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Champion haggis makers feature article from the pages of Scottish Life Magazine

Ode To A Haggis

Its modest beginnings aside, there's far more to Scotland's national dish than meets
the eye.

BY TERRY WILLIAMS

"In January we make upwards of 15 tons of haggis."

I gasped, took a photograph, and sneezed. Fraser MacGregor looked up from mixing a large heap of oatmeal and seasonings. "You get used to the pepper after a while!" I had come to Dingwall in search of Scotland's First Champion Haggis Maker. It turned out that the title had been won more than 30 years earlier, and not by the young man making me sneeze. The First Champion himself, I learned, had retired in 1999. That would be George Cockburn, the name on the sign outside the shop? No, it was Jocky McCallum....

Dingwall folk have been buying their meat from George Cockburn and Son since 1955. When George retired just short of 20 years later, his son wasn't interested in the shop. Jocky McCallum's father bought the business, together with its name and its established reputation for fine butcher meats. Then, in 1975 Jocky himself took over with his wife, Brenda. They were farmers who knew plenty about rearing first-rate livestock but not so much about butchering. Having mastered the new skills and once the shop was running smoothly, Jocky found time to read a piece of paper he had noticed pinned to a cupboard door. It was a traditional recipe for haggis.

Four years later -- by which time Jocky had developed a particularly fine haggis from the recipe -- a competition was announced, to be held in Perth. The Scottish Federation of Meat Traders' Associations were looking for the best haggis in Scotland. The event was sponsored by Dewar's Whisky, who donated a special flagon of their product for the winner. Jocky decided to enter, picked a haggis out of his regular batch, and took it down the road to Perth. There were so many entries that the organizers divided them into heats, with the best going forward to a grand final. By the end of a long, suspense-filled day, Cockburn's of Dingwall were pronounced the outright winners. Jocky brought home the whisky, together with the unique title of "Scotland's First Champion Haggis Maker."

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2010 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Islands Of The Forth by Sean Hignett.

Click here to preview our feature article on Scotland's Ancient Tribe by Richenda Miers.

Click here to our column on Scotch whisky by John Lamond.

Click here to preview our column on Scotland in Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Photos: © Terry Williams