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Issue 82 - Ayrshire Bacon

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015

 

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Ayrshire Bacon

Sue Lawrence on a mouth-wateringly traditional Scots dish

t is easy to imagine that a man who has to be up at five every morning for work curing bacon might be fed up of the sight of it. On the contrary, Andrew Ramsay’s face lights up even as he tells me about cooking it and the very smell of it.

Describing his famous Ayrshire bacon sizzling away on a griddle pan, soon becoming all crispy at the edges, he says, “It gets you drooling before you even get to it.” And this is the man who eats his own fabulous bacon five days out of seven for breakfast; on other days he must test his sausages, for quality control purposes. He eats his bacon either simply, on a roll, or with a slice of fried fruit pudding and a runny egg. I too was drooling at the very thought of it. But that is possibly a very Scottish thing for breakfast and is something we do well. And although we have endless recipes for black pudding and sausages, kippers and porridge, there is only one recipe for Scotland’s bacon: the Ayrshire cure.

Like the Wiltshire cure, Ayrshire bacon is brine-cured. But while the Wiltshire bacon sides are cured with the rind on and bones in, the Ayrshire sides have rind off and bones taken out. The origin of the bacon in Ayrshire was as a by-product of the important dairy farming in the area with the whey being fed to the pigs, since, as Andrew explained, pigs will eat anything. And although this specifically Scottish cure began centuries ago, Ramsay of Carluke is the only butcher producing it traditionally by hand from start to finish, on such a large scale.

But bacon starts with the pig. And although the Ramsay’s free-range pigs (Large White-Landrace cross) are reared in east coast farms, they are slaughtered humanely in a small local abattoir. They are skinned then boned and trimmed then brined for about a day before being drained and matured for about two weeks. The water content of the finished bacon is 0 per cent so this is not bacon that splutters out milky liquid as it fries; rather, it crisps up nicely, giving a true lingering flavour and good firm bite.

The other distinctive feature of Ayrshire bacon is the rolling technique to produce Ayrshire middle, often just referred to as simply ‘frying bacon for breakfast.’ This characteristic rolling means that each slice of bacon ends up with the lean back bacon surrounded by streaky bacon: a succulent round slice with just the right ratio of gleaming white fat to lean meat.

The question of whether to choose smoked or green bacon is interesting. The sides are smoked over hardwood chips for 5 – 6 hours for a mild smokey flavour, or left green. Andrew’s preference is for smoked and opts for either middle or streaky. The preference throughout Scotland, according to Andrew, varies regionally, with the smoked bacon first choice of the traditional fishing areas of Scotland, as they are used to the flavour of smoked fish.

Thinking back to my question of why there has only ever been one Ayrshire bacon cure, it is obvious. Because it is so good. Why change perfection? But fortunately, because bacon can be used in a myriad of recipes and dishes, it could never acquire the label mundane or boring. But surely Andrew Ramsay’s (very) early breakfast roll filled with crisply fried bacon, with or without a runny fried egg for squishing purposes, is one of the best of all.

www.ramsayofcarluke.co.uk

BLT

You can add thin slices of ripe avocado if you like:

2 slices of quality white bread
Dijon mustard
Softened butter
Mayonnaise
Cos / iceberg lettuce, washed
2 – 3 rashers back bacon,
grilled until crisp, patted dry on kitchen paper
1 tomato, sliced

Toast the bread then spread one slice with ½ tsp mustard, the other with butter.
Spread the butter side with 1 dessert spoon of mayonnaise then top this with lettuce, then the bacon then the tomato and season with pepper (no salt, bacon is salty enough).
Clamp together with the second piece of toast and devour at once.

Bacon and Egg Pie

This filo-based pie is far lighter than those stodgy offerings of old:

200g streaky bacon, diced
3 – 4 large sheets of filo pastry
2tbsp olive oil
3 large free-range eggs
100ml / 3fl oz milk
150ml / 5fl oz double cream
1 – 2tbsp freshly grated parmesan

Fry the bacon in a dry pan (adding a little oil if necessary) until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper.
Lay out the filo sheets and brush lightly with oil then fold over in half. Use these to line a square 18cm baking tin (mine is 5cm deep), placing each square across at an angle (the corners of each square should not match up); brush a little oil over as you go. The edges will look a little ragged – trim if you prefer a neat edge.
Scatter the bacon over the base then mix the eggs, milk, cream and some pepper and cheese – add 1 or 2tbsp, depending on whether you want a more pronounced cheesy flavour(I like plenty).
Pour over the bacon then bake in a preheated oven (190C / 375 F / Gas 5) for 20 -– 25 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the filling just set. (If some of the filo edges are too dark, just snap them off). Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes then serve warm with salad.

French Toast with Bacon

Serve just as it is or with a drizzle of maple syrup:

2 medium free-range eggs
2 thick slices organic / farmhouse bread
25g /1oz butter
4 – 6 rashers dry cure bacon

Beat the eggs with salt and pepper and allow to soak into the bread.
Heat the butter then fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown.
Meanwhile, fry or grill the bacon until crispy and serve alongside.

Meet the Producer
Ramsay of Carluke

When I went to Carluke to see Andrew and his brother John, I was keen to find out all about the family business. It was the Ramsay brothers’ great-great grandfather who, in 1857 began curing bacon from his home on a farm in Carluke, having spent his previous working life tending the Duke of Hamilton’s white cattle in Hamilton.

Nowadays their business is well-known all over Scotland and the UK.

As well as the famous Ayrshire bacon, the Ramsays are also producing black bacon, to a very old recipe using local ale and treacle. They also experiment with more modern cures for example garlic and cracked pepper cured bacon, but the popular choice is always the traditional Ayrshire.

Watching the workers slice and pack this, I saw plenty of offcuts and trimmings from the cutting and so of course when I asked the usual question relating to Scottish thrift, the answer is at first obvious: the trimmings are packed and sold, rather like cubed pancetta, for soups, stews and pasta dishes. But also what I found surprising was that they were also used in Ramsay’s fabulous white puddings, in addition to the other ingredients of onion, milk, oatmeal, suet and seasonings. Ramsay black pudding is also one of my favourites.

Ramsay of Carluke, run by brothers Andrew and John, thrives not just because it is a well-established family business, but because of the ethic of hard work and dedication that has continued through the generations. And of course, it provides a fabulous traditional product that customers adore.
www.ramsayofcarluke.co.uk