The Piedmontese Breed
The Piedmont region of northwestern Italy has for centuries been famous for its wines and its rich cuisine. It’s also the home of the Piedmontese breed of cattle, which originated there over 100 years ago, amidst the region’s green, rolling hills and lush valleys, in an area bounded by France to the west and Switzerland to the North.
The original migration of cattle to the Piedmont area of Italy is believed to have occurred about 25,000 years ago, and a “double muscling” characteristic began showing up in Piedmontese cattle in the 1870s: The term describes the breed’s unusual predilection for developing extra muscle mass but very little fat. The result is an efficient source of lean meat that, in spite of the absence of the fatty marbling typical of standard breeds, remains tender and juicy.
Rare & Valuable
Piedmontese cattle are not easy to come by, however; they’re still a rarity in this country, and for that matter anywhere in the world beyond northern Italy. Small farmers there maintain very tight control of the breed through an association that has managed a registry of all Piedmontese cattle for many, many generations. In fact, this association controls what may well be the smallest and most unique gene pool of any breed of cattle in the world.
When a few progressive ranchers in North America first attempted to import Piedmontese breeding stock in the mid-1970s, originally into Canada, it was a five-year process before the first export out of Italy was approved, and that first export was all of five animals (one bull and four cows), at a cost approaching $100,000 per animal in today’s dollars. By the mid-1980’s, imports into Canada had increased to a total of only 15 head; those original 15 cattle form the base of the Piedmontese breed in this country. Even today, there are only an estimated 2,000 or so registered, pure-blood Piedmontese breeding stock in the United States.
A special group of ranchers in the Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada has worked hard for 30 years to adapt this unique breed of cattle to this area of the world and to expand and even improve the breed, but every animal that becomes Certified Piedmontese® beef still carries genetic codes from the original pool of cattle imported from Italy. Because of the foresight of a group of small farmers in northern Italy, and the special care and attention of family ranchers in our Great Plains, the integrity of the Piedmontese breed, and those special attributes that carry through all the way to your plate, have been preserved and protected and continue in every Certified Piedmontese® animal raised today.
Naturally Lean, Naturally Tender
“The Piedmontese breed is unique in having an inactive myostatin gene that produces a ‘double-muscled’ beef that’s rich in protein and nutrients,” says Great Plains Beef manager Don Straight. “The genetic nature of the breed doesn’t produce heavy levels of marbling or surface fat; Piedmontese beef doesn’t consist of the typical ‘stringy’ fibers, and the result is a natural tenderness that doesn’t require electrical stimulation, needling, or aging.”
That inactive gene creates beef that’s delicious in spite of the fact that it’s very lean. “In Piedmontese cattle, there is an increase in the number of muscle fibers, a condition called hyperplasia, which results from the inactive myostatin gene,” explains Josh Benton, cattle manager for Lone Creek Cattle Company. “Other effects include a shortening of muscle fibers and a reduced amount of connective tissue and intramuscular fat. These things combine to result in a consistently lean and tender beef product.”
Letting Nature Take Its Course
The genetic variation seen in Piedmontese cattle is entirely natural, notes Lone Creek Cattle Company manager Shane Peed. Unlike some foods that have been genetically modified, “Nobody has altered the genetics of Piedmontese cattle,” he says. “The inactive myostatin gene was a natural evolution of the breed.” Taking advantage of this biological phenomenon—that is, allowing nature to take its course—actually fits in well with the aims and philosophy of the people raising cattle for Certified Piedmontese® beef: The animals are raised in a natural and humane environment, are fed a pure vegetarian diet, and never receive steroids or antibiotics. Cattle raised for Certified Piedmontese® beef are born and raised not in tiny pens, but on open rangelands, where they’re fed a natural, high-energy diet full of quality grains and forages.
Piedmontese vs. Other Breeds
The decision to raise Piedmontese, and to do so in this fashion, was the result of careful research. “Originally we looked at raising grass-finished beef,” says Peed. “That would have provided some of the same health benefits as Piedmontese.” And in fact, the company’s Piedmontese cattle do spend the majority of their lives on grass. But finishing cattle on grass, say experts, takes a very long time, and the extra time means that you end up with older cattle that have lots of connective tissue and tougher meat. “It is also very difficult to develop consistency in grass-finished cattle,” says Peed. “We decided on Piedmontese so that we could deliver all of these health benefits while still producing a product that is consistently tender.”
Good Nutrition, Good Taste
In the end, what matters most is the combination of good taste and good nutrition. Certified Piedmontese® beef is lean and tender, so it tastes good and
it’s better for you than many other types of beef. Providing good-tasting food matters, says Alice Henneman, a registered dietitian and University of Nebraska extension educator. She points out that if food that’s good for you also happens to taste good, you’re much more likely to stick with a healthy diet: “Lean beef is considered a healthier choice than beef cuts with more fat, as it’s lower in calories and saturated fat,” she says. “Eating too much saturated fat can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Pound for pound, lean beef is higher in protein and more nutrient-rich than fattier cuts of beef, and the protein in lean beef promotes satiety, which can help curb hunger when trying to maintain or lose weight.” The bottom line, says Henneman, is that people need help eating healthy, nutritious meals, and beef from Certified Piedmontese® can provide that help: “People are more likely to stick with a healthy eating pattern if they enjoy the foods they’re eating,” she says. “Consuming a lean, flavorful cut of beef in a meal can help you and your family maintain a healthy eating pattern.”
Now Raised in the Heartland—Naturally
Piedmontese cattle are the only breed in the world that possess a documented genetic tenderness that delivers a consistent, superior product every time, a finding confirmed by independent research studies. The breed allows Certified Piedmontese® to deliver the highest possible levels of nutritional value combined with naturally-occurring, superior taste and texture. Thanks to an accident of genetics that occurred years ago in far-off Italy, American family ranchers are now raising cattle here at home for Certified Piedmontese, and are able to provide delicious, lean beef that not only tastes great, but that’s also better for you.
Copyright 2013 Great Plains Beef, LLC. Reproduced with permission.