INTRODUCING OUR WEEKLY BEEF MENU
Do you know your Longhorn from your Lincoln Red? Your Aberdeen Angus from your Hereford? And did you know that what a cow eats, where it is reared, the altitude it grazes at, and many other factors can have a huge impact on the final flavour of the beef you put on your dinner table? Put simply, no two beef breeds are the same, and we’re excited to share those differences with you.
Many of you will know about our daily lunch menus, where we share what our team of chefs have been rustling up in the kitchen for your dining pleasure across a selection of our shops. Well, we’re delighted to share the news that we are now launching a new ‘Weekly Beef Menu’.
We have always worked to bring you the very best breeds from across the country, working with the very best farmers. On our Instagram channel, we will now be sharing which beef breeds we will be selling each week in all of our shops across London. And for those of you interested in learning more about these breeds, we’ve put together the following beef guide to help you make a decision the next time you’re in one of our shops.
AN INTRODUCTION TO BEEF
Cattle fall into two categories – beef and dairy. The dairy breeds (Jersey, Guernsey, Dairy Shorthorns, Holsteins and Friesians) turn fodder into milk, therefore the carcasses are invariably poor, often thin, with no conformation because the goodness has all gone into milk production. The beef breeds – Longhorns, Beef Shorthorns, Angus, Galloway, Hereford, Lincoln Red, Sussex etc - were all selectively bred specifically for beef production. The majority of the native English breeds were developed during the late 19th century or earlier, with the traditional draft ox in its parentage.
Longhorns are the favourite breed of The Ginger Pig’s founder, Tim Wilson, who started his herd off over 25 years ago with this breed for their great presence in the field (the photo above is of Tim with one of his first two cows, Holly). It is a native beef breed, developed (or improved) by Robert Bakewell of Leicestershire in the 1760’s, who took working oxen and closely bred the cows to produce longer middles and heavier back ends, which is crucial in meat production. The milk from a Longhorn is incredibly rich, so much so that it started the Stilton cheese production in nearby Melton Mowbray.
The Longhorn breed was in danger of extinction in the latter half of the 20th century. Housing them can be problematic due to the size of their horns, plus they are not the quickest converter of fodder into flesh. But thanks to those farmers, such as Tim, who really did extol the virtues of the quality of the meat, it is now a good breeding base and a more popular breed, especially amongst smaller farmers looking for a more niche market.
Carcass sizes are quite big, so cuts such as sirloins, ribs and rumps are for the more serious meat eater, or perhaps one big steak to share between two.
The meat has excellent marbling with a rich coloured flesh, a good layer of fat, and needs to be hung for 40-45 days.
This well recognised breed was developed in the early part of the 19th century, believed to be by Hugh Watson, a tenant of Keillor in Angus. He gathered local stock which was well accustomed to the local terrain and weather, to selectively breed cattle to produce beef (interestingly, black cattle from this area were known as ‘doddies’ and ‘hummlies’). The herd book of the breed started in 1862 and the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society itself was formed in 1879.
It is a useful breed for Angus and Aberdeenshire, as the cattle are highly resistant to harsh weather, undemanding in their grazing. They are not a big breed, again making them useful for the smaller family farm, where the ability to house the livestock through winter could pose a problem.
Aberdeen Angus cattle have a good conversion rate from forage to muscle and also have the wonderful trait of producing natural marbling between the muscles, making the meat moist and tender.
Although not a rare breed, it is still a very traditional British beef breed, which has found favour throughout the world as a good meat producer.
We only sell registered Aberdeen Angus beef from steers and heifers, which is matured for 30 – 40 days.
*Image from Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society website
This was our founder Tim’s second breed that he brought onto the farm, to run alongside the Longhorns. Belted Galloway is a hardy type – very similar to the Angus, but from the South-West of Scotland. It is an ancient breed, dating back to the 16th century. Tim says he fell in love with their “beguiling faces and rich black coats with a wide white belt around the middle”. The downside to keeping ‘Belties’ is their desire to stay as far away from humankind as possible – Tim has been known to run many circuits around fields trying to get them to where they should be!
It was remarked by historian Hector Boece in 1570 - "In this region ar mony fair ky and oxin of qubilk the flesh is right delicius and tender." Ortelius, another historian writing in 1573, said, "In Carrick (then part of Galloway) are oxen of large size, whose flesh is tender, sweet and juicy."
We are only likely to receive around 15 or 20 Belted Galloway bodies into the shops each year, but when we do, we will be sure to let you know through our social channels and e-mail newsletters – this really is one not to miss!
*Image from The Belted Galloway Society
As the name suggests, the Hereford breed was developed along the Welsh/English borders – the origins of the breed date back to the early 18th century and was derived from oxen which were used in agriculture. Unlike the Scottish breeds, Herefords had the advantage of better land, hence richer grazing, and of course being on the West side of the country, a strong rainfall which kept the grass growing throughout the year. This is why Britain has the best beef and lamb in Europe – Italy, France, Spain etc, have rain early in the year but then the grass burns off and there are poorer pickings for the livestock.
Like the other beef breeds, the early breeders selected their breeding pairs carefully to put muscle/flesh in the right place, ie. sirloin and back-end, reducing the size of the shoulders which were prevalent in the oxen.
Along with the Aberdeen Angus, Herefords are probably the most associated breed for good beef. The carcasses weigh heavy, fat cover is good (it can be a little excessive as the Herefords do tend to lay flat down across the back), but it is always worth noting that in order to get marbling in the meat, there will always be fat across the back.
*Image from Wikipedia
Lincoln Red is to the East of England livestock farmer as the Hereford is to the West of England farmer with very similar history, dating back to the early 18th century. When Tim first started The Ginger Pig, his farm was in North Nottinghamshire (on the Lincolnshire borders) and he used to buy a lot of finished cattle from the farms nearby. In those days, one of the best herds belonged to the prison farm at Lindholme, just up the road from Harwell.
It is a good sized animal due to its ‘easy’ going lifestyle, ie. flattish fields and good, plentiful grazing. The weather on the East side of the country is always a little milder and kinder than the West, hence the Lincoln Red doesn’t put quite as much fat covering over its back (fat to an animal is very much like a Barbour coat to us!). As a result, there is less marbling in the meat, although it still eats well, but with a totally different texture to the Scottish and the West side breeds. Interestingly it has a smaller fillet than the other breeds.
*Image from Wikipedia
While this breed might bear little resemblance to Longhorns – a completely different colour coat and no horns – if you go back to their origins, they were a breed with good, strong horns. Dating back to before the 16th century, the breeders took good size stock and selectively bred for size and a natural polled (unhorned) head.
Like the Lincoln Reds, and Herefords, Sussex cattle enjoy relatively good going and excellent grazing, with much of the grass grown on the chalklands of Kent and East Sussex. This gives the animal strong bones (the calcium is taken up by the grass and then passed into the cow), resulting in excellent milk to give the calves a flying start, then rich grass to keep them growing.
Due to the slightly milder climate, it doesn’t have an excessive amount of back fat, but certainly enough to yield a good size carcass with positive marbling.
*Image from Wikipedia
There has always been a little bit of mystique around the White Park breed. There is an ancient herd at Chillingham in Northumberland, which graze over 400-500 acres, and the story is that it has not been interfered with by man for hundreds of years. While it’s a great story, and the cattle are certainly left to their own devices in their Northumbrian home, we’re sure a little bit of husbandry does take place – if only for animal welfare.
There are a few breeders who keep this historic breed going, so while the carcass numbers available to us will be small, we will be sure to shout about them should any be coming our way.
Tim recommends the best cuts from this breed are from the shoulder – wonderful in casseroles, slow-cooks, braised etc.
*Image from The White Park Cattle Society
DEVON RED RUBY
An incredibly old breed dating back to the 17th century or earlier with a fabulous rich red coat. The Devon Red Ruby originates, as you might have guessed, from the South-West of England and it really does have the best of two worlds – it has to pick its way through interesting and varied fodder, rather like the cattle in South-West Scotland, but equally Devon has some of the best and richest grass land in the country. As such, the flavour of the meat is quite complex and the texture is perfect.
The Devon Ruby Red is finished with a bit of barley and the carcass will hang for 4 weeks. It will lose around 12% of its carcass weight, intensifying the flavour as the water in the meat dries.
Although it isn’t quite as hard to source as the White Park, when we do get offered a good carcass, we will certainly make a little bit of a song and dance about it!
*Image from Priorton Pedigrees
Beef Shorthorn was first bred by two brothers living just north of Darlington, Robert and Charles Colling, who were students of Robert Bakewell – the ‘developer’ of the Longhorn (as mentioned above).
Good beef shorthorn can be farmed around the country, but as it is a big animal, it needs good grazing and rich grass. From a good breeder, a rump steak matured for 4 or 5 weeks would be very hard to beat!
*Image from Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society
South Devons date back to the 17th century, but it was only at the end of the 19th century that the breed was actually recognised and started its own herd book. Originally a multi-purpose breed producing milk and meat, by selective breeding throughout the 19th century, the South Devon lost much of its milk producing characteristics, with the breeders concentrating on a meat-producing carcass.
Being in the part of the world where grass grows prolifically, the conversion from fodder to muscle is good. It is a lovely animal to rear as its temperament is calm and easy to manage. Plus being of a hardy nature, it can be turned out early in the spring, and brought back in, in early winter.
It has good flavour and well-marbled, fat across the back. The carcass is similar in size to the Aberdeen Angus.
*image from Farmow Livestock
This is a breed which has only been around for about 40 years. Its ancestry started out on the Continent, with the bulls brought across primarily to use as dairy cattle – a female calf would go into the dairy herd, whereas a male would be used for meat.
However, a group of enthusiastic breeders took the bulls and selectively bred them for beef production, yielding some very satisfying results. The animals were big – long in the middle (where the most valuable cuts sit), relatively small in the shoulder, but most importantly converted grass to muscle very effectively. Another plus for the breed was that the bone was light. A heavy-boned animal would probably be 55% bone and skin to 45% saleable meat, whereas the British Blue would be nearer 50:50.
It is a breed which we won’t have much of, however it does have a remarkably good flavour and has won several accolades for the quality of the steaks.
*image from GS Brown Limited