Throughout our lives we may move around but wherever we live there are hopefully things we remember with fondness – maybe it’s a friendly bunch of neighbours, the local pub that keeps superb ale, that place on the corner that makes sensational sandwiches or a take-away where your order is placed before you’re through the door.
But, as I look back at the places where I’ve lived, I not only remember the great friends, pubs and eateries that have peppered my life, I surprisingly recall the great butchers I’ve met along the way.
The best butcher’s shops offer us the chance to be inspired by food in the knowledge that the quality of the product is second-to-none and the provenance is there to see and respect.
As I look back at my life through the butcher’s shops I’ve used, I must start in the coastal town of Cromer in north Norfolk – my home town.
I grew up in a family of wonderful cooks and good quality meat was always on the menu. As a child I would accompany my mum on shopping trips and going into the butchers always seemed to be an adventure, it was the shop I enjoyed visiting the most (apart from the newsagents where sweets were a possibility). I was transfixed by the delectable array of quality, of freshness, of choice – and the wonderful character behind the counter.
In those days we would always shop at butcher Peter Storey’s shop. Going in there, as with every butchers I’ve regularly shopped in, was a very social experience, I guess you build a rapport with your butcher over time.
Next up, Carlisle – the great border city.
I was at university and it was the first time I had to properly cook for myself.
Like most students I shopped as economically as I could but if I was buying meat I went to Cranstons, a butchers based in the heart of the city-centre.
It was more a food hall than a traditional butchers, it had a butchery, deli and lunch bar. The range of meat was extensive and the butchers (there were many) were always helpful. As a student, shopping in a butchers did seem like an indulgence but the quality and choice on offer was superb.
What I remember about this place was the obvious pride the butchers had in the work that they did. On my first visits to the shop I felt a bit out of my depth but I was quickly told that they were they to help and advise me. Looking back on that time it tickles me that I remember the name of the butchers but not the pub I frequented the most!
Next up, Grasmere – the romantic Lakeland village.
After five years at university I moved to the Lake District and my house mates and I would often make the eight-mile circular walk into Ambleside to stock up on the best Cumberland sausage known to man (fact).
The said sausage is handmade by the wonderful team at Garside’s.
After reaching Ambleside we’d stop at the Golden Rule for a pint of local ale and a scotch egg from the nearby Garside’s.
After filling our rucksack with sausage – and scotch eggs if they hadn’t already sold out – we’d make the four-mile journey home via the Badger Bar for a swift pint of Hawkshead bitter.
When I return to the Lakes, my journey home ideally starts with a visit to Garside’s to stock up.
After my stint in the Lakes I returned to my home town of Cromer. If meat was needed it was purchased at the delightful Icarus Hines’. Icarus has since retired but during his reign a visit to the shop was always full of banter. The team were always full of enthusiasm and I would plan my meals for the week by visiting the butchers for inspiration.
The shop was (and still is) particularly colourful and appealing come the barbecue season. Trays of marinated meat would line the shop window calling to you to spark up the coals and get cooking.
I now live in south Norfolk and my local butchers is DA Browne and Son in Harleston. It took a while but I’m now greeted like a local and the atmosphere is always very buoyant and nothing is too much trouble
For me, the provenance of the meat I eat is key and in Browne’s the supplier of that day’s stock is written proudly on the blackboard. More often that not I will know the farmer so know exactly where the meat has come from.
It is here that I stock up on everything except beef. Raising our own cattle means that our beef is home-reared and lovingly looked after, we know that their diet has been one of grass and hay and they have lived on paddocks surrounding the farm.
In recent years I’ve become more adventurous in the kitchen and will sometimes need a cut of meat I’m not familiar with and the guys in Browne’s are always happy to advise and, if they haven’t got it in stock they always go that extra mile to source it or reserve some for me – now that is amazing service.
Having such wonderful choice and service from a butchers on the high street really is wondrous and I know that not every town or village continues to share the same fortune.
I do worry that the decline of the high street butcher will continue as people choose different options. It seems to be the same with greengrocers, fishmongers, those wonderfully jam-packed ironmongers with thousands of drawers and independent chemists. Much of this I suppose could be attributed to people opting to shop more economically or to go meat free.
But the joy of a local butchers for me is a pride in provenance, a great service, exceptional quality and an enthusiasm for nose to tail eating – if we’re going to eat meat we might as well do it with the knowledge of where our food comes from and, in the process, support local producers and businesses.
It turns out that, for me, a great relationship with your butcher is indeed a memorable thing!
To all the butchers I have known, and to the many I have yet to find…thank you.