Guide to different breeds of Scottish beef
- Rob Fletcher
- 17 September 2010
With many farmers choosing larger and faster-growing continental breeds such as Charolais and Limousin in the post-war era, Scotland’s native breeds were on the decline. Rob Fletcher looks at four Scottish breeds whose grass-fuelled, ﬂavoursome meat is back in fashion.
If you were to ask the man on the street what two words he associated with prime steak, there’s a good chance they’d be ‘Aberdeen Angus’. Developed from the cattle of the north east that were known as 'doddies' and 'hummlies', and reﬁned in the early 19th century, the breed became ofﬁcial in 1862 with the establishment of a herd book. This long-standing pedigree combined with coats that would put the colour and texture of a pint of Guinness to shame make the cattle very distinct, and they are justly famed for the quality of their marbled meat.
Although Highlanders may adorn more postcards, these distinctive black and white cattle from the south west are almost as endearing. Registered as a breed in 1878, their distinctive white midriff, which distinguishes them from their near cousins, Black Galloways, was bred into them to make them easier to spot on the dark hillsides of their origin. And like their cousins, Belties share a hardy nature and can cope with their homeland’s incessant rain. Their slow growth – they take three years to mature – gives the beef a depth of ﬂavour that is second to none.
While these russet cattle now seem to be part of the furniture in much of the Highlands and Islands, their ease with their surroundings belies their relatively recent origins – created by the Cadzow brothers’ attempts at crossing shorthorn and Highlanders, which began on the eponymous isle in 1947. As they were recognised as a distinct breed only in 1965, they are by no means the best known of our native cattle, but their incredibly laid-back temperament combined with their slow maturing mean that the beef is exceptionally tender and ﬂavoursome.
Their hirsute nature combined with their starring role in the tourist industry mean many visitors can forget that they’re grown to be eaten – to many, eating a Highland steak would be akin to ordering a Nessie-burger. However, despite their endearing appearance, these cattle, which were registered as a breed in 1885, taste considerably better than a plesiosaur sandwich – thanks largely to the fact that they are slaughtered only after 24 to 30 months, which gives their beef a rich, deep ﬂavour.