Britain’s Love Affair with Beef

Throughout modern history, eating beef has been a quintessential sign of Britishness. There is a simple explanation at the heart of it: we are extremely good at producing beef as our climate provides perfect conditions for grazing and we have the best farmers in the world.

Interest turned to cattle breeding in the 18th century when growing populations and war were a threat to food security. It became fashionable among rich landowners and aristocrats to breed enormous sized cattle. These huge animals came to symbolise British superiority, as the cattle became a metaphor for strength and power.

The Durham Ox was a steer who became famous in the early 19th century for his shape, size and weight. 

Proud of their achievements and eager for recognition, the wealthy owners commissioned paintings of themselves and their livestock. The French even started calling Englishmen “rosbifs”.

The less well-off did not have the money for much meat, or the luxury of a large range to cook it on. For many, a small weekly roast would be dropped off at the bakers en route to church, and cooked in the cooling bread ovens (bread was not baked on a Sunday).

As the industrial revolution created the new middle class with money to spend, the tradition of a family roast on Sunday quickly grew and stuck.

The ubiquitous partner to the roast was, and still is, a Yorkshire pudding. Traditionally the pudding was not served alongside the meat as is traditional today. Instead, it was a starter dish served with lots of gravy. By eating it first, the hope was that everyone would eat less meat during the main course, as it was very expensive.

In Britain, the most common beef cattle are Hereford and Aberdeen Angus, the latter is known for its finely marbled meat.

An Always Grazing Sirloin steak.

Marbling is the term used to describe the fine threads of intramuscular fat that run through the meat. Fine marbling is the holy grail of good beef, providing lubrication whilst it cooks and brokering the beefy flavour of the meat on the palate as it is chewed.

Before butchery, to get the best flavour, whole carcasses must be hung for at least 3 weeks. Dry aged beef (using air circulation) is when the flavour of roast beef joints and grilled steaks reaches its zenith.

At Always Grazing it’s our mission to inspire you to go beyond the butcher’s counter with stories like these that give a greater sense of depth to your food.

Alex Theaker