Meat. Do it right.

I have something that has been bothering me for years now, something that seems so trivial to most people that it would come across as a none issue if not brought to the table with a little context. This particular gripe is the incredibly average but irritatingly widespread, supermarket meat.

Now I know this is a sweeping generalisation and that is one thing I don’t like to do, but the quality and level of complacency that people are willing to accept is unfathomable. My granddad worked at a butcher shop in Wolverhampton in his later years and seeing the level of skill and care taken by Graham and Alan has always stuck with me. In supplying the local area with fresh, good quality cuts of meat they were conducting a dying service and I never realised until I got a bit older. Our system doesn’t seem to support the level of demand we have put onto it and this provides the supermarket and its ‘one stop shop’ approach an opportunity to throw plastic boxes of mass produced cack at every Tom, Dick and Harry that walk through their doors.

Image result for diced venison

Now this is a vicious circle really because the more supermarkets that pop up, the more local butchers that fall flat on their faces and years of experience and knowledge goes down the pan. It infuriates me as you have no idea the level of artistry and experience it takes to make the most of an animal in the way a real butcher can. Sainsbury’s will never give you the option to take home the type of meat you want, you have to make do with what they had. I remember a time a few months ago when I lived at my old house, there wasn’t a local butcher and I wanted to make BBQ pork ribs. Naturally I went to the nearest supermarket to fetch a rack as I knew I had seen them before, however, when I got there I was told that they hadn’t put them out today because they had been sent more pork steaks and they had to sell them. I can kind of understand this to a certain extent but when I asked them to go and try to find me some out I was told ‘No, unfortunately not as they will be at the bottom of a container somewhere’. It took me a week to actually get some ribs and the amount of shiners on them easily qualified them to sit in a sodding jewellers window. (For those who don’t know a shiner is when the rib is cut too close to the bone and the bone penetrates the meat… I am talking at least half of the entire rack was showing bones. dire.) Not only this but not too long ago I was in there getting some bread after work and saw an elderly customer at the meat counter who asked for 800g of fresh mince. One would assume that she is asking this so she doesn’t have to simply settle for the mildly greying brain fart excuse for beef mince sitting on the shelves. What she got however was exactly that. The guy only had 100g or so to hand so he told her he would go and get some more… he went to the shelf, got 2 packs of the aforementioned mince and simply emptied out onto the scale.

The supermarket butchers counter is a front. It presents the illusion of freshness and the real butchery experience when in actual fact it is just the same stuff that is served on the shelves. It just has a man in a hat.

I recently moved house and now live in a village with possibly one of the best butchers I have ever used and the contrast is just on another level. On my first full day living here I went in and had a chat with them to feel out what I was dealing with and to see what was available to me. I had a laundry list of cuts I wanted to know if I could get my hands on that I have struggled for in recent months…. Beef short ribs, whole brisket, game birds and venison steaks, all of which were greeted with a wry smile and a definitive yes. I left with 500g a freshly diced venison to get me going. Now if you can tell me a single supermarket that offers that kind of offering with the quality of product I received I will go out into the currently snow filled streets stark bollock naked and do a Chris Ashton swan dive into my neighbours garden. Not going to happen.

The moral of the story is this. There are some truly talented, under appreciated masters out there and they are being wasted. I was guilty of it as most of us are but we need to stand up and realise that they need our support. Every time I turn on the TV or radio people are talking about supporting local business and yet at every turn we seem to be able to avoid the butcher or the green grocer as an inclusion. I do not give a single shiny toss about another t-shirt company starting in Wolverhampton or a crowd funded start up to develop apps down the road. I care about the kind of sustainably sourced meat and poultry supplied by Astons butchers, Coven, South Staffordshire, WV9 5DB. I may have been a bit harsh on the supermarkets, not all of it is that bad…  but compare the beef or lamb you get there to a cut of native bred livestock that was looked after locally and hand picked to give you the very best experience possible… go to somebody who cares about what they are giving you and not just how much of it they can sell. Your local butcher cares about you coming back through the door and your satisfaction is a priority, not just the yearly profit differentials of 160 different stores.

There is an Astons near you somewhere. Find them. Support them. Enjoy them. Before it’s too late.

 

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Wayland’s Yard needs you!

Wayland’s Yard needs you!

Plenty of us get up in a morning and wish we could follow our hearts and take that leap of faith that will finally make our dreams a reality. We all have things that we would do anything to be able to accomplish in life but sometimes can’t quite push ourselves to do it. These pipe dreams could be travelling the world, writing a book, moving abroad or to someone like Sam Smith, running your own business.

Some readers may know Sam from his time as a rugby union player for Harlequins and Worcester Warriors, what you may not know however is that he has an incredible passion for coffee. A passion that clearly wasn’t satisfied by keeping it to himself, so naturally this developed into an idea. This idea then slowly evolved into Worcester’s newest answer to the UK’s growing love of modern, progressive food and drink, Wayland’s Yard.

 Sam now calls Worcester his home and to give back to the city he wants to provide everyone with the incredible coffee and great food they deserve, enjoying the fruits of local produce in a grade II listed building with a private walled garden and every effort being taken to help you relax and enjoy. Who can argue with that? It sounds special right? That’s because it will be…although to get this going he really needs your help.

How can you help?.. Wayland’s Yard is now crowd funding.

 

Being a part of the birth of Wayland’s Yard doesn’t just come with a huge amount of gratitude but also with some awesome benefits. You can start with as little as £10 and go as far as £250 but every little helps, see below for a list of what bang you get for your buck.

  • £10 – Draw yourself into our epic wall mural, becoming part of the shop.
  • £20- 5 free coffees and draw yourself into our epic wall mural.
  • £35 – 5 yoga classes in our community room with the amazing Yaur Yoga (www.yauryoga.com)
  • £45 – 2.5 hour home brew class at the shop with Sam and a free bag of coffee. Learn to make coffee the Wayland’s way for whenever you can’t make it to the shop!
  • £50 – 15 free coffees, Wayland’s Yard t-shirt, a free slice of cake on your birthday for life and draw yourself into our epic wall mural.
  • £100 – 10% off hot drinks, 30 free coffees, Wayland’s Yard t-shirt, a free slice of cake on your birthday for life and draw yourself into our epic wall mural.
  • £250 – 10% off food and hot drinks, 60 free coffees, invite to a home brew class at the shop for you and 1 friend, Wayland’s Yard t-shirt, a free slice of cake on your birthday for life, draw yourself into our epic wall mural.

 

I will be working with Sam and Wayland’s Yard in the coming months when they are open for business to show the world what they are missing in Worcester. In the meantime lets make it happen. Lets support Sam in his journey and repay his faith in setting up shop in Worcester. For more information on the project and to see where your money will go hit the ‘Make it happen’ link below. Read. Pledge. Get ready for Wayland’s Yard.

 Make it happen!!

www.waylandsyard.com

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Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.