"Beefs" are pretty much all purpose critters, fulfilling tractor and transportation duties in much of the world as well as providing dairy products and meat..
The generally category "Beef" includes Cattle, Yaks, Water Buffalo and Bison.
All domestic cattle descend from the wild Aurochs (Bos primigenius taurus) with domestication begining somewhere between 10,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago. By then sheep, goats, pigs and dogs had already been domesticated and were being sheared, milked, eaten and used to carry or pull loads.
In Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia "beef" means water buffalo and there's little attention paid to particular cuts - you just buy a hunk of buffalo of the weight you want. It's all going to be cut into small thin pieces anyway because it's all a bit tough and you need to strech it because it's expensive.
In Europe and the U.S. where beef means cow, it's cooked in medium to large pieces as a feature dish and in various ways so cut is extremely important. Prime grilling cuts are so expensive the beef industry has recently invented new cuts that can be substituted for the astronomically priced ones.Aging Beef
Beef is not considered edible fresh from the animal, it's just too tough. This is why beef is not popular in many areas that lack refrigeration and why it's boiled in other such areas. With time the muscle fibers are digested by enzymes making it more tender. The problem here is giving the enzymes time to work without the beef rotting. Two aging methods are generally used:
Veal is the meat of a calf, an immature cow. It is pale in color and relatively tender compared to beef with a flavor sort of between pork and beef. It is an inevitable byproduct of the dairy industry.
Veal production has been made highly controversial by animal rights advocates using highly emotional campaigns, often misleading or short on facts. The veal industry has countered with information campaigns which may also be misleading. For more on this subject see my page titled Veal - Controversy. Who Eat's Beef?
Cattle were domestigated well before the dawn of history, probably separately in Africa and Central Asia. Large areas of fertile grassland are necessary for raising cattle so it is not popular in heavily forested or dry parts of the world.