The surest way to aid the survival of Britain's rare breeds is to support the farmers who rear them – and in doing so you can end up enjoying some of the finest meat on earth.
Spare a thought for the Lincolnshire Curly Coated pig and the Sheeted Somerset cattle. They’re just two of the 26 native breeds which died out in Britain between 1900 and 1970, with more economical imports and supermarket practices changing how we ate. Now, thankfully, things have changed. We’ve rediscovered our taste for traditional native breeds – and out willingness to accept higher prices for animals reared sensibly, sustainably and healthily. And since the formation of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1973, not a single rare or native breed has been lost to us.
Rearing these rarer animals isn’t always easy. Tom Parker-Bowles wrote in Country Life last week about a friend of his who got stung when rearing a pair of Middle White pigs. ‘Breed alone is no guarantee of excellence, rare or otherwise,’ wrote Tom.
‘I’ve tried beef from 12-year-old Galician milkers that blew me away and Angus crosses that have profound depth. As ever, there are no absolutes, no easy, Friesian-coloured black and white. But at its best, when all the myriad production stars align, rare-breed meat can be sublime, some of the best on Earth.
‘The production of top-quality meat is a complex jigsaw of many different factors,’ Tom continued.
‘When buying, it’s all down to trusting the source. People who work as much for passion as they do profit, producers who care deeply about animal welfare, environmental impact and flavour. Provenance, traceability and peace of mind. Prices may be higher, but this is flavour to savour, meat miles removed from the pallid horrors of intensive farming.
‘In devouring the best rare-breed meat, you not only thrill the tastebuds, but keep the gene pool fizzing, too. The carnivorous song, however, remains eternally the same:
- Eat less meat, but better.
- Utilise every cut, however humble.
- Trust in your butcher.
- And last, but most certainly not least, always have faith in the farmer.’
Tom Parker-Bowles’s favourite places in Britain to get rare-breed meat
Wild boar, British Lops, Saddlebacks, Large Blacks and Herdwick lamb. Impeccable quality meat.
South Devon, Gloucester and Aberdeen Angus beef, Gloucester Old Spot pigs and Blue Legbar chickens. Top-quality organic meat, beautifully butchered.
Turner & George
Kerry Hill lamb, Oxford Sandy & Black pork and Shorthorn beef.
Glenarm salt-aged beef
Shorthorn beef, hung for 42 days. My favourite beef in the UK.
Farmison & Co
A huge selection of native-breed meat, all properly aged and butchered. Impressive.
The Blackface Meat Company
Blackface lamb and mutton, plus Oxford Sandy & Black pork and Galloway beef. Good game, too.
Saddleback pork, Red Ruby beef and excellent chickens.
The Real Pig Company
Gloucester Old Spots, Saddlebacks and Oxford Sandy & Blacks, reared outdoors in Devon.
The Ginger Pig
Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs and Dorset lamb, sourced from an excellent network of producers from around the United Kingdom.
The Primrose Herd
Outdoor-reared Gloucester Old Spots, Large Blacks, Tamworths, Welsh and British Lop. Whole cuts as well as excellent sausages, bacon and hog pudding.
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