Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Rungis market - twelve hours in Paris

It's 4pm and we've been up since 1am this morning, at which time we were clambering into the Ginger Pig van, somewhere in the industrial outskirts of Paris. Getting up for the Rungis run is an exciting and magical thing to do, which is saying something considering we've been at it for over 18 months now (and 1am is an antisocial time to get up for anything - writing this with matchsticks holding up eyelids!).

Rungis is the largest market in the world, and before you think wistfully about the picturesque market you went to in Mirepoix or Meursault, stop. Rungis is big and industrial, with lots of lorries and huge buildings, but that doesn't prevent it from being utterly brilliant. It's essentially a distribution hub for many fantastic small producers (as well as larger ones) - meat, cheese, vegetables, you name it! - from which world class ingredients are sent around the planet.

Rungis, photo credit FX Cuisine
Part of the reason for our trip is that we deliver our beef to a fantastic Parisian steakhouse (The Beef Club), butcher (Yves Marie Le Bourdonnec) and restaurant (Frenchie), because French beef is a different beast to the meat that is produced over here. French beef breeds are larger, leaner and reared to a much older age than ours, which makes for a very different finished product. Rather than coming back with an empty van we wanted to bring back some very special products, and after a six-month application process, 5 years of bank statements and a letter from the UK government, we were granted buying rights at Rungis - and are the only British butcher to have them.

French beef ribs
The two main products we bring back from Rungis are Limousin veal and a range of brilliant French poultry, and the reason we do so is that there are no direct comparisons over here. While rose veal is a worthwhile and hugely necessary use of bull calves from the dairy industry, Limousin is reared for its eating quality alone. Calves are reared outdoors with their mother until slaughter, and so their tender, flavoursome meat benefits from both mothers' milk and pasture grazing.

French poultry is a wonderful and varied thing - a French cook will most probably specify a particular breed or region for their chicken, rather than simply free range, corn fed or organic. There are some fantastic producers over here too - and we're delighted to work with some of the best - but we love being in the position to stock the rich variety France has to offer too, and that Bresse chickens are the only bird numerous top-notch London chefs will use, speaks volumes for the taste and succulence of these birds - who wouldn't want to try one?! We also bring back the occasional eye-catching vegetable or cheese, and this week our eyes were caught by wild mushrooms (butchers must have their trinkets, y'know).

We'll add as a final note, to say that these products account for less than 1% of what we sell overall, and that the vast majority of our meat is British (and wherever possible, from our own farms). As well as our staunchly British beef, pork, lamb and chickens (not to mention pies, sausages and chutneys), we hope you might occasionally try a Barbarie duckling, poulet noir or poulet de Bresse, or perhaps a big juicy veal chop from the highest welfare veal around. C'est bon - we're off to bed now.

Poulet de Bresse
Selected some poulet noir, so our name goes on the box
Little coquelet, perfect for 1-2 people
Our veal man
This animal won a prize - it takes its badge right to the butcher's block
Just. Add. Steak.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Prize winners

Have you ever seen a happier man? Here's Tim and Hayley with Longhorn heifers Raincliffe Jones and Raincliffe Jubilee Queen, at the Westmorland Show in Cumbria yesterday. Jones, led by Tim, won best junior heifer, while Jubilee Queen and Hayley came second in the class. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Farm diary: August

The month of August started on a high, with our win with Longhorn cattle at the Ryedale Show: Breed Champion and Reserve Champion, with Primula and Maisy respectively. It would appear our first ever show, The Great Yorkshire, only a few weeks previous, was not in vain! Another wonderful thing to come out of the Great Yorkshire Show was Lohengrin, the Longhorn bull we bought from brilliant Longhorn breeder Nicky Luckett. Now installed in our fields with his lady-cows, Lohengrin is getting to work on growing our Longhorn herd even more.

The cattle weren't the only animals going places this month. Two of our young shire horses, Harry and William, have gone even further afield - approximately 370 miles away to Devon. They're being broken in and taught to pull a cart, with the hope that we may use them to plough some of our land (very old school - we like an old tradition and a challenge). Next task will be to find someone who is enthusiastic about traditional farming methods and willing to spend a bit more time with them - perhaps Martin Clunes is up for the job!

August brings with it the glorious game season, starting on the 12th when the first of the season's grouse may be shot. We are very lucky to have the moorland only five minutes away, with our sheep grazing alongside the game birds. Luckily the weather this year has been much better than last, which means the grouse are thriving on the abundance of heather. The heather in their diet makes for bags of flavour and succulence - a really rich and robust bird, quite lean but really packs a punch. Here's our Creative Food Director, Nicola, tackling a few of her own (warning: graphic). For any owners of the Meat Book, there's Fran Warde's wonderful roast recipe on page 313.

This month has seen an army of combines, tractors and trailers in the fields as harvest commenced. We are known as a mixed farm; rearing livestock as well as the crops to feed it. Harvest time is one of the most crucial times in the rural calendar, as we have to ensure we get the crops in when they are ready and before they get ruined by the rain. Combining the barley gives us two vital products on the farm: barley and straw. Our barley is milled to make the grain on which we finish cattle - without a little grain incorporated into the animal's grass diet in the final 3-6 weeks, they simply won't get the covering of fat required to dry-age the meat. Straw is then baled up and makes bedding for the animals - if they come in from the wet fields they need a dry bed for the night.

Elsewhere on the farm we are preparing for the approach of the winter months. Mike our joiner is busying himself making the crème de la crème of chicken accommodation, which so far has taken him three weeks and still needs a few finishing touches - this will be the Bellagio of the chicken world! After all the hard work that has gone into this elite chicken house, we are hoping that we do not have the same problem that Sir Peter Viggers had and it does not just ‘vanish'...

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A Michaelmas Feast, 29th September

Steeped in tradition, enveloped in folklore…and a bloody good opportunity to eat goose. We’re teaming up with Stepney City Farm (SCF) to bring a piece of rural heritage to a slightly more urban setting, with Stepney-grown geese, fruits and vegetables, local breads, beers and cheese.

Jassy Davis – SCF Café Manager – and our Creative Food Director, Nicola, have together drawn upon the recipes of historical cooks from Gervase Markham to Jane Grigson, to assemble a menu which we hope would impress even the sternest of landlords (read on if that doesn’t make sense). With the 29th September also marking the end of Urban Food Fortnight, (almost) anything that doesn’t grow on SCF will come from other fantastic local producers and suppliers - Borough Wines, E5 Bakehouse, London Fields Brewery and Wildes Cheese. The five courses we have planned are;

Potted goose with SCF pickles and E5 Bread

Braised heart, wing and neck with white beans and bay

Breast of goose stuffed with pork, SCF herbs, potato and spices, 
served with vegetables from the SCF garden

Late summer pudding and cream

Wildes cheese and SCF chutney

Lunch will be served in The Pickle Factory in E2 (owned by those lovely Oval Space folks across the road). There are 50 tickets available at £37.50 each, and a cash bar on the afternoon for drinks. Most of the team will be working for free for this event, and all proceeds go towards Stepney City Farm, a registered charity and working farm that brings a touch of the rural life to local children and families, in an inner city area not exactly known for its wealth or natural beauty (though certainly not without its charms).

The history (abridged, somewhat)

Back when rent was paid quarterly rather than monthly*, each quarter day – Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas – represented a different milestone in agricultural and religious calendars, and so each was marked with a fitting feast. Tenant farmers would line up to pay their dues to the factor (an agent working on behalf of the landlord), each man submitting his funds which were immediately concealed within a special table, so that those behind him didn’t see how much he paid. There’s a strong tie with the English legal system too, as quarter days were the time for the magistrate to visit his outlying districts to administer justice; debts and unresolved conflicts must not be allowed to linger on.

*the rent for our Moxon Street shop, and for indeed some of the land we farm in North Yorkshire, is still collected on the original quarter days. Old fashioned lot, us.

Where the goose comes in is simply the work of the seasons. After a summer of growing fat on spilled grain and crop stubble, geese were at their best, and so along with rent a farmer would present his landlord a goose. The geese at Stepney City Farm have also grown fat on a summer of grain (fed to them by local children), and so it’s time to put them to their culinary destiny, along with fruit and vegetables from the community gardens that surround them.

Devil Spits Day

Marking harvest’s end and transition into Autumn, Michaelmas is also known as Devil Spits Day; the day the Devil fell to earth, landing in a prickly blackberry bush. It is said that his spiky landing forced him to curse the fruit with his fiery spit (though some say he weed on them), and so blackberries must not be picked after this day because they are spoiled. Good job we’re putting them all in a summer pudding, then.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

New kids on the block

We're cheating a bit with today's blog post, as although we saw lots of goats at the Great Yorkshire Show, what we really want to talk about is Cabrito kid goat meat, new in the shops today. 

Cabrito - Spanish for meat of a young goat - was established by chef James Whetlor and farmer Jack Jennings, to make good use of male goats from the dairy industry which are usually slaughtered at birth each year. James and Jack buy goats from the dairy farms around Jack's Somerset farm, and give them a completely free range life, feeding them a natural diet of cereal supplemented by grazing and meadow hay. The goats reach slaughter weight at around six months, meaning that the meat is still nice and tender - quite different to the 'old' goat you might use in a curry. The kid meat has already been a hit with restaurants such as St John, Hix, Bocca di Lupo, Barrafina and Quo Vadis, and we're delighted to be giving it a try.

The meat is fairly low in fat but robust in flavour; some of the sweetness of lamb but with a bold, almost gamey flavour to it - a tiny hint of something which reminds you a little of a mellow goats' cheese. We think it pairs well with equally big flavours - mediterranean ingredients like peppers, capers, tomatoes, olives and lemon zest. Below are links to some delicious recipes (thank you Guardian people for letting us link to those!), but essentially you can treat kid meat in the same way you would lamb - legs can be roasted, shoulders want fairly slow cooking, and chops are ideal for the BBQ.

We only have one goat going to each shop this week, but if things go well we hope to keep selling the meat. We'd love to know if you try it!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Great Yorkshire Show: at the cow wash

Farming is inherently expensive business, requiring huge investment in livestock, costly machinery, veterinary care and feed, not to mention putting a great deal of faith into the weather (a bad year can put a farm out of business). This translates to livestock showing too, and as first-timers we had quite the bill on our hands! Showing isn't simply about turfing your best animals out of the field and into the ring, but about months of careful preparation - and in our case, investment in a brand new jet washer and cow blow-dryer (yes really). 

The atmosphere at the show on prep day - before everything is opened to the public - is quite relaxed, but the following morning it's buzzing with energy and the sound of blow-dryers. Breeders and handlers are up at 5am to start washing and grooming their animals, which, with a huge heft of a cow or bull, is quite the task. First the animals must be brushed from tip to toe, and get a little trim wherever necessary. Then it's off to the cow wash (yes, we sung the song too) for a full shampoo, then back to the sheds for a blow-dry with the aforementioned cow dryer. Owners will have performed this grooming ritual more than ten times in the run up to the show, and when the animals step into the ring they're as shiny and sweet-smelling as any L'Oréal advert (and they really are worth it too!).

Here's what goes on. Anyone want to lend us a hand next year?

Kit box, full of all the brushes, lotions and potions needed to spruce up a cow!
The cow wash; hundreds of cattle pass through each show, often 2-3 times (before each day's showing)
Even the calves must be cleaned up
Heave-ho! Getting this big fella clean is no easy task
Nicky Luckett and her prize bull Lohengrin. Nicky sold us our infamous bull Dynamo over 7 years ago,
and he's still going strong today.
London Operations Manager, Mable, is shown how it's done by Jim

Don't forget the tail!
Drying off

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Great Yorkshire Show

Agricultural shows are to farming and rural communities what music festivals are to, well, everybody else. On the surface they're an opportunity to get together with old friends and make new, see animals in their prime in the show ring, and - of course - enjoy the odd drink or three. For those who aren't necessarily involved directly in farming, agricultural shows provide a snapshot of rural life as well as a great day out for the family, with food halls, ferris wheels, markets stalls and games. 

But the purpose of the agricultural show runs much deeper than the fun stuff, fulfilling an important role in keeping alive farming tradition as well as developing and encouraging the next generation of farmers and animals. People don't simply show animals out of pride, but to strengthen the bloodlines of each breed, to try and ensure a long and strong future for our native animals as well a few continental imports such as British Limousin and Simmental. Pedigree livestock is often bought and sold on the strength the performance at an agricultural show, and this is something we're keen to do more of to grow our farming practices. 

Each day this week, we'll be giving you a little taster of our week at the Great Yorkshire Show, starting with...a little taster of the show. With over 2,000 animals and 130,000 visitors, there's an awful lot to take in - here are a few snaps from our week, enjoy.

Woolly Highlands, trying to cool off
Highland cow and calf
Our banner
Sarah and Jim handling Medlar and Maisie 
Glamorous judge of pigs gets the measure of this Berkshire
Smart judges; all in bowler hats 
Couple of Hampshire pigs
A pair of tuckered-out Tamworths