Why do the French eat veal?

Veal in French Cuisine

Last updated on December 5th, 2018

Veal (“veau”) has traditionally been a mainstay of French cuisine.

It’s true that the French eat quite a bit of veal when compared to other countries. I tend to notice it when I travel abroad. Veal can be commonly found in the meat aisles of French supermarkets, at the local butcher’s and relatively regularly on the plates of the average French household.

The French like the “finesse” of veal (at least that’s what commercials say). It’s generally quite tender, less fibrous and lacks that strong beef taste… Veal is white or pinkish, rather than red (it is still “red meat” though). Veal is reputed as being a bourgeois meat, for the opulent and the affluent.


Industrial veal or sustainable veal

One of the reasons why veal is so common maybe because French people consume tons of milk, cheese and other dairy products. Male calves from dairy cows have no use since they cannot produce milk. The calves are usually fed powered milk and formulas, hence the white meat (they’re anemic).

For obvious animal welfare concerns, industrial veal is a little hard to swallow for some people. In that case, look for quality seals such as “Label Rouge” (Red Label) or “Veau Fermier” (Farmer’s Veal), or “Veau Bio” (Organic Veal). These calves don’t usually leave their mothers until they’re at least 7 months old and get access to pasture.


Blanquette de veau


Blanquette de veau

If you eat veal in France, it should be in a “blanquette de veau”.

Blanquette de veau is a quintessential French veal stew. I’ve actually had blanquette de boeuf too (replace the calf by the cow), since my aunts know that I don’t eat veal. The taste is really in the sauce, and there never seems to be enough mushrooms and carrots.

“Blanquette” comes from the colour of the sauce (“Blanche” or white). A lot of butter, cream and eggs make blanquette a rather rich and heavy stew.

Blanquette de veau is usually served with white rice. School canteens, office cafeterias, cafés and brasseries will at some stage have blanquette de veau as dish of the day (plat du jour).

I’ve also seen blanquette de poulet (chicken blanquette) and vegetarian blanquette. Rabbit, pork and lamb can do the trick and I’m sure a blanquette de tofu would taste good too.

As long as there’s enough gravy, vegetables and rice, and a good bottle of wine, you’ll be able to enjoy a hearty traditional French dish.

If you’re looking to sample more traditional French foods, check out our pages on French cuisine and traditional French dishes.

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