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How are your Aberdeens reared? Our cattle are reared very extensively. They are outdoors the whole year around, and fed only on grass or hay produced on the farm. This is quite a slow way of producing beef, but means that the animals have time to develop firm (but not tough!) and well-formed muscles, with that crucial cover of fat. This makes for good beef. Being fed purely grass rations also

means that the beef is high in nutrients and fatty acids such as Omega 3 – I’m told this is good for the heart, as well as the tastebuds! By comparison, commercial cattle

can often be a cross between a dairy cow and a continental breed that will have been fed lots of concentrates, such as soya and barley, in order to put on muscle mass very quickly. This can result in larger, looser muscle being formed, which tends to lack texture and flavour of the native beef breeds.

Everyone’s talking about lamb at this time of year, but is there an optimum season for beef? (We ask, because it seems to be on our supermarket shelves all year around!) Although beef does have a breeding cycle on the farm, it’s spread over a wider period than something like lamb. Cattle grow at varying rates and, as most are slaughtered before an age where flavour differences become noticeable, beef is on the shelf all year.

So, at what age are the animals slaughtered? And can you tell us a bit – without getting too graphic – about the process? Our cattle are slaughtered between 20 and 22 months of age. We are very lucky to have an abattoir really close to us – it’s only about a 20-minute journey from the farm. Being so close means that we can transport the livestock ourselves, so they are not herded onto a huge lorry for a long and stressful journey with lots of other unknown animals. This is important, as it minimises any

stress to the cattle – and stress not only has an adverse effect on the welfare of the animal, it will also reduce the quality of the final product. Our meat is then delivered back to

the farm on refrigerated vehicles the day after they left, so we have complete control over how it is stored, matured and butchered.

Look for a deep red colour in your beef, and make fat your friend!

Tell us about this maturing malarkey. What is the purpose of hanging meat, and how is it done? Hanging means simply that, and it is very important. When a beef carcase is returned from the abattoir in four quarters, we leave it on a hook for generally around 3-4 weeks before butchering it. This does two things: over time the meat of the animal breaks down, making it more tender, and at the same time the carcase dries out, which brings out the true flavour of the meat.

We all know the most popular cuts, but what are your favourites? My favourite cut of beef is, without doubt, the fore rib! It can be cooked in so many ways – from fast and pink in the middle, with the outer parts being great for things like pies or stews afterwards, to very slowly so that it is meltingly tender. It even works brilliantly on the barbecue. However it is cooked, it always has a great flavour, and stays lovely and juicy because of the bones and its marbling of fat.

Are there any parts of the cattle that you can’t eat, or that you don’t sell? Yes – we are only able to sell about 60% of a carcase. There are some very large bones in a cow, which are popular with our dog owners but have little value. Likewise, any excess fat needs to be

trimmed before being offered for sale. Although there is an increasing interest in offal, a cow has large amounts of


this, and – although it can be eaten – unfortunately most goes to waste.

When buying beef, what should we be looking out for? It can be tricky to know where to start but, once you know what cut you need, there are a few rules that are true across the board. Always look for an even, deep red colour in the meat on cutting. If it is bright red all the way through, then it won’t have been aged for long enough, and is likely to be tough and tasteless. Don’t shy away from fat, either. It is

vital to keep the meat basted during cooking, and it can always be cut off afterwards if you really don’t like it. If beef doesn’t have it then it may dry out during cooking, and end up tough.

Finally, Ed, give us your top tips on handling our meat… As with any meat, beef should be left to reach room temperature before cooking – particularly with steaks, as they are cooked so quickly, and are relatively small compared with joints. And, before cooking, the storage is

important too – beef should be kept in a cold fridge, and loosely covered so it can breathe. Ideally, the outer surface should start to get slightly dry before cooking, as this will help the meat stay moist. Finally, though, the cooking is up to you. Get creative!

✱ You can visit Ed at the Hartley Farm Butchery in Winsley;

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