Uruguay depends to this day on the wealth of meat and agricultural produce it exports.
During Logan Mountstuart’s time, corned beef production was one of the most lucrative parts of the industry. Foley & Cardogin’s Fresh Meat Company is likely based on The Liebig Extract of Meat Company, at the time Uruguay’s renowned corned beef producer.
Located northwest of Montevideo in the river port of Fray Bentos, the company produced corned beef on a grand scale during the two World Wars. ‘Fray Bentos’ Corned Beef’ became a household name in the early 1900s, and a staple of soldiers’ diets. Indeed, such was its popularity, soldiers would refer to something that was good as being ‘Fray Bentos’.
The corned beef industry filled Uruguayan pockets as well as plates at the time, and acted as a magnet for immigrants seeking work. Logan’s father, who later left his family a substantial monetary legacy, would no doubt have been comfortably well off as a result of his work.
The corned beef story began back in 1840, when Baron Justus von Liebig developed a concentrated beef extract as a cheap and nutritious meat substitute. Referred to as ‘Extractum carnis’, the meat derivative allowed those too poor to purchase expensive fresh meat the opportunity to include a form of beef in their diet. Indeed, the extract was distributed as a tonic by the Royal pharmacy during this period.
Hearing of Liebig’s invention, a young engineer by the name of George Christian Giebert wrote to him with a business proposition. The result was The Liebig Extract of Meat Company (Lemco), launched in London on December 4, 1865.
The company was responsible for creating Liebig and Oxo meat extracts, and further down the road, the Oxo beef stock cube. Meanwhile, corned beef production began in earnest, with tinned corned beef launched under the label of ‘Fray Bentos Corned Beef’.
In 1924, at the time of Logan’s earlier journal writing, The Liebig Extract of Meat Company was renamed ‘El Anglo’, after it was bought by the Vestey Group. It eventually became part of Unilever.
In 2008, the Brazilian group Marfrig reopened the Liebig Factory in Fray Bentos to resume corned beef production – more than 30 years after it had closed.
So… what exactly is corned beef?
Also called 'Salt Beef', corned beef is a salt-cured beef product. It can be wet-cured in spiced brine, dry-cured with granular salt or take the form of canned minced salted meat.