Scotch Beef – why its worth seeking it out at your butcher’s
Published 26 May 2013
When you hear the words Scotch Beef, your first reaction might be to point out that grammatically, it should be called Scottish Beef, since it is beef that comes from cattle reared in Scotland. But there is a difference between beef that is Scottish, and true “Scotch Beef”, which has a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) from the European Union to indicate its high quality and uniqueness from a specific geographical area.
To be labelled as Scotch Beef, there are some really high standards that come with the meat. For one, it is 100% Scottish – it must be born, bred, and reared all its life in Scotland, with not a single day outside the area. Traceability of where and how it is reared is very important, all the way from when it began life on a farm in Scotland right till it ends up in a butcher’s shop. The meat must also come from only steers and heifers, essentially “teen” male and female cattle.
After slaughter, the meat is hung and dried – the maturity age can differ, but contrary to all the marketing spiel from supermarkets, older isn’t always better. For best tenderness, the beef should be matured for at least 9 days. After that, the difference in tenderness is imperceptible to most people. At 14 days, you get really good flavours from the meat, and the longer you mature it for after that, the more gamey the flavour. The maturity period will vary from each piece of meat, which is why most butchers don’t really care about the number of days – they will monitor the meat, and when they can see it is perfect, it’s ready to pass on to the customer.
Comparing Scotch beef to USDA beef, the difference between the two is that Scotch Beef is mainly grass-fed throughout the life of the cattle, whereas the typical USDA beef is corn-fed, with grass-fed being the exception. Corn-fed beef tends to have more marbling and fat content, and therefore gives a stronger flavour. There’s no right or wrong – and it’s up to individuals what they prefer!
I was invited to try several specially prepared dishes, made with Scotch Beef, in an event held at Plateau, an amazing destination restaurant in Canary Wharf. One day, I’ll have to go back and review its regular menu! But for this dinner, there was a special Scotch Beef inspired menu:
Tartare of Scotch beef PGI, quails egg yolk, onion bread croutes
Scotch Beef PGI tea, tortellini of ox tail
Salt & sugar cured Scotch Beef PGI, wild roquette, 24 month old parmesan and aged balsamic
Roast fillet of Scotch Beef PGI, boulangere of cheek, caramelized shallot puree, Burgundy sauce
Citrus sorbet, poured champagne
White chocolate mousse, raspberries and sorbet
I’m normally not a big fan of tartare, but the freshness of the meat made it quite enjoyable. The tortellini was Marco Pierre White inspired, with the beef tea broth slowly cooked to give it a gentle flavour, complementing the musky strong flavour of ox tail in the tortellini. The salt & sugar cured Scotch Beef was my favourite – and this dish was probably the one that took the longest to make! The beef topside was cured for a week, and then quickly cut, plated, and served within the hour to preserve the bright red colour of the meat. One gripe though was that the slices were a bit too thin – if they were thicker, more of the beef texture and flavour would come through.
I always like a good steak fillet, and this one was done superbly. Two big slices of a grilled fillet, fresh out of a Josper oven, done rare, was absolutely wonderful. You can tell the beef has been well handled on its way to the dinner table, by the fact that even though it was rare, there was no oozing of blood onto the plate. The interesting part of the dish though was the boulangere of beef cheek – layers of potato and beef cheek – I think it’s the first time I’ve had something like that.
Desserts were surprisingly good, especially since this night was meant to be focused on the beef. I would definitely be back at Plateau to try their dessert menu!
Overall, it was a good experience to be able to try so many cuts of beef, and great quality Scotch Beef for that matter. But don’t assume that any “British” beef you find in the supermarket or restaurants will have the same quality as Scotch Beef – because it won’t, as the process of cattle to table is not as rigorous. So do challenge yourself in restaurants to enquire about the origin of that steak on the menu, or seek out a butcher for Scotch Beef instead of a generic steak from the supermarket. So when you’re looking for beef, try to spot ones with the Scotch Beef and PGI logo: