In the first of a series of interviews with primal friendly food producers, I went to chat to Robert Phillip, of Hellifield Highland Beef.
In the North of England, Hellifield Highlanders are known as the highland cattle people, a well-deserved reputation built over the past thirteen years from small beginnings. The first Highlanders to arrive at the farm were a birthday present for Robert’s wife Wendy in 2002, the year after the foot and mouth outbreak left much of the countryside a lifeless wasteland.
A 3rd or 4th generation farmer (he couldn’t remember which), Robert was originally a dairy farmer with a herd of Holsteins and Jerseys. Three years after the first highlanders arrived at the farm, having grown tired of milking, and with falling milk prices and little direct contact with customers, the dairy herd was sold and the highland cattle became the life blood of the farm.
Robert really knows his stuff when it comes to the nutritional value of his meat and took great pride in telling me that it has been scientifically proven that Highland Cattle beef contains the highest levels of omega-3 and iron…
Robert is clearly in his element when he is talking about his animals – he is quite an unusual character for a Yorkshire farmer, as he really enjoys meeting and chatting to people! Having been interviewed many times for both radio and TV, Robert firmly believes that one of his most important roles is as an educator. I certainly learned an awful lot in the hour that I spent talking to him – did you know that cows have right of way on the road, and that if they damage your vehicle you can’t make an insurance claim, but if you kill or damage a cow the farmer can make a claim against you? I certainly didn’t!
Robert really knows his stuff when it comes to the nutritional value of his meat and took great pride in telling me that it has been scientifically proven that Highland Cattle beef contains the highest levels of omega-3 and iron; a fact borne out of a dissertation study done by the son of the ex-president of the highland cattle society, of which Robert is a member.
As well as being known for its superior nutritional content, I was aware, albeit at a very basic level, that grassfed beef is a more environmentally sound product than factory farmed beef, but I had no idea just how involved in ongoing conservation projects native cattle such as highlanders are. Do take a few minutes to read the linked article, it’s fascinating, and will make you want to hunt out grassfed beef more than ever. As part of these conservation grazing projects Robert’s cows spend much of their summer holidaying in Kendle, Trawden and Malham, which helps to offset the huge investment made in raising these animals with most cows living a rather wonderful existence for at least 4 years before heading off to the slaughter house. They are then hung for two weeks helping to further mature the meat, making it so succulent and flavoursome that it is hard to imagine eating anything that came from the supermarket ever again!
Something that was brought home to me from talking to Robert is just how important the interconnections between various local businesses are, something echoed in this quote from the conservation grazing website:
“In addition to a wildlife-rich countryside, conservation grazing can deliver substantial benefits to local communities. Local production of good quality meat and dairy produce with high welfare standards is a key outcome of many conservation grazing schemes. Such schemes can play a role in rejuvenating rural economies while using traditional rural skills such as stock husbandry which are in decline.”
Robert’s cows are raised, slaughtered, butchered, processed and sold all within a very small radius, by a community of skilled trades people who are committed to giving their customers the highest quality products possible. At prices set by them, not the supermarkets thus ensuring fair pay for these essential members of our society who are so often denigrated by a general public far removed from the source of the contents of their fridges.
As with many businesses today, Robert’s meat can be bought via his website, whilst it isn’t an online shop as such, all the details you’ll need to make a purchase are there, don’t let the little extra needed effort put you off; this beef really is worth it! Talk to him about the possibilities of arranging a cow share, or if you’d like some of the more unusual items that those in the Paleo community are embracing do ask, if you can help you he will. Better still, if you’re in the local area do call in to the shop and have a chat, you’ll be assured a warm welcome. Robert does offer gluten free sausages and burgers, as well as a variety of incredibly tasty though not gluten free versions. However, my personal recommendation would be for a nice piece of brisket, or silverside for your Sunday dinner. If you fancy something a little different, why not try the beef pastrami?
This is one example of the way in which local producers are working together to create new and exciting products that you probably won’t find in the supermarkets. The beef pastrami is cured by The Blue Pig Company, two brothers who farm just up the road from Robert and who I will be talking to in the next interview in this series.