The Royal Highland Show: happy animals and good food

How and what we cook has changed over the years. Particularly, the rise of jars and ready-meals means that you don’t have to know how to cook to have a cooked meal. Personally, I think being able to cook a meal from scratch is an important life skill. But then I would: I blog about food. Food is important to me and I think its worth spending some time and effort getting the best from your ingredients. As you’d expect, I also think it’s important to think about where you’re ingredients are from. So I was rather pleased to be invited to The Royal Highland Show by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) to meat farmers and food producers together with some other bloggers.

Woman and coo. It's a classical motif.

Woman and coo. It’s a classical motif.

QMS runs a number of campaigns and voluntary quality schemes aimed to improve public awareness of red meat and how to cook it, and make sure that Scotch meat products are among the best in the world. The Scotch Beef brand, for example, only applies to animals that are born, reared, finished and butchered in Scotland. It doesn’t just tell you where the animals were reared, but also that they have had a particular standard of living. Knowing that animals have lived good lives and been humanely slaughtered is maybe more important than knowing that the meat is treated hygienically. I learned a lot and plan to write more about some of the aspects of livestock rearing soon. Here’s some of my highlights from the day.

Highland Coos

We went for a walk through the cattle lines with a gentleman from the Highland Cattle  Society. The sociaty is an ambassador for good animal husbandry. Highland cattle come from Scotland and are used to the climate so they thrive outdoors and they eat the grass that grows naturally in their pastures. They produce very lean meat that is as organic as can be. They are only one of the breeds that farmers that have signed up to QMS rear but they are one of the most recognizable.

The cattle lines show glossy, well-fed and well treated animals. The halls get warm so the wooly cattle, like the Highland Cattle, had fans to keep them warm. It was fashinating watching young men back-combing the tails of cattle, sandpaper horns or hover flanks to make sure their animals look as good as they possibly can. Preparing an animal as large as a cow for a show takes time!

John Davidson, Best British Butcher

John Davidson showing off his jurassic steak to an adoring - and hungry - public.

John Davidson showing off his Jurassic steak to an adoring – and hungry – public.

We were lucky enough to meet John Davidson, who won best British butcher at the Butcher’s Shop of the Year Awards in November last year. Davidson’s butcher shop is in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. He was down for the day to give butchery demonstrations on the QMS stand.

Davidson recently invented a new cut, the Jurassic, which gives large and very tender steaks. We were lucky enough to get to taste one. It was rather yummy. Not quite as tender as a fillet, maybe, by easy to eat, juicy and flavoursome. I don’t know where it is cut from, and I’m happy with that, because I know how to cook it and I know where to buy it… It’s made quite a stir on Twitter and in the industry since a photo of a 7lb steak, as long as a bottle of wine and almost half as thick, appeared on Twitter.

Innovation is one of the secrets to Davidson’s success. He works on product development – he’s developed perfect pork pies for Brew Dogs beer, for example, does demonstrations in the shop and takes on apprentices to pass the trade on to the next generation. Davidson and his team wants to bring great meat to a hungry public. And they are doing it well.

Producers of Note

We had a lot of really nice food: locally made chorizo, salami, prosciutto from Clash Farm, lamb wisps from Tombuie Smokehouse, fabulous cold mutton and pork pies, great hot Highland Cattle pies. Not everyone liked the lamb wisps but I did. I like lamb in all its forms. Lightly cured and cut in thin slices it sits very nicely on a tapas board or on a piece of walnut bread. (I know, I tried that combo.)

Sweet, savory and hot in a fabulous combination: Peelham farm's salami with fennel.

Sweet, savoury and hot in a fabulous combination: organic salami with fennel.

My favourite sausage was Peelham Farm’s salami with fennel. It was sweet and savoury with a really good texture. The kind of sausage I could snack on all night if I had a bunch of slices in front of me. It also have a good chili kick.

In the food hall, I met with Hardiesmill and bough a packet of their lovely pastrami. It goes rather well with Oisin Farm’s hot beetroot chutney.

It was a wet and overcast day but that didn’t stop the visitors. With wellies and brollies, warm socks and a couple of layers on nothing can keep people from enjoying a day out. I had a blast: I met new people, learned a lot and stuffed myself with some of the best the Scottish meat producers have to offer. It is comforting to know that care and passion have gone into every aspect of the food stuffs I ate, from the rearing of the animals to the creation of the final product.


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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.


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