What’s the beef, chief?

What’s the beef, chief?

Our last blog argued that Scottish cuisine was produce led. In this blog, we’ll cast an eye over Aberdeen-Angus beef, one of Scotland’s best loved products.

Aberdeen-Angus is Scotland’s most famous breed of cattle. These days, it is also a very successful brand. Having been developed in the North East of Scotland, they are now bred everywhere from Australia and New Zealand to Argentina and the United States. In fact, in North America, Argentina and Australia, Aberdeen-Angus is the dominant breed.

Farmers around the globe like them because they are easy to rear, low maintenance and adaptable to different environments. Best known as beef cattle rather than dairy, they mature early and have a good yield of well marbled meat. The picture of the magnificent beast above comes from the Facebook page of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society.

Old Jock and Old Granny

They descend from breeds of polled black cattle which were called ‘doddies’ and ‘hummlies’ in Aberdeenshire. According to the cattle site, Angus farmer Hugh Watson was instrumental in the breed’s development. Apparently, a majority of Aberdeen-Angus cattle today can trace their pedigree back to Watson’s favourite bull, Old Jock, and a cow he owned, called Old Granny. Old Granny was born in 1824 and lived for 35 years. Which was about the same life expectancy as a miner in Scotland at the time.

As it turns out, 1824 was a landmark year when it comes to Aberdeen-Angus. That was the year that a gentleman called¬† William McCombie took over the Tillyfour farm in Aberdeenshire. Working with cattle descended from Watson’s herds, McCombie promoted the Aberdeen-Angus breed on the world stage.

Aberdeen-Angus family legend

A couple of years back, a woman called Louise McCombie came out on one of our Eat Walk tours. As the guide started chatting about Aberdeen-Angus beef, Louise mentioned that William McCombie was her great-great (?) grandfather.

According to her family legend, William McCombie received a letter from Queen Victoria when she was staying at Balmoral Castle. The Queen wanted to visit Tillyfour and see these marvellous Aberdeen-Angus cattle which everyone was talking about.

McCombie was more than happy to have Queen Victoria visit his farm. However, there was one fly in the ointment: he only had about two dozen head of cattle to show to the monarch. Judging this to be insufficiently impressive, he stationed Queen Victoria at the front of the farmhouse and had the same two dozen cattle led round and round the building several times in order to create the illusion of hundreds of beasts.

Queen Victoria may have been interested in cattle and especially Aberdeen-Angus but she was not expert enough to tell them apart.

Much to William McCombie’s relief.

Come on our Eat Walk food tours in Glasgow, Edinburgh or St Andrews and you will hear plenty more stories which bring Scotland’s food culture to life.

And if you are ever up in Aberdeenshire, you might want to check out the world’s only Aberdeen-Angus heritage trail.

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