get pregnant and give birth to stimulate milk production. The offspring are either raised to be used as dairy cows, raised for use as bulls or used for veal.
White veal is low in fat. It toughens easily, so cooks who are preparing veal must be careful to preserve the texture. This usually is achieved by coating and frying the veal or serving it with either a cream sauce or broth-based sauce. Cooks usually will serve veal lightly seasoned to highlight its mild flavor or strongly seasoned, using the veal as a carrier for the more complex flavors in a dish.
The use and sale of veal is somewhat controversial. Animal rights groups frequently call on the public to avoid eating veal because it comes from calves and because of how the calves are treated by some farmers. Most calves will naturally wean from milk after about eight weeks and begin grazing. Veal producers interrupt this process, preventing the calves from grazing and keeping them on a milk-based diet, and many farmers limit the animals' movement by keeping them in small enclosures or tethering them in place. This keeps the calves' connective tissues and muscles from developing, so that the veal won't be tough.
Farmers have been making changes in response to the controversy. Many allow calves to roam freely in small enclosures and have altered their animals' diets to include some roughage. In some countries, farmers are required to feed calves a minimum of 8.8 ounces (250 g) of solid grain daily, starting at eight weeks of age. This produces a slightly pink veal.