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'...