Uruguay ox saves haggis’ skin

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THE haggis, that most potent culinary symbol of Scottish identity, has been saved from possible extinction - by the ox bungs of Uruguay.

Butchers have had to look further and further afield for haggis skins since the BSE crisis ruled out the use of home-reared casings.

Jonathan Crombie, of Crombie’s butchers in Edinburgh, said: "Germany was the top supplier, but suddenly, the bungs were ripping. A haggis has only to burst once during boiling and you’ll find another supplier. So we have had to go further to get good skins."

Since the demise of the European trade, "category one" suppliers, the South American countries of Uruguay and Brazil have stepped into the breach.

But now, even these suppliers of the skins, made of beef intestine, are in doubt amid fears of lax quality control.

Haggis is a mixture of sheep’s pluck (the lungs, heart and liver), oatmeal, beef fat and seasonings which is placed in a bung and boiled until the skin forms a tight ball. After cooling, it is ready for sale.

Collagen is an alternative, man-made skin, although purists swear by the irregularity and transparency of the beef intestine.

"We’re in danger of losing hundreds of years of tradition because South America is not regulated carefully enough," warned James MacSween, of MacSweens haggis-makers in Edinburgh.

"Haggis is a national monument, like Edinburgh Castle or Ben Nevis, part of our heritage.

"The day we can’t get a natural casing to put the ‘chieftain o’ the pudding race’ in will be a sad day indeed."

The transatlantic trade in casings has pushed up the price of haggis.

The cost of imported bungs is estimated by haggis-makers to have risen by 50 per cent over three years, with a knock-on effect to their customers.