Sticking your head in the trough
As a new eating sensation stalks Scotland, Stephen Naysmith investigates the joys and fears of the ostrich farmer,
The ostriches move across the grassland. The flock numbers 150 birds. some as tall as 8ft. They stop to graze. as their feathers are gradually soaked by the downpour. Downpour'.’ That's right ~ we aren't in the arid veldt of Africa. but a little closer to home. Duns. in the Scottish Borders boasts one ofan increasing number of British ostrich farms. Walter Murray breeds pedigree birds which he supplies to other farmers looking to set up an exotic but proﬁtable sideline.
Ostrich meat is gradually winning a place on more adventurous menus, with claims to being a healthy alternative to traditional meats. It is low in fat — lower than other poultry - but has a taste and texture more similar to that of red meat. It is most often compared to fillet beef and is popping up on the bill of fare in restaurants such as Mitchell‘s and Papingo‘s in Glasgow.
The ostrich may be flightless. but in Glasgow's Mitchell's restaurant. diners have been swooping in to try it. according to chef Sean Duncan: ‘There has been a huge amount of interest. It‘s a kind of mixed reaction. people either say “Eeugh. ostrich!“ or they can't wait to get a plate of it in front of them.‘
He also says it tastes like beef. ‘It doesn‘t taste gamey. though you would think it would because the flesh is so dark. It is low in fat though. lower even than venison.’
Sean isn‘t giving all his secrets away. but says that Mitchell's hangs the meat for a fortnight before slicing it into scallops and serving it. lightly pan-fried and with a pickled walnut sauce. ‘You can serve it with any sauce that you would serve with meat.‘ Sean adds. ‘We have also done it in a mango sauce with lemon juice.‘
Your plateful of ostrich scallops doesn‘t come particularly cheap. though. It is more expensive than steak — a main dish at Mitchell's is £11.95.
Walter Murray has been farming
FOOD & DRINK
and explodes a few myths.
ostriches for three years. but says they began appearing in Britain five years ago. ‘The demand is way above what can be produced here at the moment. There is a lot of capital investment involved and most meat is still unponedf The capital sums involved are pretty l staggering. If you fancy setting up in the business. bear in mind that one pedigree ostrich would set you back anything between £5500 and £8000! Successful breeding will gradually recoup your costs. A mature bird can bring in £200 for its hide and £400—50f) in meat. The hide is used for handbags and other leather goods. but Murray says there is little chance of flogging the feathers as a sideline: ‘Feathers are ' like wool. the quality depends on climate and you don‘t get high quality feathers in Scotland.’
So what about the climate? Don't the ostriches hate the Scottish year. with its nine months of winter and three more of bad weather? ‘The weather is not a problem.‘ Murray insists. ‘Thcy do better in cold climates. so they do very well here.‘
He also points out that ostrich meat has been eaten in Europe for more thar
i twenty years. ‘You can find it on the
l supermarket shelves in Belgium. It is
i the lowest cholesterol and fat meat
i there is. but it is just a very nice meat. l That is more important than the health I aspect — but I suppose that is more and more an issue.‘
l Still. Murray won‘t be giving up the
l dayjob. ‘lt would have to be pretty
substantial to take over from the main
3 enterprise — sheep and cattle.‘ he
l'lrlilr'lrellis. 31—35 Ashton Lane. Glasgow, 339 2220.
; l’apingo's. l()48al/1.S‘rr('cl. Glasgow.
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Latin name: Struthio Camelus
Size: Largest living bird, growing up to 8ft, weighing up to mom. Runs at high speed, but wings are useful only for balance.
Feet: The ostrich is the only bird with
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two toes, and it can use these to
g attack viciously it threatened.
l Eats: Mainly plants, but has a
reputation for swallowing anything.
i This comes from its need to swallow
! hard substances to assist the working of its gizzard.
. Head: Also reputed to stick its head in the sand. This comes from its
' defensive position, head down,
guarding the nest.
The ostrich and religion: Ostrich eggs are suspended in Eastern churches because ‘the ostrich watches over its eggs as God watches over men, and breaks the bad ones.’
The ostrich and literature: Thomas Babington once said of poet John Dryden, ‘His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him ; to run, though not to soar.’
The ostrich and America: Franklin D. Roosevelt said alter World War II, ‘We have learned that we cannot live alone i at peace, our own well-being is
9 dependent on the well-being at other
l nations . . . We have learned that we
‘ must live as men and not as ostriches.’
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