The Food Artisan: Macsween of Edinburgh

· A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. 
· As modifier of food or drink made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.
Once a fortnight CellarVie Wines, and our roving ambassador Nigel Barden, endeavours to unearth some of our shores’ finest and most quintessentially artisan food producers - the culinary purists who consistently champion local produce in an innovative yet deliciously tasty fashion - in order to bring you an interview that gives you an insight into their ethos. Ahead of Burn's Night on the January 25th, Nigel caught up with Jo Macsween of Macsween of Edinburgh, who have been at the forefront of haggis and black pudding making for 60 years... 
Nigel Barden writes "Jo Macsween studied architectural history at university but is now the third generation member to enter the family business, which started out as an Edinburgh butchers 60 years ago, but has since carved out a world niche as the No.1 producer of Haggis. A much misunderstood food stuff made from lamb and beef, oatmeal, onions, pepper and spices and whose virtues were extolled by Rabbie Burns in his classic Ode to the Haggis in 1786. Macsweens produce around 2,500 tonnes of Haggis annually, 40% of which is consumed around Burns night on 25th January. 20% of all Macsween sales are their vegetarian version, using lentils, kidney beans, root veg, oatmeal, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. To celebrate their 60th anniversary, Macsweens have produced Venison and Three Bird Haggis (pheasant, grouse and duck) versions.

"Jo has suggested her red wine choice for Haggis will be an Italian Barbera and I think the Enrico Serafino Barbera d'Asti 2010 £11.99, from Piedmont would work brilliantly. It's quite light and can be chilled in the summer, but isn't going to over-power the surprisingly delicate Haggis, both meat and veggie versions. Her white suggestion is Gewürztraminer and I've opted for a New Zealand Villa Maria Private Bin Gewürztraminer 2011 £10.99.  There's fruit and spice in equal measure and it's less expensive than the Trimbach from Alsace".
How long have Macsween been producing haggis and where are you now based?
This is our 60th anniversary, my grandfather launched the Macsween butchers shop in Edinburgh’s south side in the 1950’s and we have been making our award-winning haggis ever since. In the 1990’s we commissioned the world’s first dedicated haggis making kitchens, still in Edinburgh.

How many tons of haggis do you produce annually and what's the split between meat and veggie?
Somewhere in the region of 200 - 2500 tons, 20% of which is our vegetarian haggis which my father originated in the 1980’ and is now a very popular edition.
What are the ingredients of your two versions?
Our meat haggis is a blend of the finest quality lamb, beef, oatmeal, onions and our secret blend of spices and our vegetarian haggis is a combination of local pulses, fresh vegetables, oatmeal, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and our special blend of spices.
How much haggis do you sell outside Burns night?
About 40% of sales are over the month of January, but we are working to extol haggis as a versatile ingredient that is perfection for all seasons and occasions. It is a very versatile ingredient you know.

Are you able to use plenty of local ingredients?
Yes, most of our suppliers, where possible, are local - we have some suppliers we have dealt with for over two generations or the Macsween family.

Who are the biggest haggis consumers outside of the British Isles?
We probably sell most in Germany, where there are many Scottish societies, ceilidh dancing events and pipe band competitions.

Were you always destined to work in the family business and what did you do before you joined and what else might you like to have done?
It wasn't my plan as I studied architectural history and then started to teach English abroad. I realised that as part of my teaching abroad, I shared lots of cultural aspects of Scotland and that of course meant extolling the virtues of haggis and my family business. I guess it then dawned on me how much I cared about the family business and then decided to join in my mid-20s.

What are some of your favourite wines and what would you suggest are good vinous parings for your haggis?
I think it’s important to have a wine with enough spicy character to match the haggis. Gewürztraminer is a good white match and Barbera d'Asti from Italy. I recently tried dry sherry and dessert wines and they were surprisingly good too.

You produce a whole different range of sizes and styles?
Yes, from our microwavable slices which are perfect as a quick snack for one, right up to our catering sticks which are used for events and feeding large volumes. We also have our canapé haggis which is perfect for making party pleasing nibbles or for BBQ’s and a variety of sizes in-between for whatever size your brood is. Whatever shape or size our haggis is, it is always made to the same award-winning recipe.

What other food styles/countries excite you?
I love simple food - so Italian is probably my favourite.

Your last meal (many centuries away); what would it be, who would cook it (might be you, but don't worry about the washing up) and what would you quaff with it?
A fresh salad to start with vine tomatoes then I love smoked fish, so probably kedgeree. I like cooking and I am always happiest in the company of my husband.

Do you have a recipe using haggis that you can share with us?
Haggis and chilli works really well together so Tex Mex or Tex Mac recipes are one of my favourites, this haggis nachos recipe is ready in a flash and perfect for sharing with friends.
Click here to see Macsween haggis nachos recipe.

When and where are you happiest?
In nature, in my garden.

Where and what was your best meal ever?
In an Italian olive farm in Puglia - everything was from their land, each course used a specific olive oil they pressed and it was cooked with much love by the owners of the olive grove.

How long does your haggis keep for and can it be frozen?
Our haggis keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge but can also be frozen for six months.

How do we get hold of Macsweens haggis and how much do they cost?
Our haggis is available in the major supermarkets across the UK including Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s etc. Many local butchers’ shops and independent retailers also stock our haggis and it can be purchased online from our website. Prices range from as little as £1.50 for our microwavable slices, right up to £29 for our mighty ceremonial chieftain and everything in-between.

Macsween of Edinburgh, a third generation family company, has been at the forefront of haggis and black pudding making for 60 years. Honouring our tradition, we produce award-winning products handcrafted to unique family recipes, using the finest ingredients. We believe that the foundation of our business' success is our team, and we recognise the importance of our people and our place within the local community. As pioneers of Scotland's national dish, we are passionate about taking haggis to a new place in an environmentally and ethically sustainable manner, and extolling haggis as a versatile ingredient that is perfect for all seasons, occasions and places.

Jo and James Macsween
For more information on Macsween and their range of delicious and award-winning products visit

Burn’s Night with Macsween
Ahead of Burn's Night on the 25th January, CellarVie Wines have teamed up with Macsween of Edinburgh to give one of our lucky customers a Macsween Haggis goodie bag with a selection of their award-winning haggis and a copy of The Macsween Haggis Bible.
The winner will be chosen at random and informed on Tuesday 21st January and will receive their prize before Burn’s Night. Simply place an order with CellarVie Wines this month for a chance to win. Competition closes at midday on Tuesday 21st January.


Written by: Nigel Barden

Nigel Barden 


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