At Swaledale Foods we select native breed cattle reared on local farms, favouring cattle of 30 months or more. The cattle are reared in a totally free range environment, feeding on grass, hay and silage. This means the meat is succulent, marbled and full of flavour. Native breeds take longer to mature than commercial breeds of cattle as they do not grow as quickly. It is this slow growth that gives the meat its superior flavour that is favoured by top chefs. It is often thought that the breed of cattle is the primary influence on the flavour, but in our opinion, it is the feed and rearing that is as important, if not more so. A well fed continental Limousin would probably produce better beef than a poorly fed Dexter.
All our beef is hung for between 28 and 45 days. We also use Himalayan Salt walls in our drying fridges. This creates the perfect environment for the dry ageing process. It concentrates the flavour of the meat whilst hanging and purifies the air in the room, allowing ageing for a prolonged length of time without spoilage, resulting in a uniquely dry, sweet and flavoursome product.
The majestic Longhorn is an iconic breed often seen in parkland. In the eighteenth century they were bred as beef cattle, previously being used predominantly as dairy cattle. They were bred to have a good fat covering – food energy for the working man as well as for the tallow to light their homes. Nowadays, the fat covering and marbling gives the meat its superior flavour and texture. Often producing a large, muscular carcass, Longhorn beef often wins in blind taste tests against other breeds. It is one of our favourites, and we are lucky enough to be located in the Craven district of North Yorkshire, the birthplace of the Longhorn.
Characterised by its short horns, the Shorthorn was bred in the 18th century as a beef and milking animal. Over time these different lines diverged and by the second half of the 20th century two separate breeds had developed – the Beef Shorthorn, and the Dairy Shorthorn. Beef Shorthorn produce a carcass with good confirmation and fat cover, while the Dairy Shorthorn can produce exceptional veal calves.
Dexters are the smallest breed of cattle in the UK, and although small are in perfect proportion. They originated in Ireland and are, like many native cattle, a dual purpose breed – some are milked but most are bred for their small joints of excellent juicy, marbled meat. Most Dexters are black, but red and dun are also acceptable. The Dexter can weigh as little as 160KG deadweight – compare this with the Longhorn which can weigh upwards of 400KG. At its best the beef can be the best beef we have tried.
A very distinctive breed, characterised by the broad white ‘belt’ around their black bodies, Belted Galloways are fondly known as ‘Belties’. They became rare, but have rapidly increased in popularity in recent years and are now thankfully classified as a minor rather than rare breed. The cattle are often used to enhance the moorland and rough hill pastures – the breed is perfectly suited to turning these grasses into the finest quality meat which is slow maturing, marbled and tasty. This ability to convert marginal upland grazing into stunning, marbled beef sets our native British breeds apart from their Continental cousins. The Belty and the Highland are, perhaps, the best examples of this. At Swaledale Foods, we have a particular soft spot for the Belty.
Distinctively horned and shaggy, Britains third smallest breed, the Highland, is exceptionally rugged and ideally suited to upland terrain where other breeds may struggle. They have long, widespread ‘handlebar’ horns and thick coats of long matted hair in a range of colours, and are visually perhaps the most iconic of all our native cattle. Although they don’t always have great confirmation, the beef can be spectacular – the Highlands reared for us on the Harewood Estate are perhaps the best beef we have ever tasted. A recent 12 year old heifer was breathtaking.
Hereford are the most popular beef breed of cattle in the world. Originating in Herefordshire, they found great popularity among ranchers of the American Southwest, testament to the hardiness of the breed; while originating in cool, moist Britain, they have proven to thrive in much harsher climates on nearly every continent. Although in Britain they have fallen in popularity with the increase of Continental breeds, they remain one of our most iconic exports.
The Irish Moiled is one of the most distinctive breeds in Ireland. They are polled cows (which means that they do not grow horns) and are generally red with a white line on the back and stomach. They are usually known to have a flecked face and are bred for both their meat and their milk. Critically endangered in the 1960s, the Rare Breed Survival Trust stepped in and formed a new herdbook to save the breed. The Irish Molied remains vulnerable but its numbers are increasing. We are working with two local farms to establish a regular supply, being impressed with the flavour of the few we have tried.
Blue Greys are traditionally produced by crossing a whitebred shorthorn bull with black Galloway cows. The offspring gain beefiness from their sire and hardiness from their upland dams, and their colour is an attractive slate blue/grey. They are particular popular in Scotland and the north of England. It is a breed we believe will increase in popularity, as it not only has great flavour, but also yields well and has great confirmation.
It is though that this breed was brought over by the Romans and is the oldest breed of cattle in the country dating to the 16th Century. The breed is predominantly white with black ‘points’ (ears, nose and feet). The carcass is medium sized and the beef can be exceptional.