On the second story of the home of one of the country’s premiere breeders of Highland cattle, I was brought back into the mythical space created in the antechambers of the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. On the walls of that historic hotel, as on the walls of the farmstead we were now in, artwork adorned them that transported one to another place and time: scenes of the West in that Colorado Hotel (of Native Americans, cowboys, and sandstone monoliths burning red in the setting sun); scenes from the Highlands in this wooden loft (of glens, gray peaks, cattle, and cattle drovers). Some were sketches on weathered paper, others oil or watercolor paintings. It’s true: there was a feeling of the West in both these spaces.
Permit me to make two connections, the first between the drovers of the Scottish Highlands, who were the precursors to the cowboys of the American West. Drovers: the name given to those who herded—or drove—Highland cattle from the North to the markets in the South. As the cowboys who who would follow their lead, these were men who lived among the cattle for weeks at a time, men shaped by the terrain and by the livestock who were their livelihood. I was reminded that day of the connection between these two cultural icons.
The second connection came as a sort of epiphany only recently, but had begun to distill during my first visit to that farm in Charlotte, Michigan. On that first visit, my hosts graciously sent me home with a couple pounds of ground of Highland beef, beef which sat in my freezer for a couple of months before it was cooked up and shared amongst the kitchen staff at a local brew pub. I’ve written about that experience before [please see “A Third Pillar in the Parthenon of Beef…”], which would be counted amongst the three best beef experiences of my life—quite astonishing, really, when one considers that another of those experiences took place at a remote ranch in a mountainous valley high in the Colorado Rockies (please see “Of Mountains, Beauty, Affliction, and the Steak Dinner”). In the aforementioned post, it was told of how the opportunity to buy a quarter of this highly prized beef was granted me, an opportunity at which I jumped. This beef, incidentally, will be available for sale this Spring through Duba & Company (look for Highland Beef from Charlotte, MI). Now, for the rest of the story…
Upon picking up the order, I plucked a pound of ground of Highland beef from inventory and cooked up a burger, greedy for the flavor experience of the month before. There was no doubt that this beef was of the same stock: I recognized a similarity in the flavor of the meat, but…it was not as deep, not as rich as its predecessor. I brought some in to the same chef that had tried its precursor. “Good,” he said, “but I liked the other better.” I agreed. I decided to do some digging and contacted the breeder. The breeder explained that the beef I had purchased came from an animal that was 29 months old, while my first sample came from an animal 36 to 48 months old (compare this, if you would, to the slaughtering of cattle in as little as five months in the commercial beef industry). Then was I reminded of the adage, “Age imparts flavor.”As an imperial stout is to stout, so a more fully mature animal’s beef is to younger beef. I think now of my conversation with Scottish chef Angus Campbell, a Master Chef, who suggested that I assemble a group of restauranteurs together to have them try beef from three different animals: one harvested at 18 months, one at 24 months, and one at 36 months (respectively). This would allow them a palpable, palatable experience of the development of flavor that the fullness of time provides.
And that is when the connection was made between Scotch beef and Scotch whisky. Some of the Highland beef that will be offered for purchase from Duba & Company this Spring comes from that farm in Charlotte, MI. It is, frankly, The Glenlivet 12 Year Scotch–a most excellent place to start. The first sample of beef from that premiere breeder, by comparison, was The Glenlivet 18 Year (how cruel!). As I write, I’m drinking Muscato and just glanced down at my glass (of course, I’m drinking out of The Glenlivet commemorative glass: a Christmas gift from one of my brothers-in-law). While this connection between Scotch beef and Scotch whisky took some time (I’m a little slow), all things exquisite do: whether ideas, or Scotch, or Highland beef.