What makes your product special? Highland Cattle are famous on picture postcards, an icon of Scotland and instantly recognisable as a true heritage breed, yet few are aware how they have become heavier over the years and ‘developed’ to give larger carcass weight and bigger cuts. This Hill Bred Pedigree Highland Cattle is an old strain that has not been developed and solely bred on the hill, the traditional way.
Who cares about it? A few dedicated crofters and landowners are determined to retain the old strains of the pure pedigree and there are cooks and chefs who appreciate the flavour and marbling.
Who still uses/eats it? Many are merely sold into the food chain as Scottish beef, but those who can get hold of the Hill Bred Pedigree Highland Cattle can taste the difference.
Is it hard to find? Why? Pedigree Highland Cattle have travelled the world but most are developed from modern bloodlines or even crossed with continental breeds.
What factors make it at risk of being forgotten and/or extinction? As the breed becomes larger, its feet cannot take the same weight nor can its natural habitat support it, either physically in terms of bogland or nutritionally, as the larger the animal the more protein it requires and it cannot gain sufficient from the hills so needs supplement feed. This will affect the flavour. Its gentle marbling gives it succulence.
What does it taste like? It has a wonderful long-in-the-mouth flavor, almost gamey in character, as it is generally slaughtered older than many other breeds at three years. Highlanders lay down fat differently from other breeds of cattle, protecting their kidneys to survive the extreme climate. The marbling in the beef develops later on. Their milk is also of very high quality and was often the house cow for the highland crofters.
Where does it come from? They found Auroch bones in Derbyshire dating back 6,750years from a black bull and Dublin University now has a method of examining Y chromosomes that show this Auroch has offspring in today’s Highland and Kerry Cattle. The Romans also talked about the Highlanders so there were already in existence in Scotland then Highland cattle spread from the west of Scotland where written records date from 18thC. The Highland Cattle Herd Book of 1885, lists pedigrees since that time. They were sometimes called kyloe cattle, for they swam across the straits (or kyloes) on their way to market on the mainland. This family took on the Glengorm fold (as Highland herds are called) 50 years ago but the fold itself dates back more than 170 years when it was first documented. This particular herd is highly praised for its old strain and 100% outdoor life with feed from nature. All research led back to Glengorm.
What makes it distinctive? All pure bred Highlanders have the same genetics, shaggy coats and sturdy legs and though relatively numerous, remain a conservation priority. How you rear them affects the beef quality and as they develop into bigger beast they need grain supplements. These Hill Bred Pedigree Highland Cattle live on the hills of Mull all year round, as they have done for well over a century. They are sustainable, thriving on the natural pasture, heath and herbs of the environment in which they live. This is apparent in their flavour. They can be used to manage and diversify marginal lands without the negative impact seen with heavier breeds.
How is it grown, raised, or produced? The hills on the estate offer shelter and wilderness, nourishment and sunshine. They mature for 3 years before they are slaughtered and butchered on Mull – another distinct characteristic of this herd. Their coat can be black, brindle or golden through to pale sand shades. They are very hardy with a natural and unique ability to convert poor grazing efficiently. Highland cows can breed to around 18years and are good mothers. Cows weigh around 650kg and bulls 800kg.
Highland meat is well marbled but not excessively so, making this beef very popular with chefs.
It can be grilled for tender cuts and cooks beautifully, and of course cheaper cuts can be slow cooked with excellent results. The offal would also be used – liver, tongue and kidneys, also black pudding. Nothing would be wasted.