Photo of
February 16, 2015

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The 5pm Dining blog recently visited Campbells Prime Meats at Linlithgow. If you have ever eaten out in a Scottish restaurant then there is a high chance that the company supplied at least some, and quite possibly all, of your meal’s ingredients to the kitchen.

While the family-run business is called Campbells Prime Meats, they also supply fish and deli goods to the restaurant trade. Since 2003, they have sold directly to the public via their website and, most recently, they have begun supplying products such as pre-packaged fish to the supermarkets.

Having started in 1910, the firm has weathered many changes in both our eating habits and the way in which we shop, not to mention a potentially devastating fire in their old Broxburn premises in 2009. You can read their history in more detail here.

If you are interested in what happens between your food being reared or grown and it then arriving on your plate, it is a fascinating place to explore.

Naturally, it is all very tightly controlled in terms of what products are prepared in certain places and what route an ingredient might take in between entering and leaving the building. The same could be said for the workers and visitors like us.

As we moved from the office side to the factory floor, we accumulated hair and beard nets, shoe covers and white coats. We washed our hands with soap and alcohol before drying them under blowers that also featured UV lights. Wellies and aprons are washed and sterilised. I have spent less time getting ready for dates.

Butchery can be hard physical work.
Butchery can be hard physical work.

Naturally, the different sections of the plant all have their own purpose and their own rhythm. Some parts are highly industrialised and feature appropriately sized kitchen machinery such as their walk-in ovens. Watching their mighty haggis machine pump out a shiny, new chieftain o’ the pudding race every couple of seconds is an awe-inspiring sight.

While the machine can produce thousands of haggis in a day, other sections in the plant will make a few dozen burgers or meatballs or sausages to a restaurant’s own specifications. Campbells are as happy providing bespoke products as they are servicing massive orders.

Some of it is very high tech. One machine measures, weighs and cuts identical fish portions using lasers.

Other parts of it are very traditional and rely on time-served skills and tools.

The main butchery room at the heart of the plant is fascinating. Dozens of butchers prepare the different cuts of meat required by Campbells’ clients.

Here’s Campbell’s butchering a section of a wagyu cow and you can quite clearly see the skill involved in the trade.

One worker might be splitting a marrowbone using a terrifying band saw. Another might be completely engrossed in the intricate job of boning out a fillet of beef. Some of the work is careful, precise and painstaking. Other processes owe more to sheer strength.

Beef maturing at Campbells Prime Meat.
Beef maturing at Campbells Prime Meat.

Across from the main butchery hall is a room where huge sides of beef and sirloins on the bone are aged. If you normally only see fillet steak as a portion on your plate or sitting in butcher’s display then it is quite an eye-opener to see dozens of fillets, thousands of pounds worth, laid out on racks.

It is visually striking but it is the smell that really stands out in the meat locker. It is not unpleasant at all but, if you are not used to it then it leaps out. It is sweet, deeply savoury and had my mouth watering as though someone had just waved a bacon buttie under my nose.

Apron, knives and chainmail: tools of the butcher's trade.
Apron, knives and chainmail: tools of the butcher’s trade.

We spoke to Peter Murphy from Campbells about the company and their relationship with the restaurant trade.