In December our first Hereford cow left the farm.
We look after a small herd of Herefords who live outside for the majority of the time – feeding on grass and pottering about as they wish.
In the winter months they’re nestled in an open cattle shed feeding on homegrown hay.
Farming isn’t particularly in my blood – although I grew up with a granddad and uncle who managed turkey farms – so when I moved here and began helping out with the cattle I threw myself into all aspects of the ‘job’ – including the trip to the abattoir and the butcher.
I eat meat and by raising it myself it means that I know where it’s come from, what it’s provenance is and how the animal has been looked after – and I want to know this about each piece of meat I eat.
I want each piece of meat I eat to be meaningful in the sense that nothing is wasted.
It’s about quality not quantity.
I want to know that it’s sustainable, it’s been grass fed, it’s had a stress free life and it’s not been shipped across the country – or indeed from another country.
I refuse to buy meat from supermarkets, where finding out the provenance of the meat is often tricky.
In supermarkets, the knowledge of where our food has come and the journey it has been on is so far removed from the packaged product in front of us that any responsibility we may feel for where our food comes is easy to look past.
The same goes for many food stuffs.
With fruit and veg we can now buy all manner of produce year round – in many cases we’ve lost that link with seasonal food. When it comes to a vegetable like asparagus I’d much rather wait until early summer for British asparagus (sold from caravans on the roadside) that’s fresher, tastier and more sustainable than spears in the supermarket from Peru year round.
Being seasonal means that I eagerly anticipate the start of of each one with excitement! I love the first stalks of fluorescent pink rhubarb ready for harvest, the first pots of crabs hitting the decks of single handed boats in Cromer, the first swollen pods of broad beans, the first flush of red strawberries and gooseberries swelling in the sun.
It means that I pay more reverence to the dishes I cook with each seasonal ingredient – often creating an outlandishly celebratory dish with them.
Doing this, and turning to sustainable meat, is not foolproof, and there are times when I need to give in, but I aim to try my best.
Anyway back to meat…
At my local butchers where I shop for meat I can see which farm the animal has come from (or find this out) and in some cases which beast it was.
I’d be lying if I said raising cattle in this day and age of debate and divided opinion is easy – it’s not.
Every time a beast leaves the farm their absence is always felt, these gloriously handsome beasts have been a part of the farm for many years, but this is all part of the nature of change here on the farm.
Doing justice to such an incredible animal doesn’t stop when it leaves the farm – it continues with a thorough cutting list for the butcher.
Our cattle are terribly important to us and we treat our beef with as much care in the kitchen as we do in the field.
I respect the meat – and work hard to use it all.
I have a basic cutting list but every time it needs to be used I like to meet with the butcher to update it – chatting about how best to maximise cuts and the variety of cuts that can be obtained from each joint.
After hanging for around five weeks the meat is cut according to the list.
The bones come back too for stock making.
We now have a freezer full of beef. Beef from cattle that lived outside and was fed on grass, cattle that foraged for wind-fallen apples and blackberries in the autumn, cattle that pottered about as it wished, cattle that were constantly content.
In Britain quality of meat is all too often sacrificed for quantity. It’s all too easy to part with a few pounds for a joint of imported meat in a supermarket than it is to part with considerably more for a joint from the butcher which is superior in terms of sustainability, taste and quality.
In Tokyo, good restaurants will present the diner with a document laying out a family tree – not of the owner, but of the pedigree of the meat on offer.
Surely as consumers we should be concentrating on quality not quantity where we can – British breeds farmed sustainably where the farm, the parentage and the feeding regime are identifiable.
When you visit a butchers you have a choice of cuts at your disposal, but when you take delivery of a whole beast, you are often faced with cuts you wouldn’t necessarily choose.
This is a great thing.
To me, there seems to be a resurgence of sorts with particular cuts of beef that have for so long been out of fashion.
I look forward to cooking with brisket, shin, short ribs and oxtail and with more modern cuts such as hanger steak and flat iron steak.
If you want to try some of our Hereford meat we have plenty on offer, just drop me a line…