Perfect Meat! from London’s Financial Times

Long-time Belted Galloway breeder Toby Richards of Waitsfield, VT forwarded a marvelous article about our beef. He writes, “This article appeared in the Financial Times, written by a totally unbiased observer. It packs a punch. Essentially he concludes that Beltie beef is the best in the world. Amazing!” Below, article reprinted from London’s Financial Times, September 10, 2000.

This beast produces almost perfect meat!

Earlier this year, before the great rains, I took a train north to Gilmonby, in County Durham, to visit a special herd of cattle: Paul Coppen’s Belted Galloways. The number of “Belties” in Britain has dwindled to a few hundred. They are slow-maturing, hardy beasts, and rearing them takes patience. There are no huge profits to be had from the carcass. A dispensation is required to allow Coppen to take them to slaughter at 36 months. Living in this climate and at 900 ft., they have to be strong. I was gradually becoming used to the temperature in London. Bowes Moor came as a rude and icy shock.

The animals live outside all year, feeding on grass and hay. Provided with a thick windcheater, I went out on a trailer behind Coppen’s tractor, throwing hay to the hungry cows. Very soon my fingers were blue with cold.

Coppen is an eccentric bachelor with a doctorate in biochemistry. He used to work for ICI, the chemicals group, but he has left his industrial past far behind. Everything is wholly natural on the farm. He showed me more than just Belties. He had a veritable museum of old farming equipment and gypsy carts in one shed, and an original E-type Jaguar kept in impeccable condition in another. After lunch in a log cabin high up on a windswept moor, I took the train south.

Just as the first frosts were with us in the UK this season, I boarded a train bound for Isington in Hampshire to see another herd, David Mayhew’s South Devons. Mayhew is chairman of Cazenove, the stockbrokers, and the day-to-day work is done by his son James, an escapee from the city, and his small, dedicated team.

South Devons are nothing like as rare as Belties. The breed derives its popularity from its versatility; it not only makes fine eating, it distils the unctuous milk which, in the West Country, is famously transformed into clotted cream. We wandered around the farm and looked at three remarkably docile bulls, Trooper, Homer and Sexton — beautiful animals with thick russet curls at their throats. James pointed out the distinctive form of pedigree animals. They lack the large posteriors of the genetically modified beasts such as the Charolais crosses which are bred to put weight on the hindquarters.

We also looked at the Black Welsh Mountain lambs and a ferocious ram called Wilberforce. I had a chat with James about the latest pronouncements from Sir John Kreb, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, on the subject of small abattoirs. Surely the disappearance of smaller butchery units would simply further promote the large abattoirs which saw their business as providing the supermarkets with immature, indigestible meat?

James praised the large abattoirs for their cleanliness, but regretted the enormous distance animals had to travel these days before they could be slaughtered. Skye lambs, for example, must travel to Dingwall on the other side of Scotland to be killed. It must take three or four hours along roads worthy of hell itself.

James said the small abattoirs were not given the support they required. “We really need local abattoirs,” he said. Mayhew beef, at least, is properly hung. Just one or two animals are ‘finished’ at a time and then sold to a few Q-Guild butchers, or into the restaurant trade. John Mayhew, David’s cousin and the owner of Rules restaurant in London, discovered Coppen’s beef by chance at a butcher in Barnard Castle, where he has an estate. Mayhew beef, on the other hand, is in the family.

Rules was our next stop. I had an appointment with the chef, David Chambers. In the time he has been in charge of London’s oldest restaurant, he has made it a paradise for lovers of game and rare breed meat.

Beef is not always easy. The forequarters in particular are a problem, but he was pleased with the way things were going. Pies and braised beef had been selling well, but this meant work in the kitchen, turning vegetables and making dumplings stretched his small team.

After wonderful potted shrimps and crab, raw beef was brought out: precisely the same rib eye cuts of Beltie and South Devon. I got it wrong: I thought the fattier flesh was from up north [Beltie]. It turned out to be from Hampshire. The difference was clearer from the cooked meat. The South Devon was pleasantly gamey, but the Beltie had a sweetness which marked it down as almost perfect beef. The colour was different, too. It was more crimson than the Devon.

At the next table sat a North American man and his wife. He seemed astonishingly knowledgeable about woodcock. Later, he confessed he’d been in the beef business. Chambers sent him over pieces of Beltie and South Devon and asked him which was which. He had no trouble identifying them. “I’ll give this one 10,” he said, pointing at Coppen’s meat, “but the other one still gets nine.”

I couldn’t have put it better.

– Giles MacDonogh