When clients request specialty items, you make it happen. When a client requests specialty items from a place you’ve been dying to go see for yourself, you make it happen in .2 seconds. Enter: Txogitxu. One of the world’s premier suppliers of mature meat, dubbed by many as “the best meat in the world”. We had the absolute pleasure of spending a day with Txogitxu’s butcher-owner-legend Imanol Jaca, in his native San Sebastián, Spain. And boy, what a day it was.
At Txogitxu, Jaca selects the best cuts of meat from very fatty, retired animals he finds all over Europe. One might call them very fatty, old animals, which is exactly what sets Txogitxu apart from their competition. High quality, dedication to the cut and transformation of the very finest quality red meat make Txogitxu number one in their sector. From the Basque Country Jaca’s company distributes their products to any part of Europe. Their products can be found in leading European restaurants like San Sebastián’s three-Michelin-starred Arzak, Paris’s famed market La Grande Épicerie, and the Basque restaurant Sagardi in London, just to name a few. Mastermind Imanol can be found all over the world educating people about his cultural, gastronomic product. “Meat is eaten all over the world, but steaks from old, fat cows – perfectly prepared – are only to be found here. The bone-in ribeye steak is the flag of the Basque Country,” he tells us.
Jaca’s message is unusual – it sort of literally goes against everything people try to tell you good beef should be – and he’s had to deal with his fair share of skepticism. “People look at me as if I come from outer space”, he says. But ever since his company upped the intensity of its international extension, he has caused a “small revolution”, and his meat from old, fat cows who are naturally fed and bred in the countryside, which was previously deemed not edible, is now in high demand. “I’ve been accepted as a product and as a person,” he tells us, “because I give out a message of honesty, and I understand the particularity and the value that we have in the Basque Country in regards to the culture of meat, something you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”
The professional from San Sebastián became a meat taster twenty five years ago because life led him into the job. Today he is a famous specialist in his sector, a fact which became increasingly clear to us when none other than Juan Mari Arzak himself entered the restaurant we were having lunch at, only to make a straight beeline to our host to overtly express his love for him and his product. Pretty epic. And pretty telling.
We meet Jaca for the first time at his office, a bustling place where trucks come and go, butchers in crisp white coats tread the hallways rapidly, and logistics personnel do not have enough hours in the day to take their eyes off their computer screens. From his inquisitory first questions and the remark “I don’t collect clients, I collect people” later on in the day, we get the suspicion this man does not sell his gold to just anyone. You have to be worthy. And to become worthy, you must truly understand the culture of the old, fat cow and why it was historically only eaten in this part of the world. This is why Imanol later takes us straight into the heart of his beloved San Sebastián and personally prepares the best cuts of vaca vieja for us to try, so we can see for ourselves, understand for ourselves and taste for ourselves. And understand, taste and see we do. After spending a day with this meat God, watching and experiencing his incredible product and passion, we can without a doubt say that the hype is grounded. Besides the fact that Jaca’s product simply tastes ridiculously amazing, the love with which he treats it and presents his Basque culture are beyond infectious and elevate the experience of eating these old beasts to a whole other level. It is simply impossible not to fall in love with the meat, the man or the country.
Let’s start the day at its beginning. After our initial introduction at his office, Imanol takes us on a tour of the Txogitxu facility. This is where the old cows are stored in new, modern and extensive preservation and maturing chambers. With a controlled cold system that maintains constant temperature and humidity levels, they obtain the ideal maturation required by these meats. It should look scary, this retirement center of cow carcasses, but it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s beautiful. There’s a circle of life sense that comes about when walking past these 12 to 20-year old meats, which makes you wonder why these cuts were ever approached with any apprehension at all. When the question of age comes up, Imanol refers to a friend who once asked if young meat isn’t better. “What would you prefer? A short life, or a long life working and living in peace?”, he asks. Fair enough. But in the same breathe Imanol also points out that farming 18-year old cows simply isn’t sustainable for farmers, therefore he sources his cows all over Europe, typically selecting only five to ten percent of the retired cows and oxen he meets. We get to see them all. Beautifully butchered, matured, stored and perfectly packaged. Every time Imanol points out another incredible piece of carcass, he rubs his hand over its fat and shows us the glistening it leaves on his hand. He is proud of the creaminess and tells us this is what gives his meat its distinct flavor. Because, think about it, these cows live about five times longer than your average beef cow, which means five times more time for the animal to develop intramuscular fat. After these cows retire, all of the energy they previously had to put into producing
milk now gets put back into the animal’s body. This is what creates a wonderfully delicious and complex flavor you simply cannot find in conventional beef. Sounds pretty logical, right?
After our tour we are supposed to have some time to work and then meet Imanol at a Gastronomic Society later on in the day, for a tasting of the meats. However, Imanol instead suggests we go for lunch together before we go to the tasting. We consider for a second whether having lunch before lunch is a good idea … Lol, of course we don’t. We grab our stuff and jump into Jaca’s car to be whisked into beautiful – no, gorgeous – San Sebastián where we drink Basque white wine while being served traditional pinchos at one of the best bars the city has to offer. Surprisingly all our pinchos are fish – fantastic fish – and it is by the second round of food that mister Arzak shows up to proclaim his Txogitxu love and when we realize: Alright, this man is a legend. And we’re not just talking Arzak.
When the food has disappeared as rapidly as the wine, it’s time to head over to the Gastronomic Society for some cooking. We make a quick stop at Imanol’s store where they sell his products – including their burgers which showcase a wonderful picture of our host on the front of the box – and are off to this, now often mentioned, Gastronomic Society. Fully under the impression this name refers to a test kitchen, upon arrival we find out: it doesn’t. Gastronomic Society’s are small private clubs where members come to cook, eat, drink and play boardgames together. Traditionally these clubs are for men only, but two years ago they opened their doors to women as well. However, to this day, women are not allowed into the actual kitchen. Not that there are any stop signs with pictures of women in aprons plastered on the kitchen walls or anything, it’s just the unspoken rule of the tradition, and when one is invited one follows the rules. So, while one of us jumps into the kitchen with Imanol and a few other lucky guests, the other sits on the sideline with a drink observing all the hard work being done for her. And boy is there hard work being done. First up are the non-steak old cow products. From cow ham to cow chistorra and from Frankfurter sausages to burgers and braised oxtail. All amazing, all eloquent, all clean in taste and all unbelievably great quality.
Next up is the tartare. Now, as one should know, the key to good tartare is good beef and even better knife skills. We get to witness both. Beef by Txogitxu, knife skills by their favorite in-house chef. This guy is so skilled, he’s literally just chatting away while chopping, not looking at what’s happening on his cutting board but not missing a single beat at the same time. The tartare is seared quickly and then served with a small side salad. Despite the structure being not as fine as you would expect from a tartare of beef tenderloin for example, incorporating the fat and searing it quickly really changes the overall texture into a surprisingly silky and luxurious bite packed with flavor.
Up until this point Imanol has been in the kitchen to lend a helping hand wherever needed. Now, it’s his turn. When it comes to the preparation of his steak, everyone else makes way. This is his domain and no one will dare to tell you otherwise. Imanol assesses the meat and trims the steaks to his liking. When done, he carefully places them on a sizzling hot flattop cast iron grill and sears them to a perfect medium rare temperature. Some salt, no pepper, no “fuckery”, as he calls it. “In the Basque Country we live by one simple rule: you fuck with your wife, not with your food”, he says. We can’t help but to nod our heads in agreement. The meat is served with preserved red peppers that have been braised in olive oil for an hour, some bread and a few bottles of red wine. And then it’s finally time to do what we’ve been wanting to do all day: taste the old, fat cow in all its glory. And holy Moses what a taste that is. The creaminess that the fat, which is left on for cooking, provides by making its way back into the protein is unbelievably rich. There’s a hint of grass, a foundation of earth, an incredibly clean overall taste and an immense, deep flavor wrapped in a simply perfect texture. It’s like eating pure butter, if that butter was made from the best tasting piece of cow you’ve ever had in your life.
After dinner there are Basque pastries and ‘butcher’s gin and tonics’ (which apparently are g&t’s poured over a steel). It’s been miraculous. The food, the company, the entire Basque experience. And when the after-dinner conversation turns to Spanish politics it may or may not get even better. Or this may just be our cue to throw in the napkin and start making our way home. Gloating, satisfied, converted for life and beyond unbelievably grateful.
We want to extend a huge thank you to Txogitxu and our gracious host Imanol Jaca for an incredibly special and educational day. If you’d like to learn how to grill the Txogitxu authentic ‘txuletòn’ (côte de boeuf from an old and fatty cow), make sure to scroll down for an instructional video from the meat taster himself, preparing his favorite cut and showing us all how it’s done, step by step. You’ll also find a video of Imanol’s recipe for grilled Steak Tartare. For more behind the scenes footage of our day with Imanol, head over to our Instagram page and hit the highlights!
If you’d like to know more about how these exclusive pieces of prime meat can make it onto your yacht, please contact us at Provide & Supply – firstname.lastname@example.org
GRILLED STEAK TARTARE