Today I went on a butchery course* at Edge and Son Butchers in New Ferry, getting amazing tuition from Callum Edge on how to joint a chicken, cut a lamb shank and remove the bone from the leg, prepare bacon for curing and boning a shin of beef. Callum was patient with my ‘ahem’ butchery skills (I ‘may’ have left a bit much meat on the chicken carcass – but it’s going to make fabulous stock) and I’ve learnt a great deal.
Do you know about Edge and Son Butchers? They won Best Retailer of the Year at the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards and have been established since 1844. Not only that, Edge and Sons specialise – they only buy local rare breed free range grass fed stock (sourced within a 25 mile radius); have their own small slaughterhouse behind the shop where the animals are treated with respect in a calm environment to minimise stress; and advocate a head to tail use-every-bit-of-the-animal ethos that gladdened my heart.
I’m a firm believer that if you eat meat, you must try your hardest to use every part of the carcass, it’s an insult to the animal and the people who raised it not to. Ask questions about where your meat comes from and how it is handled. Welfare is crucial. I’d rather spend a bit more and eat a bit less meat than accept intensive farming processes designed to create maximum profit for the retailer rather than considering the impact that has on the animals, the workers who must manage the process and of course, the planet that must sustain it.
First part of the workshop involved a visit to the slaughterhouse. Small but spankingly clean, with cleverly designed two way gates to enable the animals to move at their own pace and in the direction they choose. Animals brought here are given time to calm down and reduce their stress levels rather than being shunted straight in to see the slaughterman.
We are then taken to see the cold storage –
where the meat is hung to tenderise in cold dry conditions, allowing it to age beautifully. For those of a squeamish disposition, I must just point out that there is no scent of raw meat, such as you get when unwrapping meat from supermarket cellophane packs – it all smells fresh and clean with a hint of smoke from the charcuterie that shares the fridge space. Callum tells us that the fridges in supermarkets are not the best for meat – they are too “wet” and so make the meat sweat, creating that unpleasant metallic tang of blood.
And so to the actual butchery. We began with the basics – how to sharpen knives correctly and advice on knives in general.
Handed aprons we are then inducted into the mysteries of deboning a chicken. The key is properly sharp knife, gentle and slow work around the bones and decisive cuts through the joints once you’ve found them. Wasn’t my best round – I left far too much meat on the breastbone BUT and this is important, Callum simply explained where I went wrong and offered encouragement, which means I am now determined to have another go and do it better next time. We moved onto lamb, then pork and beef. Each time shown the basic technique of slow steady knife work and using your hands to “feel” round the joints as you go.
We stopped for tea and rather delicious snacks of black pudding, haggis and the renowned 1844 sausages before attempting to learn a butcher’s knotting technique for tying up joints. Having slightly incapacitated myself and sporting plasters on fingers, I found this a bit challenging, so shall be practising those knots later this evening. Boy scouts will find it a doddle.
We finished after 4 hours of truly interesting discussion, learning and activity that haven’t turned me into a master butcher – I need another 30 years of practice to do that – but have given me the confidence to tackle whole joints and a new understanding of the different cuts of meat that can be obtained. We were packed off home with a glorious goody bag – our aprons, a certificate of participation and, most importantly, our very own deboned chicken and lamb joints.
As Edge and Son make clear – “We’ve done our bit, now you do yours. Treat meat with the respect it deserves. Eat more of the animal and respect its entirety. Don’t just buy the expensive ‘choice’. Experiment with cheaper cuts that, with the right love and attention, can be sensational.”
*I wear several food “hats” – one of which is the lead for Slow Food Liverpool and it was as such that Callum and Debbie Edge very kindly invited me to attend this workshop. Edge and Son are a fine example of the Slow Food ethos in action- promoting true enjoyment of good food, and a food production system that provides good, clean and fair food for everyone.
Edge and Son have two shops: 61 New Chester Road
New Ferry, Wirral CH62 1AB & Church Farm, Church Lane
Thurstaston, Wirral CH61 0HW
Their website is: www.traditionalmeat.com
Find out about Slow Food via: www.slowfood.org.uk