What has your food been eating?
November 9, 2018
The Ethical Butcher has been a wholesale supplier of ethically raised meat since 2014. This month they are launching a crowdfunding campaign to expand the business into e-commerce, working with farmers to supply their meat direct to household consumers and to restaurants.
Speaking at a presentation to potential investors, founder and CEO Farshad Kazemian said “we really are trying to make this quality of meat available to everyone across the UK, we want to drive up demand, re-invest our profits to train more farmers in holistic land management and have a positive impact on the environment.
Currently in the UK meat can be labelled as grass-fed if only 51% of the animal’s diet has been grass; this is a very different product from 100% pasture fed meat. 100% Pasture fed animals are healthier, happier and their meat is better for us.”
The presentation brought together four farmers to explain the benefits of raising their beef animals on pasture.
“My neighbours think I’m a loony, they call my farm ‘Jurassic Park’.”
Andy Aldridge farms Lincoln Red Cattle, from the “original population” which dates back to the 1930s. The breed was shorthorn until the 1930s/40s when it was “de-horned”, now all calves are born without horns. The Lincoln Red is listed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s register as “At Risk” of extinction. As well as cows, he keeps Lincolnshire Longwool sheep, and Tamworth and Large Black pigs.
Talking to Andy afterwards, he said “it felt right to do it this way. I have a conscience; the business has to be profitable, but there’s no imperative to expand the farm.” He owns the land, so apart from some incidental costs, such as silage and mowing, grass on the farm is virtually free; “it makes no sense for us to buy feed.” The herd grazes happily outside, and is only brought inside in extreme weather conditions.
Beef from continental breeds is “tough as old boots.”
Jonathan Chapman contrasted his native Red Ruby Devon cattle (one of the UK’s oldest breeds) with Continental breeds, such as Charolais and Limousin, which are bred to be big, lean animals, with a “covering” of fat. They are “finished” on cereal, quickly losing the flavour of a beef animal grazed all its life on grass. The resulting beef, he says, is “tough as old boots.” It made me reflect on how many times I’ve struggled to chew a tough steak in a French brasserie.
Jonathan pointed out that while hungry human populations are unable to digest grass, they could be fed on grain and soya, which are currently used as feed for intensively reared livestock.
“Why am I doing it? I’m very greedy, and I want to eat the best beef.”
Robert Laycock, new to farming cattle, observed “the Australians are 20 years ahead of us. Their beef used to be terrible, but they addressed it by working on breed and feed”. Robert chose English Longhorns for his farm, a breed developed for taste in the 1780s, and decided to graze them on pasture, which he firmly believes is better for the environment.
Tasting meat from their farms
As the three of them spoke, we tasted their beef, all from traditional native breeds. In each case we tried it raw as a tartare, and then a grilled piece of rib-eye. The raw beef was served like an Italian Carne Crudo, with a minimal seasoning of good olive oil and salt. The farmers advised us to take the meat off the crackers it was served on, which they said were a distraction from the flavours of the meat.
Each of the samples we tried had distinctive characteristics. The textures were different; one piece of cooked ribeye was firm, with a tender springiness that Jonathan said comes from intramuscular fat (that’s marbling to you and me). The raw beef was mild with sweet and savoury umami, and something vegetal, grassy, even mineral, that I could only put down to the soil and pasture the cattle were raised on.
Fidelity Weston, farmer, and Vice Chair of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, spoke about the need for a new vocabulary for tasting meat.
Thinking about the tasting later, it occurred to me that analogies could be drawn with tasting wine: the breeds are like grape varieties, with their own characteristics; pasture is equivalent to the terroir of a vineyard, (you can taste it in milk and cheese produced at different times of year); husbandry in the field is like viticulture, and ageing the final product to achieve its potential could be compared with cellaring a wine to maturity.
The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association.
Around fifty farms in the UK so far have signed up for certification by the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. In animal husbandry, pasture grazing is the best system of rearing cattle for beef. They love to browse and feed on grass, wild herbs and hedgerows, and their manure regenerates the soil. Ruminants are efficient machines to break down cellulose; feeding them on grain is like giving children a sugar rush – these usually placid animals become skittish and disruptive.
Farshad added: “We strongly believe that it is possible to raise animals in a carbon-neutral, sometimes even carbon-negative, way. Farming this way increases biodiversity, repairing land damaged by traditional agriculture, and can invert the often cited statement that ‘eating meat is destroying the planet’, as rearing animals on pasture can actually combat climate change.”
The evening was hosted by The Ethical Butcher, with the support of restaurant Enoteca Rosso.
To read about the project, or if you are interested in becoming a ‘steakholder’, click here: http://bit.ly/2yJAQ01
Wines were sponsored by the Garofoli winery in Italy’s Le Marche region.
The Ethical Butcher https://www.ethicalbutcher.co.uk/
Enoteca Rosso http://www.enotecarosso.com/ 276-280 Kensington High Street, London W8 6ND
Garofoli Wine http://www.garofolivini.it/cms/view/id/3/language/en
Pasture-Fed Livestock Association https://www.pastureforlife.org/
Rare Breed Survival Trust https://www.rbst.org.uk