From field to fork - The meat producers of Fife, Scotland
- John Cooke
- 10 May 2010
For those who love their meat, but like to know where it comes from
For at least a decade now, Fife farmers have been finding a way to market that has avoided the high-volume supermarket route and reduced the food miles between field and fork.
Typical of this movement are small-scale, family farmers such as Jim and Jennifer Wilson of Balhelvie Farm in North Fife.
For them, it all started very close to home. ‘For as long as we can remember, we always had a beast butchered for our freezer,’ says Jim Wilson. ‘The combination of the Aberdeen Angus breed and having it hung on the bone for three weeks was far superior to anything the supermarkets could do.’
When friends asked to share that taste, production grew. A hand-made sign at the end of the farm road and a few flyers in a local hair salon spread the word further. Soon, lamb was added to their offering. Selling direct from the farm or, from 2002, at Fife farmers’ markets, meant they could tell their full story. And it was a timely moment to do just that. ‘Some customers had been turned off from eating beef by all the problems surrounding BSE,’ says Wilson. ‘Not knowing the origin of supermarket meat, they were interested in speaking to a local producer about how our animals are fed and how their welfare is looked after.’
Like many of Fife’s small producers, Balhelvie’s cattle and sheep graze in the fields for most of their lives. Grass elsewhere on the farm is made into silage and hay to cope with the winter months, as is barley and fodder beet. The animals are allowed to develop naturally, and not pushed to fatten quickly.
When the time comes for slaughter, the small-scale nature of the process means far less stress for the animals. Rather than sharing a large truck on a journey to a live auction market or far-away abattoir, one or two beasts go quietly in the back of a trailer, often accompanied by the person who has cared for them from birth, to a small local slaughterhouse. Thus, stress is minimised and meat quality preserved.
The next stage in the process is equally important. Balhelvie beef is then matured on the bone for at least three weeks. As the meat shrinks and dries, the flavour develops and deepens, while enzymes break down muscle fibres to produce a tender piece of meat with the classic look of dark-hued, fat-marbled Aberdeen Angus.
If your penchant is for pork, the name to know in Fife is Puddledub. Behind the range of fresh cuts, dry-cured bacon, hams, burgers and sausages from Clentrie Farm by Auchtertool, not far from Kirkcaldy, is Tom Mitchell. He is one of the founding fathers of the farmers’ market movement in Fife and remembers the sunny September day in 2000 when he began to sell his Duroc/White cross pig products direct to the public. ‘Selling my pigs into the commodity market down in Yorkshire was not economical for a small farm like ours. The farmers’ market meant I could go direct and tell people our story.’ Today, Puddledub is going from strength to strength, with new kitchens on the farm primed to produce a full range of cooked pork products and charcuterie.
On the same farm, Tom’s nephew Steve created his own splash on the Fife food scene when he introduced a herd of water buffalo in 2005. Farmed on the hills around Camilla Loch, this unique meat has one of the lowest cholesterol, fat and calorific values of any meat. To get up close and personal with one of Steve’s gentle beasts, he’s offering farm tours where you can see the 400 or so buffalo out on the green hills of Fife. You certainly can’t get closer to your food than that.
A round-up of Field to Fork producers of meat in Fife
The majority of the producers listed here sell their meat at Fife’s farmers’ markets, local farm shops and/or directly from the farm
Traditionally reared beef.
Luing cattle from Strathtyrum Estate.
Newburgh, 01337 840248
Locally reared poultry and eggs are also produced in Fife.
Dunfermline, 01383 727222, www.craigluscarfarm.co.uk
Brenda Irvine supplies meat from her small herd of naturally fed Highlanders direct to customers from the farm-gate, as well as delivering
Aberdour, 01383 860196, www.dalachybeef.co.uk
Brothers Tom and Watson Inglis have an Aberdeen Angus herd and a flock of Dalachy Texel sheep on their farm on the south-facing hillsides outside Aberdour.
Fletchers of Auchtermuchty
The Game Cart
St Andrews, 01334 473061
Mairi Finlayson and her husband John have a small herd of Highland cattle on their farm from which they supply the local farmers’ market.
Wormit, 01382 541783, www.peacehill.co.uk
Free-range Christmas Turkeys.
Puddledub Buffalo & Auchertool Angus
01333 351245, www.puddledubbuffalo.co.uk