Scottish Beef is renowned the world over, and quite rightly so. But why should this be?
With the help of Donald Russell, the UK’s top online meat ordering company we find out why.
Climate, soil type and overall topography
It seems to be that the climate, soil type and overall topography simply create the perfect conditions for beef cattle to thrive. In the same way as the ‘terroirs’ on which grapevines grow create vastly differing wines, the land on which cattle graze affects the final flavour and texture profile of the beef. In Scotland, grass grows lushly in the mild, often damp weather, and wild native herbs add a subtle tang to the flavour of cattle grazed on higher pasture. We’re just spectacularly lucky that our rolling green grassland and moderate (yes, really!) climate combine to produce what we firmly believe to be the world’s finest beef.
Anywhere in particular?
Most of Scotland has the potential to produce really great beef, but Aberdeenshire in particular has a reputation for raising the finest beef of all. The region (renowned also for its wild game, seafood and Speyside whisky) has long been regarded as the ‘the larder of Europe’, and is home to the world-famous ‘Aberdeen Angus’ breed, from which much of the global beef stock is descended.
So is ‘Aberdeen Angus’ the best beef?
It’s not quite as simple as that! While it’s a great starting point, crossbreeding is allowed under the label, so something called ‘Aberdeen Angus’ may well contain another breed altogether. And with the best will in the world, there are other factors that have much more of an effect on the quality of the beef than the breed, such as how the cattle are fed, their age and lifestyle, and the aging and butchering of the meat. So for instance, ‘Aberdeen Angus’ beef that has been grain-fed in a cattle lot in America, and not matured for very long, will taste totally different than that from a Royal Warrant-holding butcher in the heart of Scottish beef country. Let’s take a look in a little more detail at some of those points.
How are the Scotch Beef cattle fed?
The very best beef, without a shadow of a doubt, is ‘grass-fed’. This simply means that the cattle are allowed to roam in lush, grassy fields, grazing at their own rate, with plenty time to sit and ‘chew the cud’ in peace. In the depths of winter, for their own comfort, they may be offered shelter in spacious barns, but the menu will still consist of hay and silage, naturally sourced from grass in the first place. This is quite a costly way of doing things, as the cattle grow much more slowly than those who are kept enclosed in feed lots and fed a high-protein mixture of grains and other foods (and frequently given hormone treatments, too, to encourage even faster growth). However, the end result is a sweet, mellow flavour, a beautifully fine marbling of fat through the meat, a superior texture and even improved health benefits- grass-fed beef contains a higher concentration of nutritious vitamins and minerals than grain-fed does.
How does maturing help the taste and texture of Scotch Beef?
Maturation is a crucial part of producing the very highest quality beef. It is aged, or ‘hung’, for anything up to weeks at a time. While this is going on, enzymes break down some of the tissues in the muscle, greatly enhancing the tenderness of the meat. Water also evaporates from the meat, concentrating and improving the flavours. An aged piece of meat has a fuller, deeper, richer taste than a fresh one. Again, it’s an expensive process – keeping a dedicated space at exactly the right temperature and humidity doesn’t come cheap, and there’s shrinkage from evaporation and wastage from trimming away the blackened edges at the end of the process, too. Many butchers cut corners here, for cost reasons, so it’s always worth making sure your meat is fully aged.
What part does butchering play?
A properly butchered piece of meat is a world away from one that has been carelessly cut. At its most basic level, a steak that has been cut ‘with’ the grain rather than ‘across’ the grain, or muscle fibres, will be almost impossible to chew. A good butcher will select the right meat in the first place, turning away lower quality carcasses, and will then treat it with great respect. Traditional butchery, where the meat is cut by hand, is becoming rarer, because mechanical cutting is so much cheaper. However, to get the very best from a good piece of meat, you can’t beat the work of a properly trained, highly skilled butcher.
Enjoy Scottish Beef with a real flair!
So you’ve got the best beef in the world, and it’s been traditionally grazed, slow grown, fully aged and expertly butchered. What next? Well, that’s up to you!Next time you’re eating out and you see Scotch beef on the menu you know what to choose … and why.
If you enjoy cooking or if you prefer to savour your steaks at home with friends and a nice glass of wine then check out Donald Russell and their range of meats including the best of beef.
And … for those of you who enjoy cooking here are a few great Scotch Beef Recipes to help get the very best from your Scottish Beef.
Editor’s Note: Most of this information supplied by Donald Russell including the Scotch Beef recipes.
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