Earlier this year, I was invited by Donald Russell to their head quarters in Inverurie, Aberdeen. For those who aren’t sure, Donald Russell is one of the biggest mail order butcheries in the UK and having been in business for over 40 years- their product range keeps expanding, offering meat, poultry, fish, game, ready meals, pastas, the lot. Though they sell plenty of stock online, they also provide for some of the top hotels around the world; so if you’ve stayed in any luxury hotels, it’s likely you would have eaten some of their products. Check out what happened when the guys over at Donald Russell invited us down to see what goes on in the world of butchery.
When I was invited on this trip, I was quite intrigued but I definitely had to think twice when I was told I was going to Scotland. Not because I don’t like the Scots (because I do), but because I would have to take flights… TWO in one day. With all the flights I’ve taken in my lifetime and I still haven’t gotten over “the fear”.
Anyways, I wasn’t alone… I was joined by Rosana who writes Hot & Chilli blog, we got a super early flight so it definitely all about the espresso- I wasn’t even trying to think about eating on the plane. We arrived safely in Aberdeen and were met by Donald Russell’s Marketing Director Liz Webb, who then drove us the HQ.
The first half of the visit we spent being educated on the history of the company and how it has evolved before touching on how badly they suffered due to the BSE crisis in the 90’s. A brief low down…
The name ‘Donald Russell’ comes from co-founders; Scottish farmer William Donald and Master butcher John Stone, who traded under “Russell Meats”, Donald Russell opened its doors to trade customers in 1974. In its early years, Donald Russell supplied gourmet meats to a growing number of highly reputed restaurants and hotels in the UK and worldwide, from Kensington Place and Simpson’s-in-the-Strand to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and The Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo. The company’s managing director explains the full story in the short film on the left.
Next, we were given a tour of the butchery… where all the magic happens. As we entered the deep freeze (and trust me it was freezing), the tour kicked off from the “chiller” where all the meat is stored and allowed to mature. I’ve not seen so many rows of meat (fat and all) in my life and the smell of it all just… “maturing” away was weirdly appetising, judge me not- I had an espresso for breakfast.
We moved through to the area where all the meat is processed and packaged. I shouldn’t use the term ‘processed’, because now you’re imagining a room with huge machinery, a pair of bloggers and a tour guide wearing ear plugs and white protective suits. No? Well it has to be said, I was very surprised (and impressed) to see very minimal machinery and a large number of employees, all of the meat is chopped up and packaged by hand by really hard working butchers- every single piece. Crazy!
You’re wondering whether any of this is horse meat aren’t you? It’s not, we were quick to raise the tired joke and Donald Russell were very quick to point out that all of their meat comes from animals in the UK, 80% being from Scottish farms and can be traced back to a farmer.
We were then taken to a room (still in the deep freeze) where one of Donald Russell’s skilled butchers, armed with all the necessary tools, would begin to take apart what was described as ‘a roast’, it’s basically half of a cow… Compared to the other carcasses from the day, this looked the least appetising, I have to say. Another thing that surprised me was how much of the meat we don’t actually use; the photos directly below demonstrates a before an after. That half cow eventually becomes that slender slab.
After being in the deep freeze for an hour or so and unable to feel any of my limbs (these butchers do this daily with no problems), it was time to head out to lunch where we of course tried Donald Russell products. I promise there are no more photos of dead cows from this point. As I mentioned before, the company offer a lot more than slabs of meat- we tried some of their ready made soups to start with, before moving on to frozen ready meals such as Lasagne. I don’t eat frozen meals much so I’m not sure how to compare these, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by how rich some of the meals were, particularly the Vegetable Lasagne.
After trying the ready meals, our chef Stefan Kolcsh talked us through one the company’s recommended methods for cooking beef which consisted of mildly frying the defrosted meat for a few minutes on each side before sticking it in the oven at a low temperature. After switching off the oven, Stefan used a thermometer to monitor the beef’s temperature whilst it cooked in its juices, which kept it from drying up. He recommended cooking beef to medium-rare.
There was quite a bit of discussion over preference when it comes to cooking beef- I always opt for well done… I need to see ash on my plate before I’m convinced. No i’m kidding, I’m just not so keen on the meat being pink. The guys at Donald Russell were hoping to convert me, but to no avail!
Donald Russell offer a few different methods for cooking beef; these can be found on the Donald Russell Website.
As the day came to a close, we spent our last few hours getting to know a little bit more about the team and what they do at the HQ. Overall, I was quite impressed, not just with how well everything is handled on the butchery side of things but also with how responsive, knowledgeable and passionate everyone at the HQ is- it’s almost like they’ve studied a masters in butchery! Big thank you to Wildcard for organising this and to Donald Russell for having us.