On the last day of a recent trip to Edinburgh, we headed out from the city, through the heather laden hills to the Scottish borders. There, we met with Alison & Robin Tuke, owners of Hardiesmill Place; a 482 acre farm, breeding, rearing & producing Pedigree 100% Aberdeen Angus Cattle & Beef. Upon arrival, we were warmly met & watered, before settling in in the front room of the farm house to hear how Alison & Robin came to the land, and their ethos in rearing their cattle.

Having grown up in a farming background where youngest daughters did not go into the business, Alison went & did London instead. Robin & Alison met in Solihull, but fell in love in the city, where they stayed for some years before the call of the land became too much, & they began the 2.5 year search for a farm suitable to rear livestock. Soon enough, Robin came on full time to handle the sales & marketing aspects of the business, whilst Alison maintains the breeding & rearing of her cows (whom she knows each by name!)

Hardiesmill is part of a cooperative of five Scottish farms working together under the Scotch Quality Assurance: adhering to rigorous standards of excellence in all aspects of the animal's life (from breeding & rearing, to transportation & butchering), ensuring the welfare & quality of life, and the quality of the beef brought to market. Alison & Robin are dedicated to the produce of Pedigree 100% Aberdeen Angus. It was interesting to discover that most beef calling itself Aberdeen Angus is not actually reared in Scotland any longer. It is often cross bred, with 'Aberdeen' only having to be sired - a tip to check the packaging at the supermarket!

The flavour & tenderness of beef is hugely dependant upon the breeding, feeding & handling of the cows. The slightest stress in it's lifetime can make a cow's meat tougher, and a stumble or fall during transportation can render a cow unusable for market. Alison & Robin work exceptionally hard to ensure their cattle are happy & therefore productive, and use only SQM approved local drivers, abattoirs & butchers. Each cow has it's own passport & lineage papers ensuring it's heritage, life, and journey to market is recorded & inspectable.

As with Lamb, the flavour of beef produced is highly dependant on the feed provided for the cattle. At Hardiesmill, the cattle's main diet is grass & grass-silage (fully grass fed is not possible in Scotland due to the mud & snow of Winter). Alison & Robin have been experimenting with grass varieties in order to try to extend the growth season & resilience to weather. I loved hearing of the natural seed mixtures Alison uses which include clover to increase protein & reduce the need the for fertiliser, and Chicory as a natural wormer for the cattle.

The last part of our farm tour took us to meet a beautiful Mama cow. The calf standing in front of her had been orphaned, so they are being carefully watched to see if they will be able to bond. We had to move incredibly slowly & quietly as stress or startling could not only affect her in terms of produce, but also the bonding process, it really is that sensitive!

With our explorations over, we headed back to the farmhouse to sample the delights of the other wing of the business - Tombuie Charcuterie - and to sample the various cuts & flavours of the Hardiesmill beef. I've always wondered really the difference between cuts, because honestly, I can never taste the difference, but you could certainly get the flavours here. I could taste the grass in the fillet, and the silage in the rump (in a good earthy way!) but the feather steak was my favourite - delicious, tender & cooked beautifully as is by Alison.

Once again, this experience was a reminder to really think about the provenance of the food on our table, and to not settle so quickly for what's easy to reach for on the supermarket shelf. Not just for the flavours, but for the sustainability & futures of those working the land with passion & respect like Alison & Robin. I'm very well aware that cost & time affects my choices on many occasions, but little changes when & where I can are enough, and changes I plan on making.

more stories over at www.lapinblu.com IG @LapinBlu order steak & charcuterie at www.hardiesmill.co.uk with huge thanks to our hosts for the weekend @TheScotchKitchen and to Robin & Alison for sharing their story & their passion 🐃