At Feather & Bone we have a lot of great products, some of them I’m pretty excited about, and then there are some, like the beef from El Capricho, that I almost can’t believe we were able to secure.
In the middle of 2019, a small contingent from F&B was invited to rural Spain to meet some very special (and very large) cows. The invitation came from their owner? host? friend? José Gordón. José has a special bond with his cattle. Part of the reason for this is the long time he has had to spend with each one. José shuns the idea that tender beef must come from young cattle, his cows live happily on his farm for up to 15 years. In those years he cares for and gets to know his beasts, and through generations of experience, he can detect the optimum window for slaughter.
The process is far from over at this point. The tending and care shifts into another gear as the meat is meticulously dry-aged in under-ground cellars where the environment’s temperature, humidity and ventilation are strictly controlled. But we’ll get back here later.
We met José on his weather-beaten farmland outside the tiny village of Jimenez de Jamuz three hours drive from Madrid, and were all too quickly in amongst the cattle. These cows are huge! Twice the size of the lazy loafers in Sai Kung, each beast weighing in at around 1,400kg and seven feet tall, with huge horns wider than our hire car! José collects rare and old breeds, saddened by the homogeneousness of the modern meat market with fatty, fast-growing breeds dominating. In order to see variety in flavour, José rears ancient Iberian breeds – Avileñan, Retintan, Sayaguesan, Moruchan, Alistanan, Tudancan, Maronesan, Mirandese, Parda, Galician Blonde, Cachenan, Vianese, Minhotan – which are rugged and hardy and able to withstand the famously arid conditions of the Iberian plateau, and importantly, they represent the genetic variety José seeks.
After narrowly escaping a clotheslining at the horns of a particularly friendly cow, we retired to the restaurant to see for ourselves the effect that this unconventional animal husbandry has. If we were impressed by the cows and their farm, that was nothing compared to the impression we got from the stunning underground restaurant, and more importantly, it’s menu. It was there that I sampled what is unquestionably the best beef I’ve ever tasted. The way that a fine leg of Jamon Iberico celebrates the pinnacle of fine quality pork, El Capicho’s beef leaves all others for dead.
In the process of dry-ageing, naturally occurring enzymes within the meat work to produce flavours that are not present in freshly butchered beef. Notes of mushrooms, blue cheese, cultured butter, all begin to emerge. All the while, the external fat slowly filters inwards giving the meat an extraordinarily smooth, yielding texture. Dry-ageing really can make something sublime from your stock standard steak, but when this time-honoured art form is applied to rare and heritage breeds the effect is nothing short of revelatory. All of us sat at the table in raptured silence merely marveling at the special gift we had been given by the team at El Capricho.
So, fast forward a year or so and after much tactful negotiation, imagine my glee when I received a simple, short email confirming that we were going to be able to bring a small shipment of José’s beef to serve at Feather & Bone Hong Kong. It was a jump up from your computer to go and shout the good news kind of moment. Right now we’re awaiting the arrival of that shipment like children who’ve found out that Santa’s going to bring them a puppy. Another exciting day awaits, when we can finally share this incredible product with our customers, providing the staff don’t buy it all up first!!
~ Mark Chan, Director of Operations, Feather & Bone