Since colonial times, the term Criollo has been used to describe people and animals born in the newly discovered “Americas” from imported parents, according to J. De Alba in his book, Criollo Cattle of Latin America. Criollo Cattle refers to animals brought to the Americas from southern Spain, by Christopher Columbus in the late 1490’s.
The Criollo are a heritage breed and have not been crossbred, their remarkable gene pool possesses traits very desirable in grazing animals. They consume not only grasses and forbs but also shrubs and are superb at widely utilizing all grazing areas available to them. In short, they don’t just eat the “good stuff”! Since much of the grazing lands in Arizona and the southwest are rugged and covered with scrub, the Criollo are a good fit. They utilize and benefit the environment the way the native wildlife do. Criollo are a small breed, weighing between 800 – 1,000 lbs, while crossbred cattle tip the scales around 1,200 lbs. The Criollo’s smaller size requires less forage and water; they are very well adapted to the arid conditions found in the southwest US. They literally leave smaller footprints in soft areas around watering holes. All Criollo cattle have horns, even the cows and heifers, which they use for protection from predators and to manipulate their way through thick undergrowth.
The beef from Criollo cattle is leaner, more tender and has better flavor than beef from crossbred steers as reported in a 1984 study by CA Garrez. This is due, in part, to the fact that Criollo cattle have finer muscles fibers.
In a 1999 study by NMSU, West Texas A&M, and Clemson University, comparing Angus beef to Criollo it was reported the Criollo was more tender, was lower in total fat, lower in saturated fat and higher in protein. The Criollo beef was also superior to the Angus in aroma desirability, flavor desirability and intensity. Criollo beef typically do not produce large amounts of intra-muscular marbling, further improving the health benefits of the beef. Criollo cattle produce their flavorful, healthy for you, lean beef even when grass finished, further reducing the negatives associated with feedlot finished beef.
Beef you find in the supermarket is typically commodity or industrial beef, from animals of varying breeds. Most of this beef is finished in a feedlot, where cattle with horns are not common, since they can easily push the other cattle off the feed. So you won’t find Criollo Beef in the stores! The best place to secure some superb Criollo Beef for yourself, is to locate a local rancher who sells directly to the public. www.EatWild.com and www.GoodFoodFinder.com are great resources for locally produced Criollo Beef.