The Levens farmer transforming our attitude to veal
PUBLISHED: 13:12 05 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:15 20 February 2013
A farming family in Levens is helping to put veal back on the menu and attracting top chefs such as Jamie Oliver. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
The sight of veal calves tethered and cooped up in crates rightly tarnished the reputation of this controversial meat.
The public with their feet and sales plummeted.
But veals dark past is now being restored with the help of the Mason family who have produced Cumbrian ros veal at Heaves Farm, Levens, for the past three years. Dad Roger, with sons Gary and Neil, have made it their mission to encourage more people to try ros veal produced in a much more enlightened manner.
Our biggest battle is the publics reaction, said Roger. In the late 80s people saw these pictures of calves squashed crates. The animals werent allowed to move, they were only fed on milk and quite often they were kept in the dark. It is no wonder people didnt want to eat it.
Crates were banned in this country in 1990 and in Europe in 2007 and many unwanted male calves were killed and used in low grade products. Now, we are giving the calves a life, added Roger.
Land at Levens has been farmed by the family since 1908 when Rogers great grandfather Charles Mason moved to Lawrence House, the neighbouring land still farmed by Rogers brother Jonathan. Roger took on Heaves Farm when his son, Gary, took an interest in working the land.
Humane methods and animal welfare have always been at the heart of the Masons operations. They breed milk-producing cows from their Holstein herd. It is sent to Dale Farm in Kendal to be turned into yoghurts and cheeses. The male calves produced by the herd are used for the veal production.
They are kept in open areas where they have access to a milk bar and they are gradually weaned onto dry food before they are fed on a secret fodder blend, a recipe closely guarded by the family. They are slaughtered at Aireys in High Newton.
In the bad old days, calves were fed on nothing but milk and had their movement restricted. They produced very pale meat but the veal from Heaves Farm shows high welfare standards are maintained. A tell-tale sign comes in the deep pink tone of the meat, hence the name ros.
Veal meat is also a healthier alternative as it has less fat and is low in cholesterol.
Roger said: It is a lot better for you. You can tell its a lot lighter and not as fatty when you taste it. It has lots of health benefits.
Its also about giving that calf a life. We live in a world thats always short of food and its getting worse. If we can use as many by-products - the male calves are a by-product of the milking industry - then we need to do this the best we can.
Heaves Farm supply a raft of food outlets across Cumbria and further afield and their veal is attracting attention far and wide a plight Roger said has been much boosted by son Neils website and social media efforts.
They have attracted the attention of chefs including Jamie Oliver and Simon Rimmer and Michel Rouxs executive chef has visited the farm. They also sell in butchers in exclusive areas of London like Knightsbridge; Lenclumes Simon Rogan serves it in his London restaurant, Roganic as does Tom Aikens.
Roger, who also sold his veal at Harrods during British Food Fortnight, said: We want to give these calves the best lives they can get. Veal was once a meat that no one would touch and were really hope we are helping to change perceptions.
We have spent three years putting in the groundwork. Ros veal is a fantastic, healthy alternative to other meats and we want more people to start including it in their meals.