Long family history of award-winning Scottish butcher Ramsay of Carluke
- Sandy Neil
- 9 September 2013
Lanarkshire bacon curer founded in 1857
Ramsay of Carluke is an award-winning family butcher with a long and proud history. Sandy Neil talks to some of the current clan
‘I think of myself as a bacon curer, rather than a butcher,’ explains Andrew Ramsay, whose deep knowledge of salting and smoking pork must make him one of Scotland’s top pig pundits. Andrew and his brother John are their family’s fifth generation to run Ramsay of Carluke, a pork butcher founded in 1857, and now a wholesaler and shop meeting demand for traditional cuts of beef, lamb and chicken too.
‘Whatever I do, it has to start on the farm,’ Andrew reveals. ‘If it’s a good pig, I can make good bacon.’ Skills passed down the generations help him choose his ‘good pig’: free-range Landrace and Large White crosses, reared outdoors in Angus.
‘It was instilled in me as a kid,’ he adds, ‘to never buy boar pigs, only females. Boar meat is ‘teuch’ (tough) and leaner, while the female’s is more tender, succulent and sweet.’
His art then, he says, ‘is not to bastardise it’. Ramsay’s bacon uses a traditional Ayrshire cure, which immerses boneless, rindless pork in a ‘simple but secret’ brine recipe – in contrast to many factories, he discloses, where ‘every 100kg of meat is injected with 14 to 15 per cent of a brine and phosphate-protein solution to hold in the moisture, so when you put bacon in the frying pan, it shrinks, and all that white froth is released. When I cure 100kg of pork, I lose seven to eight per cent of its weight as it matures.’
‘Most bacon isn’t smoked either,’ he imparts, ‘but sprayed with a liquid, or rubbed with powdered smoke. We do it the hard way in our smokehouse, burning sawdust from light woods – but not oak, which can overpower bacon. If the farmer has put in all this effort, I want to enhance the flavour, not massacre it.’
Both his pork haggis and fine-textured black pudding are among Scotland’s highest ranked. ‘Black pudding sales go up and up every week,’ he reports. ‘We’ve just got it right. I wouldn’t touch the recipe for anything. Haggis was always made from whatever the butcher had available, so ours is pork-based. We don’t cut corners anywhere. We never make a product to a price: we find the right ingredient, and that sets the price. Everything starts with quality.’