Every year, St George’s Day marks the start of Great British Beef Week.
Running for seven days, the celebration promotes our great British beef industry and champions the role of beef within a healthy and balanced diet.
As a guardian of cattle, I fervently believe that events like this are integral to supporting the wider farming industry and to communicating the quality and versatility of British beef.
In an age when beef is often given a bad rap and climate change champions are urging us to forgo it, we need to look at the bigger picture.
Farmed correctly the benefits of cattle must surely outweigh any downsides.
In the UK, our climate is ideal for growing grass and around 65% of farmland is best-suited for this than the growth of any other crop. Without livestock these vast swathes of grass could not be used to produce food and in essence, inedible pasture is turned into high-quality, nutrient rich beef and lamb. But, the benefits are wider – the grasslands create a habitat ideal for many native species to forage and quite often they form an integral part in arable crop rotation – with manure boosting the soil’s organic matter.
It’s partly due to this that it is widely acknowledged that grass-based methods makes livestock farming in the UK an efficient and sustainable system – compared to other methods across the world.
With our Hereford cattle we uphold this notion of a foraged based diet, with the cows on grass for most of the year and then feeding on hay from the same pasture in winter.
However, the majority of the arguments surrounding beef production today relate to the production of greenhouse gas emissions. Here in the UK, emissions from beef production measure about half of the global average (including that of the EU).
It’s a significant issue for the industry and as a whole the sector is working hard to reach a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This is being achieved, in part, due to the UK’s efficient production systems and will be further enhanced by production efficiencies in natural feed additives, continued improvement in livestock health and most importantly a steady British herd size.
So surely it’s not about demonising the consumption of beef, it’s about buying locally-reared, sustainably-produced meat that has been grass-grazed.
Get to know your local farmer – maybe they sell from the farm gate (we do).
Don’t be afraid of asking your butcher which farm the beef came from – and indeed which animal it was from.
Go the extra mile to search for quality meat.
I for one am proud of the cattle we raise and the beef we sell. We keep cows to continue the tradition of the farm, but more than anything else it is because we eat meat and we want to know the provenance of the meat we eat. We want to breed grass-fed cattle that has a stress-free, content life and is well cared for.
For us, it is important that we know this about all of the meat we eat.
So, when Great British Beef Week rolls into town each year I use it as an excuse to celebrate beef even more than usual – as a keen cook I head into the kitchen and attempt new dishes using cuts of meat I’m less familiar with.
This year I went all out to create bresaola – a feat which took six weeks from start to finish.
Bresaola is Italian in origin, and like salami is salted and dried from one cut of meat, making it one of the easiest charcuterie projects to attempt in the kitchen.
Whilst the element of air-drying may put you off, take my word for it – you can achieve great results by drying the meat in the fridge.
Whilst we’ve been making beef biltong (a South African form of curing and spicing meat) at home for years, this was my first foray into bresaola.
First up I obtained my main ingredient – topside.
Part of the allure of making bresaola was due to the fact that it uses topside. Topside is a joint of beef that comes from the inner thigh of the cow. It is ordinarily sold as a roasting joint and almost always has a layer of fat secured to it which will baste the meat during cooking but I tend not to use it. For roasting, I much prefer rump or a rolled rib so using topside for this was making use of a joint I don’t normally favour for a Sunday supper.
So here it is, the recipe for bresaola, and trust me the time and attention the meat is lavished with is well worth it.
Cured in a mixture of herbs, citrus, salt and sugar before being doused in red wine and then air-dried, the end result is silky smooth, rich and moreish.
Slice it thinly, dress it with olive oil and cracked black pepper and I promise you, it will keep you satisfied for days…
Aromatic dried beef
- 1.8 kg topside
- 54 g coarse sea salt
- 12 sprigs rosemary
- 12 bay leaves torn
- 12 cloves
- 3 garlic cloves big
- 1 tbsp black pepper cracked
- 2 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 6 strips orange zest
- 6 strips lemon zest
- 1 bottle red wine
Trim the meat of any fat or sinew
In a bowl mix together the rest of the ingredients except for the wine. This is your cure for the meat.
Using a food-safe container in which the meat sits snugly (I use a tupperware box) add the cure and the meat, making sure the meat is well coated.
Cover with a lid and place in the fridge for four days, turning the meat every other day.
After the four days pour the bottle of wine into the container so the meat is almost covered and then place back in the fridge.
Turn the meat once a day for five days. When the five days are up remove the meat from the container and pat it dry.
Empty the container, wash and dry. Cover the meat in a double layer of muslin and place back in the empty container, making sure it is elevated in the container so air can circulate around the beef. (I used a couple of metal biscuit cutters).
Leave in the fridge for at least three weeks, turning it halfway through.
After this time it should be fairly hard on the outside but still soft and red in the centre. If there is any sign of white mould remove with vinegar, it is perfectly safe to eat.
Slice thinly across the grain and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper.