When there are five Sundays in a month, Gilmore Braes open their paddock gate (and kitchen door) for a day to ‘Meet the Beef’. What a great way it is, to spend a bonus Sunday! It’s a bit of a hike to get out to Batlow from Canberra, but the drive is beautiful and the rewards at the other end are definately worth it. The rear fence of the property is adjacent to Gilmore, in the South West Slopes region of New South Wales. In Scottish, brae is the sloping land of a hill. Thus, Gilmore Braes run Scottish Highland and Welsh Black heritage beef cattle on a small, hilly property adjacent to Gilmore.
Both breeds of cattle have a lovely temperement and complex social heirarchy. It is thought they could have been around for as long 6000 years! They are short in the leg with lovely long coats suited to the high country of Scotland and Wales, as well as Batlow. Scottish Highland are good breeders, calving easily and breeding for as long as 21 years. They have wonderful long fringes over their faces that protect their eyes from pests and the sun. The coat can be of a range of different colours, and they have a broader head than the Welsh Blacks. Indeed, the royal family keeps Scottish Highland at Balmoral. The breed went out of favour in commercial beef industry because they are slow growing, but this is one of many qualities that contribute to their excellent eating. The beautiful long shaggy coat insulates the cattle from harsh weather conditions, and means they have little need for a fat layer. Thus the meat they produce is often much leaner than other varieties, but still contains excellent, very fine marbled fat throughout. The uniquely flavoursome meat is also incredibly tender. Cross breeding with Welsh blacks produces beef that grows slightly quicker and produces a higher quality meat than eaither of the pure breeds.
Gilmore Braes are the only commercial highland beef enterprise in Australia and they have relatively small heard of about 70 beasts. They kill 2-3 beasts every three weeks and sell the meat at the Capital Region Farmers Market. While not an organic farm, the cattle have a wonderful life at Gilmore Braes. Unlike mainstream commercial beef that are killed from 12-18 months of age, the Gilmore Braes beasts are usually killed after two years. Gilmore Braes make use of virtually the whole animal, selling the offal and bones, and even tanning the beautful shaggy coats. The animals are truly loved and respected. Those that are identified as breeders are named and left to breed at their own pace in the back paddock. At Gilmore Braes, the bulls stay with the heard year around so there is a constant supply of calves and the meat supply is relatively constant. I have been buying beed from Gilmore Braes’ market stall for months now and have made some truly delicious meals with the beef shank, beef cheek, short rib and New York steak. I’ve made a couple of great batches of beef stock with their bones.
I had known about the last few ‘Meet the Beef’ days but hadn’t been able to attend, so I was dearly looking forward to finally being able to make one. Given the time of year, I’d even wondered if I’d be able to meet some we little cows! Manda and Ian run Cascades Nursery and decided to branch out and run highland cattle on the property. They are both charming, lovely people and made us feel very welcome on their property for the day. We began the day with a delcious savoury morning tea. They had cooked the girelle of the beef ever so slowly (70oC for four hours) till it was pink tender perfection and served it thinly sliced, rolled on toothpicks. The girelle is a round component of the silverside that Manda asks the butcher to keep aside because it is truly worthy of this special treatment. The wonderful thing about cooking meat this slowly is that you can use a range of flavourings that may otherwise burn away in the cooking process. Ian recommended the lemon myrtle oil on sale at the farmers’ market. I’m a fan of lemon myrtle, so I may just pick up a bottle and give this a go.
After morning tea, we made our way back down to the front paddock while Ian rounded the last year’s calves into the yards. They are lovely cattle and I felt very lucky to have Manda and Ian sharing their passion and knowledge of the breed with us right there in front of them. Heavens, there was one Scottish Highland with the most incredible white coat! With the exception of one poddy calf, it was likely most of these young cattle would be for slaughter. They were moved to the front paddock for a health check and to finish up on clover. From there we made our way over the hill to the back paddocks to meet the bulls, cows and young calves. Heavens, the little ones are so sweet! We could all see how the white ones could easily be mistaken for sheep when they’re small.
Lunch was a freindly, unpretentious three course affair packed with flavour, showcasing the beef at its best. For entree, we had a cabbage and crispy noodle salad and slices from two different cuts of steak, the blade and the New York. Both were incredibly delicious. Surprisingly, the blade was incredibly tender, and the crust on the New York cut was superb. Both steaks were simply grilled on the hot plate. It was interesting to compare the flavour difference between the two cuts, not better or worse, just different. Both steaks were of the highest order. For mains, we had slow roasted beef shank in a creamy tamarind sauce, with rice, snow peas and baby carrots. I’d had the shank before, but cooked it in spaghetti sauce. It was a special treat to have a chunk of shank served on my plate with all it’s delicious gelatiney goodness intact. Dessert, though missing the beef, was also superb: a beautiful apple and blueberry pie made with cinamon and brown sugar pastry. I don’t mind admitting I had to undo my belt buckle two notches for the journey home!