A bit of background
Arden’beef meat comes from Belgian Blue cattle, known in French as Blanc Bleu Belge or BBB. This breed comes from a fairly mixed bovine population in the 19th century. It was at this time that there was some crossbreeding with shorthorn bulls imported from England. In the early 20th century, a selection process began that was designed to standardise the population to improve both milk production and the consistency of carcasses for slaughtering.
The First World War put an end to these plans, which began again when the war was over in 1919. The idea was to move towards a breed that would be able to produce around 4,000 litres of milk a year, whilst also offering a muscle structure that would make good meat.
As the 1960s dawned, the milking efficiency of Holstein cattle resulted in a rethink of the selection process. Mixed breeds fell into decline. For most herds at this time, the selection process focused first and foremost on the muscle structure of the bulls, and then that of the cows. It was in 1973 that the breed known as the “vache de moyenne et haute Belgique” became the “Blanc Bleu Belge”.
From milk to meat
In the early days, it was a mixed-use breed designed to produce milk and then meat in turn. It gradually moved over towards meat production. Selection was based on the “culard” or double-muscled gene that gives the breed a large body.
The “Belgian Blue”, or “Blanc Bleu Belge”, became an efficient breed in terms of putting on weight, producing lots of meat for a set amount of feed. Thanks to an excellent conversion rate from feed to meat, it produces more meat per hectare. As well as this, this breed has fantastic carcass yield, and a high percentage of high quality cuts, including grilling cuts. To make life easier for breeders, the BBB breed is also very docile. Originally a local, rustic breed, and therefore a tough one, it is well suited to all types of breeding methods in Ardennes.
An Ardennaise breed
Belgium is the home of the BBB breed. The Belgian Blue represents 50% of livestock, so around a million heads of cattle. It is particularly common in the Walloon Region, where it makes up 65% of cattle. Generally bred for meat in northern Europe, where the climate conditions and feed are similar to those in Belgium, it is often used for crossbreeding in other countries, including the United States.
Coat and shape
Its coat is generally white with bluish (blue pied) or black (black pied) markings. The skin is white and the mucous membranes are dark. Cows measure around 135cm and weigh 800kg. They have large horns as they grow. Bulls are 145cm and often exceed weights of 1,300kg. Their coats are thick, sometimes even woolly among younger animals.
Their shape is bulky and double-muscled. The absence of fat makes the muscles protrude from the skin. The muscles are consistent across the whole body, from the shoulders to the legs, including their backs and lower back.