If I weren't on holiday and there had been a convenient ferry, I'd have gone to Oban yesterday like several other people from the island to stand outside Tesco and protest against the ever increasing presence of Brazilian beef in British supermarkets. We don't need Brazilian beef. We have the finest beef in the world, bred, born, reared and grass fed in Scotland, cattle whose provenance goes back to the Picts. There's every chance that the steak eaten by Pontius Pilate, who was born in Invernessshire by the way, was related albeit distantly to the one I shall be ordering for my dinner next week at the Kinloch House Hotel in Blairgowrie where the golf maniacs in the family are planning to play the famous Rosemount course.
I've never eaten Brazilian beef, though I believe it's similar to Argentinian which I have tried, for what it's worth. Not a lot, to be perfectly honest, but then I'm biased. I'm married to a Scot whose beef (he has a couple of restaurants) comes exclusively from a Highland supplier who practically knows the name of every beast, as they call the cattle up here, that passes through his hands. In an ideal world he would probably buy it straight from the farmers on the Isle of Lismore where we spend every summer and where the beasts look so damn healthy and contented I sometimes wonder guiltily if I shouldn't bite the bullet and become a vegetarian.
No chance. A meal without meat isn't worth eating, and as for a Sunday lunch that isn't a traditional roast, preferably rib of beef on the bone with Yorkshire pudding and gravy, I'd sooner have a sardine sandwich. Sometimes if we've left it a bit late and there are cattle on the road cropping the verges you can miss the ferry, which never particularly bothers me because I'm perfectly happy to potter about on the island thinking about the sort of things you never have time to think about in London. Like, for instance, what cattle eat, which up here isn't just grass by any means. It's thistles and brambles and dozens of different species of wild flower.
Before we built our own house we used to rent a wonderful old Victorian villa with three palm trees in the garden and a 90ft fuchsia hedge along the front wall that separated the house from the Loch Linnhe. Once when I was sunbathing in the garden (it doesn't always rain in Scotland), a German tourist on a bicycle stopped to ask the way and admire the hedge. Did the island get very cold in winter, he wanted to know. Sometimes, I said. So did we have to take the hedge in to protect it from the frost, he wondered. Maybe he was a townie. I remember the summer that one of my children, aged about seven, brought a friend from school to stay, a little Sudanese boy called Isaac. Cycling past a field full of cattle and sheep Isaac asked if the sheep were safe - didn't the cows eat them? He certainly was a townie but maybe there are sheep-eating beasts in Sudan.
At this year's Royal Highland Show, the steak cooked by a celebrity chef that won the Tastiest Meat in Show award came from a Lismore cow, whose formative years were spent at Balure Farm next to the Pictish Broch, an ancient Dark Ages fort and one of the island's better known archaeological sites. Johnny Livingstone, who farms it, was the first islander we ever met. Fourteen years ago he drove the tractor and trailer that brought 16 students from Aberdeen Universities School of Architecture to the greenfield site or. more precisely, the fly-infested bog on which we planned to build our house. Their professor thought it would make an ideal academic project - low-budget housing for people with aspirations beyond their incomes.
Back in December 2003, Mr Livingstone sold the aforementioned heifer, aged six months, to an Aberdeenshire farmer at the Oban cattle market, who took it back to the east coast to fatten her up but I'm sure it was that early start in the Elysian fields of Lismore that turned her into a champion. South American pampas grass just isn't the same and neither is the beast that comes from it.
In an ideal world we'd stroll down to Balure Farm and earmark a few animals for the restaurants, but alas it's impossible. There are more rules governing the slaughtering of beast cattle than there are islands off the Argyll coast, and unless we tattooed the stock down to the carcass the likelihood of getting the right animal is virtually impossible. There must be a way round but I'm damned if I can think of it. One thing I do know: if I were a cow I know where I'd like to be put out to grass, and it isn't Brazil.Reuse content