Haggis: The Caviar of the North
When you see haggis on a menu or in the shops, you’re instantly transported to Scotland but its origins can be found much closer to home, writes Emma Brereton. Photography: Paul Currie
It may be Scotland’s national dish but one of the earliest recording of a haggis recipe is from a book called ‘Liber Cure Cocorum’ a cookery book in verse dating from around the year 1430 from the north west of the county of Lancashire. Throughout the book, ‘hagese’ appears along with broths, stews and even humble pie – a medieval dish also made with animal pluck.
The original recipe combines lamb loaves, lamb or beef suet, egg, black peppercorns, dried parsley, thyme, sage, mint, hysopp and dried savoury encased in lamb’s stomach to create the haggis we know and love (or hate) today.
And there’s a butcher in Chorley called Browns the Butchers who, after developing an award-winning range of haggis, launched the Lancashire Haggis Company and took the time to talk to us about the marmite dish.
“We’re a five-generation butcher family,” says Tim Brown who runs the family business with his brother Chris after taking over the reigns from their father who is now approaching his 80’s. “Our dad is one of the last remaining master butchers in the whole country which means he can take an animal from field to plate. Yet you will still find him in the shop most days greeting and serving our regular customers.”
The company launched its own haggis 25 years ago. The recipe was developed by dad John with Tim bringing his previous experience as a chef into the mix. This venture has proved to be very successful and is just one of the ways they keep the business fresh and up to date, after all there must be some kind of secret to their success having been open since 1932.
Tim said: “We wanted to make our haggis less peppery than the haggis people are used to having when they visit Scotland. We have dropped quite a lot of the spice out of our recipe to make it much lighter and more delicately seasoned than its Scottish cousin.”
“We feel it’s much better suited to today’s, more discerning palate. It’s real comfort food, warm and satisfying, especially at this time of year.”
The recipe, which is only seven per cent fat, was developed after John Brown spent days making batch after batch until they felt it was good enough to put on the shelves and steer people away from the mass produced offering we’re used to finding in supermarkets.
Tim also tells me that their haggis has become so popular they started to enter it into awards and it won best haggis in Scotland and beyond – now that is more than enough to make a Scotsman cry into his single malt. Furthermore, the haggis has been recognised with awards in England as well as top chefs and has even been featured in the New York Times.
“We’re now making haggis every week and of course lots around Burns Night on 25th January. We have also secured the official UK stamp to allow us to sell our haggis further afield to put Browns the Butchers and the Lancashire Haggis Company firmly on the map.”
The popularity of products like this has encouraged the Brown family to develop their own black pudding, a haggis and black pudding roulade as well as their own beautiful sausages. This expansion has resulted in an extension at the back of the building which is found on Chorley market as well as a drying room in the basement of the shop.
“We’re constantly thinking of ways to develop the business and showcase our skills and experience,” says Tim.
“I have spent a lot of time learning about curing meats and we are now able to supply pancetta, chorizo and bresaolas, which are very popular with our customers and sold to other businesses, including the multi award-winning Port of Lancaster Smokehouse.”
The family put their longevity down to their constant reinvention and passion for what they do. When their great grandfather opened the business in 1932, there was a lot of competition in the market town and sadly today they’re one of the only traditional butchers left.
“We’re keen to keep the traditional butchers shop alive. It would be a travesty if they disappeared completely from our high street. You get so much more from a butcher. We know exactly where our meat has come from, the kind of life it’s had and we age meat such as ribs of beef for at least eight weeks, meaning that the customer gets the best cuts of meat possible from the animal.”
When you walk into the shop, you’re greeted by a number of fresh young faces who are learning from Tim, Chris and John through apprenticeships to keep the trade part of 21st century culture. The business has been going for generations and this dedication to the next generation proves they plan to continue for many more.