It began with a call to The Livestock Conservancy in August of 2012, the organization dedicated to the preservation of rare breeds of livestock (heritage breeds) and which defines heritage meats.  The question posed to them: “Of the heritage breeds of cattle, which produce the best beef?” Among the breeds named was the Shorthorn–or Milking Shorthorn. In a few weeks time, at a tasting event we’re hosting at Cherry Hill Market on March 12, attendees will be able to taste Shorthorn beef from this, one of the rarest of the rare breeds. This week’s post is dedicated to the Shorthorn story.

At one time called Durham cattle for their origins in the English county of Durham near the River Wear, the Shorthorn was the most popular British breed. Brought to America in the 1700s, it became part of the colonial landscape and spread west with the settlers and pioneers who populated the New World. A dual-purpose breed, the Shorthorn became known for producing high-quality milk and beef, with some breeders focusing on dairy production and others focusing on beef. As a result, in the early 1900s two separate Shorthorn breeds were identified: Milking Shorthorns and Beef Shorthorns, the former falling into serious decline in recent decades. The Milking Shorthorn’s conservation status, in fact, is listed as “critical” by the Conservancy, the most urgent level of conservation priority.

Paradoxically, the survival of the breed depends on the eating of Shorthorn beef (eating creates demand, and demand drives supply). Happily, the Shorthorn beef I tried last July (in the form of a tenderloin steak from Tillers International) entices with its rich, earthly flavors. Typically a mild-flavored cut, this was one of the most delicious tenderloins I’ve ever eaten. If the flavors of the Shorthorn tenderloin are this pronounced, we may be in for a wild ride at next month’s tasting event which–along with two other beef breeds–will feature Shorthorn beef sliders from the aforementioned farm. Please join us Wednesday, March 12, from 11 AM to 8 PM, at Cherry Hill Market, as we re-introduce Shorthorn beef to the culinary world.

To read about our visit to Tillers International, producers of heritage Shorthorn beef, please see “Adventures in Agritourism”.

The author getting up-close and personal with one of the world's rarest cattle breeds, the Milking Shorthorn

The author getting up-close and personal with one of the world’s rarest cattle breeds, the Milking Shorthorn

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