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Give it to me rare


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OK, my friends are bored with me going on about this, but I think we're in the midst of a sea-change in attitudes to meat in the UK. It's not just about consumers wanting organic, traceable meat from animals that have led happy lives, but they're also getting into rare breeds and the superior flavour (and snob value) they provide.

My friends say this is a load of 'bull' and I need ammunition to prove my point.

I have just learnt that the chef at the Wapping Project in East London is committed to rare breed organic meat, and I was wondering whether anyone knew of examples of other chefs who do the same?

I'd also like to know what other people's thoughts on the matter are.

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Rare breed meats are becoming more popular, or at least people are talking about them more.

What I haven't heard (or seen) is someone differentiating between the different taste profiles of different types of meat.

With pork, you know that a rare breed pig with a decent amount of fat will baste itself better, produce better crackling, taste 'porkier', but noone I know has articulated the difference between, say, a saddleback, a tamworth, a middlewhite and (pace jamie's pal) an essex. I wish someone would.

With beef, we know that Welsh Black, Aberdeen Angus, Charolais, Belted Galloway and Dexter (etc.) are all well-rated, but I don't know which tastes beefier, meatier, more acidic, sockier etc. Obviously the way an animal is raised, fed, slaughtered, hanged has a massive effect on its taste but I don't know which breed has the characteristics I most seek, or, at least, nothing beyond my own experience has informed me. (Though my preference is for AA.)

Mr Meaty-Whittingstall has provided taste tests for chicken (albeit on a minimal scale) and there is the odd trade article taste-test etc. but I haven't seen as in-depth an appreciation of species-specific variance/ variety in the UK as eg Spaniards and Turk would profess about lamb.

Anyone care to step forward?

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Do Smiths of Smithfield serve rare breed steak? I think they might. St John also makes clear the breed on the menu. I think Anthony Worrall Thompson may also be passionate about rare breeds. Can't actually believe I'm mentioning him.

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doesn't Tim Wilson at the Ginger Pig supply quite a lot of restaurants with not just pork but other meats too?

I know, for example, that friends of mine who have an organic beef farm in Devon which up till now has been pure-bred South Devon Red have started having their heifers covered by an Aberdeen Angus bull because they felt the SDR strain on its own didn't give enough marbling to the meat.

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The top floor at Smiths of Smithfiled isn't loved by everyone but then it is one place where you can go and order 2 Sirloin steaks (different hang times, different breeds) and try them side by side. They used to hang all their meat themselves, I'm not sure if this is still the case.

There is no doubt in my mind though that well hung rare breeds do, generally, offer a much better flavour than you run of the mill Aberdeen Angus. Good rare breed meat has a more pronounced flavour, often gamey, with good levels of yellow fat that you won't be able to stop eating. To get the best rare breed meat I think you are better off buying it your self due to the lack of choice in the restaurants

The reason you don't often see it in restaurants is consistency of supply. It's all very well selling the best White Park or Dexter Steer but whether you will be able to get them again next week is a different matter. They are "rare breeds" because they are rare. If you are ever at Borough market and see White Park at Northfield farm, snap it up because it won't be there the next week or may be for several weeks to come. There just aren't that many of them.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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doesn't Tim Wilson at the Ginger Pig supply quite a lot of restaurants with not just pork but other meats too?

They do supply other meat, as far as I am aware the beef is all Longhorn. One of the best pieces of meat I have tasted was a double rib of Longhorn hung for an incredible 8 weeks. To the uninitiated it is quite scary to look at, I wouldn't recommend showing it to anybody who wasn't into food :biggrin:

They are also selling Bresse chickens and can get Geese complete with foie gras as a special order.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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One imagines that they way the animals are reared and fed and how the meat is processed will have as much impact on quality as the breed itself. The most rare bred of pig in Britain will still produce crap bacon if it is fed crap and cured poorly. After all the only real definition of a rare breed (although I am sure that there are various societies and specific definitions) is that there isn't many of them about. Before the Durham Ox short horn cattle were rare in the UK, now long horn cattle are, who knows what tastes better and to whom. Tastes change over time ater all.

Which I guess means that there is a need for some type of guide to what are the qualities of a particular breed. Tamworth pigs are tough and hardy, but do they produce better bacon then a Middle-White or a G.O.S.?

Difficult to produce such a guide I guess, after all has it really been achieved for things like UK fruit types or veg. strains?

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Obviously the way an animal is raised, fed, slaughtered, hanged has a massive effect on its taste but I don't know which breed has the characteristics I most seek, or, at least, nothing beyond my own experience has informed me.  (Though my preference is for AA.)

I'm surprised that anybody would choose AA over well hung Welsh Black or Dexter. However, I can't say that I have ever found Aberdeen Angus hung long enough for my tastes. I always find its flavour too delicate, that isn't to say I don't enjoy it but a well hung rare breed nearly always wins due to its "beefier" flavour

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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The thing is, I think I prefer a bit less beef than some.

The Steingarten article which discusses the perfect bit of beef distinguishes between meaty (acidic/metallic) and beefy (buttery, nutty/gamey). Of course, I like the beefy characteristics, but I prefer beef before it has lost all its meatiness (and acidity). Some furry, blackened, crispy bits of rare-breed beef are simply too much: their texture may be superb but their footiness overpowers any balancing flavours.

I probably lack taste, but there you go.

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Thank you for all the replies everyone. It sounds pretty much fifty fifty at the moment in terms of who is going to win this argument.

Perhaps I am using the 'rare breed' term rather loosely. I suppose what I mean are all those old fashioned, perhaps less productive breeds which aren't really farmed that much commercially anymore. (I guess they are inevitably rare, though.)

I think the whole heritage thing is interesting and I wish there were more incentives for farmers to protect a part of our agricultural heritage which is disappearing. My father grew up in a cider apple growing family in Dorset and talks fondly of old apple varieties with eccentric names that he ate in his childhood. I grew up in Shropshire and Cheshire, the first house had a huge (well it seemed like that to a child like me) old Victorian apple orchard at the back. Every now and then I will eat an apple that isn't one of the supermarket strains, and it's a vivid re-awakening to what apples are supposed to taste like.

With meat, I'm so fed up with the stories about how animals get treated - and eating meat where you can't even taste what it is - that I'm not a long distance away from turning vegetarian.

One shouldn't make assumptions, and if rare breed meat suddenly became deeply fashionable I'm sure there'd be a lot of cynical farming, but I would think at the moment that those farmers who already have an interest in rare breeds are also those who place a high priority on the animal's well being.

I wish there were greater public awareness and interest in this. I think so many food trends come from chefs (and inevitably, their cook books) I wish there were more evidence of them taking a more 'public' interest in the story. But I suppose supply does pose a problem.

Hmm, that's enough of a Thursday afternoon ramble...

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No - you just prefer your meat a different way, a way which you have described perfectly! Give me furry bits of meat any day :smile:

I read an article about a year ago concerning a farm that had won a prize for the best beef in britain (no doubt some daft quango sponsored prize but a prize nonetheless). The interesting thing was that their beef came from Guernseys, which are viewed as a dairy cow rather than a beefer. But the people had concentrated on the land rather than the beast, making sure the grass was well fed, wholly organic etc. Now, my experience with gardening is that no matter what you plant, the condition of the soil is everything. I wonder if the same might apply to meat - in other words, although the breeds may taste different, in the end, a much bigger difference is what the animal eats. Clearly, people that keep rare breeds are more likely to take care over the food but even so, maybe the breed isn't as determining a factor as one might think.

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You in the UK are lucky to be able to discuss this with regard to beef! I'm in New York City; we do very well for rare (or "heritage") breed pork here - those of us who care and who are willing to search it out and pay the price. But the beef situation is pretty grim. I was impressed on my one visit to Smith's of Smithfield, perhaps a year ago, and I've ogled the beef and chatted with the vendors at Borough Market. There's nothing like that there; too many well-intentioned semi-amateurs in the business.

On the importance of breed, I can certainly testify to vast differences between breeds of pig raised by the same people and slaughtered at more or less the same time and in the same way; for me, Tamworths have it all over the popular GOSs and Large Blacks - there's an aromatic quality to the meat that the others lack. The smell of Tamworth lard rendering in our apartment is quite distinctive and wonderful.

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The Steingarten article which discusses the perfect bit of beef distinguishes between meaty (acidic/metallic) and beefy (buttery, nutty/gamey). 

I'd forgotten about this entirely (having read the book), but it precisely characterises the problem I've had with beef in the UK, be it rare breed and hung for six-weeks, or supermarket Jamie Oliver brand, or Tesco's regular - I find the flavours in this country tend far more towards the metallic and mineral, rather than the massive buttery beefy flavours of great American meat.

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

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One imagines that they way the animals are reared and fed and how the meat is processed will have as much impact on quality as the breed itself. The most rare bred of pig in Britain will still produce crap bacon if it is fed crap and cured poorly. After all the only real definition of a rare breed (although I am sure that there are various societies and specific definitions) is that there isn't many of them about. Before the Durham Ox short horn cattle were rare in the UK, now long horn cattle are, who knows what tastes better and to whom. Tastes change over time ater all.

Which I guess means that there is a need for some type of guide to what are the qualities of a particular breed. Tamworth pigs are tough and hardy, but do they produce better bacon then a Middle-White or a G.O.S.?

Difficult to produce such a guide I guess, after all has it really been achieved for things like UK fruit types or veg. strains?

I think you are right that the way it is reared is a more important factor than the breed. Often they are confounded though -- e.g. with Poulet de Bresse which has a very rigorous set of requirements on how they are reared as well as the breed restriction.

But there must be a reason that farmers moved away from what are now 'rare breeds' and that is probably either that they were prone to disease (no effect on flavour), difficult to breed (ditto) or perhaps were slow to put on weight (aha!). I think this last could be the factor that accounts for the superiority of flavour that some perceive,

Though this is the opposite of the American grain finished beef taste which is all about stuffing them with grain really quickly.

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I think that sometimes the reasons for a particuar breed to become 'rare' are logical, but sometimes it is just random drift. Sometimes a particular breed of animals becomes very popular because of percieved benefits and other breeds get maginalised. This is not to say that all old breeds are better and new breeds are inherently  inferior.

However, I would think that the major impact in breed/strain selection over the last 50 years or so has been almost largely ecomomically based . I doubt that something as un-important as flavour and has played much a factor.

Hence, the invention and market dominance of the 6-week maturing supermarket chicken and the marketing of 'flavourful' chickens as a niche market I guess.

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I have always find it curious that in the USA everybody talks only of a generic "Prime Beef" and of how much better American beef is, I'm not disputiong that American beef may generally be better but there is plenty of excellent beef in the UK. From what I understand America is restricted quite a lot on its hanging time for beef - does this lend itself to a different way of rearing the beef to give it more flavour or is it just a myth that American beef is better because in general we eat poorly reared supermarket beef. Are we honestly saying that cheap beef from a supermarket in the US is better than cheap supermarket beef in the UK

I think the trouble is that the UK has got used to crappy supermarket beef raised as quickly as possible. If people hunt it out there is plenty of good beef in this country.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I read an article about a year ago concerning a farm that had won a prize for the best beef in britain (no doubt some daft quango sponsored prize but a prize nonetheless).  The interesting thing was that their beef came from Guernseys, which are viewed as a dairy cow rather than a beefer.  But the people had concentrated on the land rather than the beast, making sure the grass was well fed, wholly organic etc.  Now, my experience with gardening is that no matter what you plant, the condition of the soil is everything.  I wonder if the same might apply to meat - in other words, although the breeds may taste different, in the end, a much bigger difference is what the animal eats.  Clearly, people that keep rare breeds are more likely to take care over the food but even so, maybe the breed isn't as determining a factor as one might think.

It may be the same farm, but I remember one episode of Rick Stein's 'Food Heroes' where he got some butchers from Smithfields to blind taste three joints of roast beef. Highly unscientific of course, but the overwhelming winner was from an organic Guernsey herd.

Of course it was up against supermarket 'finest' and high street 'cheap', so it may not have had much competition.

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This beef is very famous - Brown Cow Organics, winner of various awards.

You can get it in Lidgate every so often: try ringing them if you'd like to try it.

It has a website (www.browncoworganics.co.uk) which will tell you more about it and they do local mail order.

The idea of land as the most important thing is not new: it is the founding principle of Biodynamic farming (and I guess organic too). There was an article by Amanda Hesser in the NYT a year back or so about a sheep farm in New England with the same sorts of ideas.

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"The idea of land as the most important thing is not new: it is the founding principle of Biodynamic farming (and I guess organic too). There was an article by Amanda Hesser in the NYT a year back or so about a sheep farm in New England with the same sorts of ideas."

Isn't this the same thing with the idea of 'terroir' with wine? I know the terroir thing also gets very specific with the weather or the microclimate of a particular hill slope etc but it's also the soil - have you ever tasted wine made from grapes grown on volcanic soil? Also the soil has a lot to do with the reason why an Australian Riesling tastes totally different to one made in Alsace.

So in terms of feeding animals, how much do you think their flavour is influenced by the quality and content of what is grown on the land (e.g. lots of organic clover) and how much is influenced by the mineral content of the soil itself?

On another note, does anyone pay much attention to this with dairy produce in the UK? I know that what the herd eats is considered to be of crucial importance in Italy with Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses. Also does anyone remember that passage in Tess of the d'Urbervilles where the entire farm labour force spends a day on hands and knees combing a field trying to eliminate a particular weed that would ruin the taste of the milk?

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I have always find it curious that in the USA everybody talks only of a generic "Prime Beef" and of how much better American beef is, I'm not disputiong that American beef may generally be better but there is plenty of excellent beef in the UK. From what I understand America is restricted quite a lot on its hanging time for beef - does this lend itself to a different way of rearing the beef to give it more flavour or is it just a myth that American beef is better because in general we eat poorly reared supermarket beef. Are we honestly saying that cheap beef from a supermarket in the US is better than cheap supermarket beef in the UK

I think the trouble is that the UK has got used to crappy supermarket beef raised as quickly as possible. If people hunt it out there is plenty of good beef in this country.

I did start a topic on this some time ago in the general forum. (not much response though).

American produce seems to be all about the USDA rating - Prime, choice etc, which from what I understand is mainly done by inspection - appearance, marbling etc. Whereas in Britain the provenance of the meat is what people are interested in, how the cattle has been raised, breed etc.

Still need a definitive answer on the Grass fed/Corn fed question too, I have heard conflicting stories about which is best . If you read any Tom Clancy (yes I know, but they are a good holiday read!) pretty much every book where one of the characters visit Britain he has a swipe at British Beef - although he does point out we have better beer.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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