Our May 19th adventure has proven to be more than a culinary experience. It's been an interesting education!
Our Maître d' was quite correct in referring to the "ris de veau" as the "gorge". Our lifelong interpretation of "sweetbread" is what was false. They are not testicles at all. Sweetbreads, or ris, are culinary names for the thymus (throat sweetbread) and the pancreas (heart or stomach sweetbread), especially of the calf (ris de veau) and lamb (ris d'agneau) - although beef and pork sweetbreads are also eaten.
The "heart" sweetbreads are more spherical in shape, and surrounded symmetrically by the "throat" sweetbreads, which are more cylindrical in shape.
Beef sweetbread is found along the top of the neck vertebrae on the Front Quarter of the beef. At the age of 1 to 1.5 years, the beef Thymus Gland usually shrinks. After the age of 2, it is usually gone completely from beef.
Such foods, along with other internal organs are called "offal", meaning, literally, the "off-fall", or off-cuts from the carcass; many call these items "variety meats". You will recall that our Maître d' referred to them as "abats".
The word "sweetbread" is first attested in the 16th century, but the logic behind the name is unclear. However, the etymology of the word "sweetbread" is thought to be of Old English origin. "Sweet" is probably used since the thymus are sweet and rich tasting, as opposed to savory tasting muscle flesh. "Bread" may come from Old English word "braed" - flesh.
While we were discovering the correct meaning of words, we also found a number of names given to what we had originally thought were sweetbreads. Prairie oysters, Rocky Mountain oysters, calf fries, bull fries, Mountain tendergroins, cowboy caviar, swinging beef are all references to these Western delicacies known as edible offal.
Bottom line: regardless of the name, we still don't want to eat it.
~ AM & OK