10 things you (probably) didn't know about Macsween haggis

Synonymous with great haggis, the Macsween family are rightly hailed across Scotland as one of our favourite producers, here are ten facts you might not know about them.

Published 3rd Feb 2017
Updated 3 rd Sep 2017

The Macsween family business started 60 years ago, when Charles and Jean Macsween set up a family butcher shop in Bruntsfield, having learned their trade working for William Orr’s in George Street.

Now under the expert guidance of their grandhcildren Jo and James (via the stewardship of their father John), the family-run business grows from strength to strength.

Here are ten things you might not know about Scotland's favourite haggis producer.

1.They created the ultimate Burns Night dish by unveiling the world’s most expensive haggis

The £4000 MacSween Haggis. Photo: MacSween
The £4000 Macsween Haggis. Photo: Macsween's

In 2016, Macsween's created the most opulent version of their famous product, a haggis made using Highland Wagyu beef from Perthshire, white summer truffle from France and black pepper (tellicherry) from India, which can only be grown at a latitude of 2,000-3,000 feet above sea level.

For extra decadence, the 4kg haggis comes with edible 24 carat gold to sprinkle on top and is presented in a handmade wooden cask.

2. Three generations of Macsweens have perfected the family recipe over the years.

James and Jo Macsween. Picture: TSPL

Beginning with Charles and Jean Macsween, who opened the Macsween butcher shop in 1953, carrying on with son John, Charlie's oldest, down to current bosses James and Jo, each generation have perfected the firm's secret blend of spices and seasoning (with staff having to sign a confidentiality agreement when they begin working for the brand).

3. Their biggest customers are England

Macsween export to Europe, South ­Africa and Dubai, but their biggest customer by far is England, where 55-60 per cent of their products end up.

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4. The original Macsween Haggis was modeled on the Mars Bar (no really)

Charles MacSween promoting his world-famous haggis in January 1986. Picture: TSPL
Charles MacSween promoting his world-famous haggis in January 1986. Picture: TSPL

Tired of the "culinary Russian Roulette" that was shopping for good haggis in the 60s, Charles Macsween decided to make a standardised product that was consistently good.

James Macsween said: “He used to model his haggis on the idea behind a Mars bar."

“He used to say that every time you saw a Mars bar, you knew exactly what you were going to get. It would be chocolate, caramel and marshmallow. You knew what it would taste like and the sensation of eating it before you bit into it. And, he said, you have to do that with ­haggis.”

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Jo adds: "Grandad said it had to be constant and predictable, just like a Mars bar. The ­business was faithful and true to that and it worked.”

5. Some of their more popular versions of Haggis includes Wild boar, Venison and Three Birds

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Macsween have made many different versions of their classic haggis over the years, including venison, wild boar and three bird haggis.

The Three Bird version is particularly popular, using grouse, pheasant and duck, combining a subtly smokey flavour with quince, lavender and spices.

6. But their Vegetarian Haggis is probably the most popular outside of the original version

Chivas Brothers
Picture: Macsween

John created the first vegetarian haggis in 1984, which was approved by the Vegetarian Society.

Enjoyed by vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike, the veggie haggis is made using healthy fresh vegetables, pulses, oatmeal, seeds and spices.

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It’s so popular that one out of every four haggis Macsween sell are vegetarian.

7. They also make Gluten Free Haggis


Launched earlier this year, the new haggis is certified by Coeliac UK and the seal of approval from Michelin star chef Tom Kitchin, meaning people with coeliac disease across the country will have the opportunity to join other Brits in enjoying Macsween haggis.

8. They have Royal fans


The team say they are "unofficially 'By Appointment'" to a number of the Royal Family and apparently chief amongst them is HRH Princess Royal who is an avid fan of Macsween Haggis.

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A regular visitor to the Royal Highland Show, Princess Anne has oftne been found near the Macsween stall tucking into their canapé haggis.

9. A Macsween Haggis was once confused for a plastic explosive

The bomb turned out to be a Macsween's haggis. Picture: Neil Hanna
The bomb turned out to be a Macsween's haggis. Picture: Neil Hanna

In 2014, airport security staff in England who suspected a passenger of carrying plastic explosives instead found he had a Macsween haggis in his hand luggage.

Ian Blake was stopped as he passed through Birmingham Airport on his way from Inverness to see a friend in Dublin.

The “bomb” was a chieftain o’ the pudding race haggis which had triggered the airport’s scanner.

10. January is the best month (if you are a Macsween that is)

Picture: Wikimedia

While January is a fairly quiet month for everyone else, it's also the month in which Macsween will take a third of its annual turnover.

Burns Night (on the 25th January) is THE day in the haggis calendar and the month in which it sits is so important, that it's how the Macsweens count years. James, 37, has worked for the company founded by his great-grandfather for 18 Januarys, he says. The team of James and Jo, 41, has been in charge for eight.

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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