By now we are mostly all aware of what “Angus” beef is. We have a pretty good idea of what it looks like, how it tastes, and why it's seen as a bit of an upgrade from your usual supermarket fare but what is it that makes the Angus beef so special? Well, the story is actually a bit more in-depth than you’d probably think.
The History Of Angus
Let's wind the clock right back to the very beginning of the Angus beef line and to probably the most recognisable type. Aberdeen Angus.
Luckily, the records of cattle in Scotland go back a very long way and are very well kept so we can identify with a reasonable level of accuracy that the first record of Angus cattle in Scotland date back to at least the 16th century and originated in the northeast of the country. For some time before the 1800s, the hornless cattle in Aberdeenshire and Angus were called Angus doddies.
For the next few hundred years, the cattle grazed freely and peacefully in the Scottish [astures. They grew strong and hardy due to the nutritious food and challenging environment of the northern Scottish area.
This continued up until the year 1824 when an MP for South Aberdeenshire, a man by the name of William McCombie, took notice and saw how well these free-roaming, muscular, and hardy cows would be as beef producers and began to take steps to improve the stock. Many local names emerged, including doddies or hummlies.
The first herd book was created in 1862, and the society was formed in 1879. This is considered late, given that the cattle gained mainstream acceptance in the middle of the eighteenth century.
William McCombie is now known widely as the father of the breed and “the grazier king”
thanks to his renowned cattle rearing skills and in bringing Angus beef to the world.
Angus Beef Over The World
It didn’t take long for Angus beef to spread across the globe like wildfire with countries from every corner all getting their hands on some of this amazing new beef from the wet and windy Scottish northern lands.
One of the first places to get Angus beef was Australia where the cattle were first introduced to Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) in the 1820s. From there the breed spread into the southern mainland around 1840 and took hold.
In 2010 there were 62,000 Angus calves registered in Australia so it shows no signs of slowing down.
Next on the list was the United States with a chap called George Grant purchasing four Angus bulls in 1873. According to records, George didn’t bring any cows over with the bulls so the intention must have originally been to crossbreed between the native shorthorns and longhorns.
While this would still have been a good plan, it didn’t take long for the local farmers to notice the good quantities of the bulls, and many more cattle of both sexes were quickly imported to fill the demand.
From there, the breed was slowly rolled out to almost every country from Germany to Argentina and quickly became a household name in terms of quality beef thanks to its exquisite marbling, bold flavour profile, and the fact that the very cows themselves were hardy and imposing creatures with much more muscle mass than the usual indigenous breeds.
The next time you’re looking for a steak dinner, be it at the supermarket or the butcher shops (online or otherwise) try to keep an eye out for Angus beef and actually take the time to give it a good close inspection.
You’ll often see that, when compared to other steaks on the shelf, the Angus features a lot more intramuscular marbling, is somewhat darker in colour, and usually accompanied by a higher price tag. Before you balk at the price though, remember that you’re there for a good quality piece of steak for tonight's meal so it may be worth the slight extra.