Flavour like it used to be

Craft butcher ger­ard King shows just how good ma­ture beef can be

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Linda Duf­fin PHO­TOS: Sarah Lucy Brown

Old cow. It’s a term we think of as an in­sult­ing per­sonal ep­i­thet, rather than one at­tached to a prime slab of beef. But Aldeburgh butcher Ger­ard King has set out to change our per­cep­tions.

Most beef steers in the UK are slaugh­tered at 24 months, but Ger­ard is sell­ing the meat from cows who have clocked up a lot more mileage – any­thing up to 12 years. So is it a tough sell or, per­haps more im­por­tantly, tough to eat? You may be sur­prised to hear it is nei­ther.

In north­ern Spain, in Gali­cia and the Basque coun­try, fat­ten­ing up re­tired dairy and beef cat­tle for the ta­ble is an es­tab­lished tra­di­tion and meat geeks rave about the qual­ity. Last time Ger­ard put old cow up for sale on his on­line shop at Sal­ter and King he woke up next morn­ing to find he’d sold out overnight.

“It’s dif­fer­ent, a delicacy, some­thing a bit spe­cial,” says Ger­ard, who hangs the meat for a full 12 months, three times as long as av­er­age.

“What you get is an­other layer of flavour. And the other thing that’s im­por­tant is the tex­ture, it has a lit­tle bit more bite to it. It’s still soft and ten­der but it’s not bland. You get much more sat­is­fac­tion from it at the end.”

He is work­ing in part­ner­ship with Natasha and Richard Mann, whose Yarn Hill herd of Lin­coln Reds graze on the lush green wa­ter mead­ows be­side the River Alde in Iken. Though Lin­coln Reds are on the Rare Breed

Regis­ter, they are hardy na­tives who revel in be­ing at pas­ture 12 months of the year. Natasha only brings them un­der cover when they are calv­ing, or if she is giv­ing them a wash and brush up prior to show­ing.

“They have a fan­tas­tic life here,” Natasha says. “They’re out all year round, we don’t get any pneu­mo­nia, noth­ing. They love be­ing out and about. In the spring we bring them down to the marshes and in the win­ter we take them up to higher ground. A lot of peo­ple find that amus­ing,” she adds with a grin, ges­tur­ing at the al­most in­vis­i­ble slope be­tween the two. Natasha is a ten­der-hearted farmer though.

“I think the meat is de­li­cious, but I do have a slight tech­ni­cal prob­lem with eat­ing my own an­i­mals,” she con­fesses. “I love beef and I prob­a­bly eat it five days a week, but other peo­ple’s beef, not my own, be­cause I work with the an­i­mals all the time and I know them all.”

She has to over­come her qualms to­day, though, be­cause Ger­ard is drag­ging an enor­mous bar­be­cue down the track to a grassy knoll across from Yarn Hill and Natasha’s graz­ing herd. He has in­vited a se­lect group of peo­ple, in­clud­ing lo­cal chefs and mem­bers of Sal­ter and King’s Good Meat Club, to sam­ple a se­lec­tion of beef – some old cow, some from young steers.

It’s no or­di­nary pic­nic. Aldeburgh-based Fish­ers Gin have set up a makeshift bar on a cou­ple of straw bales. They’re hand­ing out G&Ts, and the de­li­cious aroma from the siz­zling beef is tan­ta­lis­ing.

“We’ve got a fore rib, some rump steaks, a bit of rib eye, and some skirt and a rump steak off a fresh piece of beef,” Ger­ard an­nounces proudly. The re­cep­tion from the sat­is­fied din­ers, when the meat is fi­nally cooked, is lit­tle short of ec­static.

“The flavour is ac­tu­ally com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” says Ni­cola Hor­den, head chef at Dar­sham Nurs­eries. “It’s much stronger, it’s the kind of beef that I re­mem­ber grow­ing up as a child and it’s some­thing we’ve lost in the mass mar­ket food chain that’s grown over the years. Things taste of less than what they are.

“This has is a very beefy flavour and the fat and the chew on it is ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful.

“It’s quite a priv­i­lege to eat it, I think. You re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate what you’re eat­ing and how much love and how much care have gone into its pro­duc­tion.

“I’d def­i­nitely put this on the menu, with­out a sec­ond thought, ab­so­lutely.”

James Bar­ber, head chef at Aldeburgh’s White Lion Ho­tel, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agrees.

“It’s ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic. I think the com­par­i­son is to be made be­tween mut­ton and lamb and old cow and reg­u­lar beef. It’s got bags more flavour, there’s a nice fat cov­er­ing. My favourite to­day has cer­tainly been the fore rib.

“I think the im­per­a­tive thing to re­mem­ber when you’re cook­ing it is that pa­tience is key. That rib has been on the bar­be­cue for 45 min­utes, then rested for 15 min­utes, and it’s ab­so­lutely per­fect. So, you’re look­ing at a good hour for two peo­ple to have a cote de boeuf. But it was worth wait­ing for, it was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.

“Would I eat it again? Ev­ery day of the week!”

RARE AND RARER

Lin­coln Red cat­tle are a rare breed des­ig­nated ‘vul­ner­a­ble’ on the The Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust’s watch­list. This means there are be­tween 250 and 450 an­i­mals in the UK.

The UK has 53 na­tive cat­tle breeds, of which 13 are con­sid­ered rare. As­ton­ish­ingly, one of them is the Na­tive Aberdeen An­gus, which might be per­ceived as preva­lent in the UK, but is des­ig­nated ‘en­dan­gered’ since there are only 150 - 250 left. In fact, the orig­i­nal An­gus pop­u­la­tion has given way to a longer, taller type of An­gus, bred abroad and im­ported into the UK.

The RBST mon­i­tors rare and na­tive breeds of cat­tle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, chick­ens, tur­keys, ducks and geese, col­lect­ing data from breed so­ci­eties to pro­duce its an­nual Watch­list. Im­por­tantly, it mon­i­tors, and tries to re­duce, threats to breeds, fac­tors such as in­breed­ing and ge­o­graph­i­cal con­cen­tra­tion, and saves ge­net­ics – se­men and em­bryos col­lected from rare breed an­i­mals – in the UK Na­tional Gene Bank. That way, if a breed were to be­come ex­tinct, it could be re­vived. In emer­gen­cies, RBST buys ge­net­i­cally im­por­tant stock, plac­ing it in ap­proved breed­ing cen­tres.

Since Oc­to­ber 2016, the RBST’s pres­i­dent has been Jimmy Do­herty, who has been farm­ing rare breed Es­sex pigs at Wher­stead, just out­side Ip­swich for 15 years. He helps to pro­mote the RBST’s aims and en­cour­ages peo­ple to get in­volved.

‘The im­per­a­tive thing to re­mem­ber when you’re cook­ing is pa­tience is the key

Old cow on the bbq.

BE­LOW: Old cow on the bbq.

ABOVE: Richard & Natasha Mann of Yarn Hill with Ger­ard King.

LEFT: One of the cat­tle ready for their food.

BE­LOW: Richard & Natasha Mann of Yarn Hill, Wood­bridge, home of award win­ning Lin­coln Red cat­tle.

ABOVE: Ger­ard King bar­be­cues the old cow.

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