Winning a prime cattle show is an accolade that many aspire to, but appearance and eating quality are what consumers ultimately judge beef on.
To help farmers gain a greater understanding of the ideal prime animal, butcher Anthony Kitson gave unprecedented access to the exhibitors of the six champions he bought at the English Winter Fair.
They headed for CH Meats’ abattoir near York in December to see their champions undressed and in the bare flesh for the first time.
At £5,700, the English Winter Fair supreme champion – a pure-bred Limousin heifer from TA and LC Lyon of Bourne, Lincolnshire – was Mr Kitson’s biggest investment.
Weighing in at a combined 442kg deadweight and killing out at 68% of its liveweight, the supreme’s carcass graded E3.
“What immediately stands out is just how square that loin is. It will give an excellent meat-to-bone ratio for the customer and has a lovely texture and colour to the eye muscle,” Mr Kitson explained.
Reserve champion from Mark Harryman and Sarah Warriner of Pickering, North Yorkshire.
This three-quarter Limousin heifer, also killed out at 68% and graded E3. “But this would be the housewife’s choice,” said Mr Kitson. “The loin is more rounded, but there’s just a little more fat which will enhance flavour during cooking.
Importantly, there’s almost no gristle line around the eye muscle. That’s a tell-tale sign that an animal has had two distinct growth periods in its lifetime.
“Ideally, from a retailer’s perspective, I don’t want it as it spoils the eating experience. The key message is to have as uniform a growing and finishing regime as possible.”
But they were not all successes, he admitted. “If I show you this beast, you will see straight away the eye muscle is considerably darker in colour to the flesh around it – it has been stressed. For me, it’s bottom league,” he said.
One other carcass stood out for a very different reason. “Now this beast killed out at 70% and graded well,” he remarked, of Northamptonshire-based Frank Page’s pure-bred British Blue heifer.
“This one was remembered for its diminutive stance, but solid body from the show classes.”