Australian sun-drenched vealers, with a low carbon footprint compared to their grain-finished siblings, are expected to play more of a market role as eating quality standards improve.
To pull the low-fat, iron-rich product along this path Meat Standards Australia with Meat and Livestock Australia are co-ordinating a $1.8 million evaluation project that last week involved Northern Co-operative Meat Company and 60 taste-testers as part of Casino Beef Week.
Other research funds have come from Charles Sturt University, Dairy Australia and Australian Meat Processor Corporation.
At the moment veal is defined as any beef animal with a hot carcass weight under 150 kilograms - about 280kg live weight - regardless of age or whether calves have cut any permanent teeth.
There is no grading system of the product and ossification and other impacts on eating quality are not measured. That is expected to change as the MSA program proceeds.
Joe Leven, collaborative members Services specialist at Casino's Northern Co-operative Meat Company helped organise the Beef Week taste test and said a range of veal bodies and cuts were represented in seven small samples grilled on a hotplate at the Casino Rugby clubhouse.
Water crackers and a cup of diluted apple juice helped cleanse the palate between bites.
Some of my samples, all of them processed at the Casino facility and prepared identically for trial through the University of New England at Armidale were especially juicy, tender and delicious.
"The key aim of this project is to increase the value of dairy beef and to develop a veal MSA pathway," he said. "Researchers will take this consumer feedback data and work out its impacts on eating quality. From that they will calculate the algorithms and formulas to develop an MSA software model.
At the moment NCMC sells its "Three Rivers" branded veal into Woolworths, comprising calves which comply with Ausmeat guidelines, which focuses on consistent light meat colour.
Some of the calves come to the processor after being allowed to creep-feed on grain. Other animals not ready for processing, depending on the season, spend time in preferred supplier feedlots, says NCMC senior account manager Aaron Charters.
The current season, with such a large turnoff of calves through the saleyards, has meant supply of veal is up but graders have to be more selective due to quality issues,
From reports back to the abattoir from supermarkets, the branded veal product generates little wastage, meaning this lean beef is finding steady consumer interest, according to NCMC executive officer Simon Stahl.
"I call veal "beef light",he said. "It's lean, not heavy, yet juicy. That's a terrific trait."
Typically vealers are processed at weaning, and have spent their lives in the paddock with mum. Dairy calves, bottle reared and weaned early onto supplements, still spend their lives under the sun.
European veal, more pale in meat colour compared to Australian product, can spend its life in a cage.
NCMC Chairman John Seccombe said an application by the Dutch government to import beef products into Australia could result in their cheaper version of veal ending up next to locally reared sun-drenched product.
That's all the more reason to have a grading system in place, he said, so consumers can decide which version of veal is best.