Category Archives: Ben’s meat blog

Ben’s meat news: 10 years & goodbye

I can’t remember exactly, but it must be about ten years since we started the Meat Box, or Riverford Butchery as it’s now known. Back then, organic food was on the crest of a wave. Vegetable box sales were soaring and it felt as though the next step was to do the same with meat. We were right but, at the same time, very, very wrong. Yes, you did want quality, organic meat with sound provenance, as straight from the farm as possible, but, as things turned out, you didn’t want someone else writing the equivalent of your fortnightly dietary prescription. We’d like to say ‘suggested fortnightly menu’ but, in practise, meat doesn’t seem to offer the flexibility of vegetables. It all felt a bit prescriptive and became like a never ending drive around the M25 – ‘back at Cobham Services – it must be time for leg of pork again and what can we do with it this time?’ Potentially, the practical advantages were considerable. We never quite mastered it but being prescriptive should have enabled us to balance the carcass to a ‘T’ – hence solving the butchers’ perennial nightmare of having too much stewing meat and not enough steak. But times have changed; we’ve moved on from Sunday roast, Monday cold cuts and Tuesday cottage pie. If it makes people think about their food, who are we to say it’s a bad thing. If it means they live on ready meals and takeaways, I’d go for the cold cuts and cottage pie any day, or rather every Monday and Tuesday.

Quite rightly, we all see choice as being our birthright and the success of the Riverford Butchery has been down to lowering the minimum spend and allowing people to buy what they like. There’s still the old ‘fixed weight’ conundrum but the same applies in a shop – watch the pain in a butchers’ body language when you ask him to trim a couple of centimetres off a joint of topside. I could almost do it for pleasure.

But while the onus might have moved from set boxes to pick-your-own, our relationship with our farmers hasn’t changed. Many of them have been with us from the start. Some, through being members of our vegetable growing co-operative, since before then. Some might disagree but I’d like to think Riverford has bought them the best of both worlds – the professional predictions that allow them to plan ahead, together with the knowledge that they’ll be getting a fair price, independent of short term market oscillations.

So it’s been rewarding but, as I’m sure you can tell, after ten years I’m running out of things to say, so this is my last meat box newsletter. But don’t worry, I leave you in the very capable hands of the Riverford chefs to help you make the most of your meat.

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat newsletter: Grass-fed & The Archers

Meat news has been thin on the ground recently. In the past, the Archers has offered inspiration but all we have at the moment is the Fairbrother bros and their ‘Upper Class Egg’ enterprise. Despite their slightly ‘fake farm’ marketing shenanigans, their main USP of grass-fed chicken is worth looking at.

The Cowspiracy film posed the questionable proposition of grass-fed beef being worse for the environment because they grow slower and live longer, so produce even more methane. There are actually many arguments in favour of grass-fed beef and the same applies to lamb which, if anything, offers even more benefits on hilly, marginal farm land. So for better or worse, grass-fed beef, lamb and venison is pretty much what it says on the tin. With non-herbivore pork and poultry things are different; in extremely simplistic terms and ignoring all the other building blocks of a good diet, there’s plenty of protein in grass but pigs and chickens don’t have the digestive system to extract it.

Hardcore ‘paleo’ dieters bang on about 100% grass-fed chicken and eggs and I’m sure it is possible, but in practice a grass-fed chicken will get most of its nutrients from elsewhere. Grass might add flavour and give the end product nutritional benefits (fatty acids for example) and will also give colour. A good, but not infallible, test of a genuinely free-range chicken that has had access to fresh pasture is a healthy, yellow pigment in the skin. With all chickens it could come from maize but I can almost guarantee that a lily white, supposedly, free-range chicken will never
have seen or eaten a blade of grass. So don’t be fooled by those dastardly Fairbrother brothers; their chickens might have better views and a caravan might be preferable to an insulated poly tunnel, but calling them grass-fed is a tad misleading. They’re still fed on bought-in rations, almost inevitably grain and soya based, and it’s where this comes from that matters. I’ve mentioned a few times before ‘The Pig Idea’ campaign and the benefits of feeding swill/food waste to pigs and chickens, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress. It might work in small, integrated local farming systems but not in today’s mega agribusiness world.

Years ago, before she came to work at here, a Riverford colleague was looking at the feasibility of a self-contained wormery and chicken rearing operation. Sadly it came to nothing but a bit of thinking outside the box is what’s needed. What will the Fairbrothers come up with next?

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat newsletter: BBQ is in the air

At last, we’ve had a bit of nice weather and the hills are alive with the smell of charcoal and burnt, or, if you’re lucky, perfectly caramelised meat. Judging from the Riverford Farm Shop trade over the bank holiday weekend, there’s a definite move towards cooking whole pieces of meat rather than the old drumstick, banger and burger combo.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the introduction of the butterflied lamb leg to the meat extras list. Next, if I had it my way, would be a 5cm thick slice of rump that could be quickly charred, wrapped in foil and left to cook through to a delicious, slightly bloody, pink. The problem is a rump is a triangular shaped joint so portioning it into large, fixed weight, pieces without enormous waste is nigh on impossible. And why? During BBQ season we can’t get enough grilling steak. It doesn’t grow on trees and despite demands for the ‘plus meat’ veg boxes running well into four figures, the vast majority of our beef is still bought ‘on the hoof ’ (i.e. we take the whole animal, rather than just the prime cuts) from local farmers. Good steak only accounts for just over 10% of the carcass, so during the summer, finding uses for the other 90% can be challenging.

But don’t despair, because where there’s a will there’s a way, and the joys of a thick, BBQ’d and sliced on the bias, ‘Italian Tagliata’ style steak are worth striving for. Foodies, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in particular, are sniffy, to say the least, about topside but knock it into shape (literally) and it makes a fantastic, thick steak.

Poor Man’s Beef Tagliata
Serves 6-8, prep 25 mins (plus overnight marinating), cook 20 mins

1kg joint topside
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
a few black peppercorns
2 sprigs of thyme

De-net and de-fat the beef. Place it on a chopping board and hit it with a mallet until it’s the required thickness – aim for around 4cm. Tempting as it may seem, don’t go mad. It needs to be in one even piece with the grain of the meat all running in the same direction so, when the time comes, you’ll be carving across the grain. You’ll get a few uneven, raggedy bits but so much the better – all the more tasty charred extremities for the cook. As well as tenderising, bashing it will open up the texture of the meat meaning it will cook quicker and absorb more flavour from your
chosen marinade and baste.

Once your topside is knocked into shape, place it in a plastic bag in the fridge with the crushed garlic clove, olive oil, lemon juice, peppercorns and thyme. Leave overnight.

When it comes to cooking time, remove from the bag and scrape off any attached solids. Allow to come up to room temperature and give it about 3 mins per side, basting with the marinated juices. Wrap in foil and leave on the edge of the BBQ to cook through and firm up for 10-15 mins. Carve at an angle, across the grain in thin 5mm-7mm slices. I had mine with the juices from the foil, crunchy chickpea flour chips and a carpaccio style mustard leaf and rocket salad with parmesan shavings and, I confess, felt pretty pleased with myself. It definitely wasn’t meat as a seasoning so it must have been a celebration.

If bashing your beef isn’t for you or I can’t convince you that topside can be grilled, you can get much the same result with a thick cut rump steak. One 250g steak will feed two. Cut the cooking time back to 1 min or so per side and only rest for a few mins.

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat newsletter: New season spring lamb

We’ve all got so used to everything being available all the time that we forget that, outside the world of vegetables, there is little more than traces of seasonality in most of the meat we eat. Exceptions exist, in the case of Christmas turkeys and geese for example, but these are market driven. Bernard Matthews and his marketing team failed in their efforts to de-seasonalise turkeys and we, as a consumer group kept turkey as a once a year treat. I’m no expert on the breeding cycle of the turkey but I suspect that hatching turkey eggs in July and August isn’t the way it happened when their ancestors were flapping around the trees in North America pre-Christopher Columbus, but I still put it down as a rare victory against the big marketing machine. So while they are not breeding in their natural season, it’s seasonal for us. Other than that, excluding wild game, traces of seasonality are hard to find – with the exception of lamb; British lamb is available throughout the year but its flavour and texture evolve with age, so the seasonality is down to us and how we cook it.

Ignoring Poll Dorset sheep, which lamb perfectly naturally in late autumn, our relatively early January/February born lambs are coming through thick and fast now. They’re never going to be ready for Easter so we tend to phase them in slowly as the last of the late lambs from last year run out. This year, given the cold weather, a bit of more robust old season lamb seems like a plus rather than a minus and our farmers go to great lengths to ensure continuous supply. In return, we need to take the last of the crop in order not to leave them in the lurch, so it’s a rather slow transition.

New season lamb will always be paler, slightly milky in colour and tender to the extreme. Classical/cordon-bleu style chefs love it because, like veal, it provides a backdrop for all manner of fancy sauces, meaning the de-rigueur slow roast with Moroccan spices isn’t a good idea. Do the rosemary and garlic trick if you like, but what it’s really crying out for is fast and simple cooking with something just a tad sharp to cut through the richness.

I think I’m right in saying that Italian salsa verde originated as a partner for slightly gelatinous poached and boiled meats and it works equally well with the mellow fattiness of new season spring lamb. Recipes abound and can be adjusted according to the partner. If lamb is the game, Brexit minded outers will probably favour mint over basil, or more pervasive tarragon, and I agree.

Ben’s Salsa Verde
Makes 1 jar, prep 20 mins, cook 0 mins

Foodie aficionados swear by the pestle and mortar but by chopping everything beforehand and judicious pulsing, I find you can get a good result in a small food processor. Alternatively, cut everything a bit finer and mix it in a bowl. It keeps well in a sealed jar so doubling up is a good idea.

small shallot, finely chopped & soaked in 2 tbsp red wine vinegar for an hour
50g each of parsley & mint, leaves stripped & chopped
4 anchovies, rinsed if salted then chopped & crushed with the back of a fork
2 tbsp salted capers, rinsed & roughly chopped
120-150ml extra virgin olive oil

Quickly pulse the herbs, anchovies and capers in a small food processor, to a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the shallot with the vinegar and oil. Season to taste and store in a glass jar. Dollop onto your cooked lamb and enjoy with veg and spuds of your choice.

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat newsletter: Burgers & imminent BBQs

Sometime soon the weather will improve and we’ll all start thinking about BBQs, picnics and al fresco dining. The BBQ meatbox will be reappearing shortly but in the meantime there’s always a place for a good burger. It’s no secret that the best burgers are made from chuck steak; tender enough to fry, it has the perfect amount of fat to keep the burger moist. Years (rather decades) ago, on my one visit to the States, I was blown away by the pink, inch and a half thick burgers they served in New York. Hopefully you’ll be as impressed with the following technique for burgers made from freshly chopped meat.

Instead of buying mince, order a pack or two of braising steak (invariably chuck or feather). Chop into 1cm dice, lay out on a plate and put it in the freezer. When it’s well chilled (about 30 mins), put it in a food processor, add salt (no more than ½ tsp per 400g) and pepper, and pulse until you have the right, slightly coarse, consistency. Check after a couple of pulses to make sure nothing is caught on the blade. You can add other ingredients (I like a little lightly sautéed onion) but get too carried away and it won’t be a burger anymore; add extras to the bun instead. Next, form into thick burgers (about 150g), allow to rest, fry in a griddle pan on a medium-high heat for about 4 mins each side, or to your liking, and there you have it – the best burgers from freshly chopped beef. And as for the bap, I’m sure these uber-trendy brioche baps have their place but they do nothing for a burger. To really let the burger shine, scrape some of the crumb out of a ciabatta of French stick.

A couple of years ago, I came up with versions of the Canary Isles’ iconoclastic mojo picón and verde sauces. My BBQ sauce of the year used to change annually from teriyaki, to smoky piri piri, to vinegary Carolina style, but I think these two will do me again for this year. The picón works with everything while the verde is best with chicken, vegetables and fish. Both are good for dunking things in and will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge if you jar and pasteurise.

Mojo Picón
Makes 1 jar, prep 15 mins, cook 0 mins

4 large red peppers, roasted & skinned
1 thick slice white bread or ciabatta
4 fresh red chillies, destalked & deseeded
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp sherry vinegar
4-5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying

Fry the bread in a little olive oil until golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and tear into pieces. Blitz the roasted peppers and chillies, garlic, cumin, paprika, fried bread and vinegar until you have a smooth paste. Add the olive oil, pulsing frequently, until it’s quite runny.

Mojo Verde
Makes 1 jar, prep 1 h 30 mins, cook 0 mins

2 green peppers
3-4 green chillies
1 bunch coriander
½ a bunch flat leaf parsley
3 large garlic cloves
1 tbsp salt & extra for final seasoning
¼ teaspoon cumin
200ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp each sherry vinegar & lemon juice

De-seed and finely chop the green peppers and chillies. Put in a colander and mix in the salt. Leave for an hour to drain – this will extend the shelf life. Remove the stems from the coriander and parsley and roughly chop the leaves. Put the garlic and herb stalks in the food processor and blitz until smooth. Add salted peppers and chillies, cumin, half the vinegar
and lemon juice and blitz again to a smooth consistency. Add the herbs leaves and drizzle in the olive oil while pulsing every few seconds. Check the salt and cumin levels and add more vinegar and lemon juice if you like it a bit sharper.

Ben Watson

Ben’s Meat Newsletter: quick-fry steaks & escalopes

Ever since we started the meat box business, food writers publishing endless recipes for trendy cuts of meat like onglet steak and New York short ribs but ignoring the popular, easily accessible ones has been a source of considerable annoyance to me. I like a ribeye as much as the next man but it’s a treat. For 95% of us, our meat staples consist of topside, chicken breast, minced beef, leg of pork etc, but rarely the cuts that get food writers’ creative juices flowing. Frying steak is a classic example. For years it’s made a regular appearance in our boxes but do a search on the web and the results will be virtually nada; we might cook it but chefs don’t.

A better name is minute steak or ‘no more than a minute’ steak because it’s absolutely crucial not to overcook it. Normally cut from the thick flank (often confusingly known as the top rump) or topside, it has virtually no fat so will dry out and toughen as it cooks.

It’s good because it’s cheap and very useful – but not for frying as a steak. Our quick-fry steak has been through a tenderiser (a bit like a steak hammer) so you can fry it quickly for a sandwich but I’d always take the precaution of cutting into strips before assembly. But just because someone has gone to the trouble of tenderising it doesn’t mean you have to fry it. Far better cut it into batons, fingers or ribbons and use it for something like a stroganoff, Thai massaman curry, stir-fry or fajitas.

Riverford beef escalopes are, in all but name, frying or minute steak, cut from the same muscles but a little thinner. Use for any of the above. Again the secret lies in fast cooking and not hanging around for too long once cooked. The cooking doesn’t have to be fierce – in fact quickly poaching in broth as with a ramen soup is a better way of ensuring that it doesn’t overcook and
toughen up.

Alternatively, a long slow cook will also work and tapping out and wrapping around a stuffing of some sort is guaranteed to impress. The Italians call them involtini and the Americans and Australians call them braciole. They’re surprisingly easy, cheap and can be crumbed and baked, cooked in a sauce (normally tomato) or part cooked and finished on the BBQ. I’m particularly keen on them cooked in a, not too hot, oven – so the filling oozes out.

pork or beef involtini
serves 4, prep 30 mins, cook 30 mins

4 pork or beef steaks – quick fry or escalopes
4 slices bread (2 for stuffing & 2 for crumbing)
100g lardons
2 onions, 1 very finely chopped & 1 cut into wedges
8 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
12 tbsp finely grated pecorino cheese
8 tbsp olive oil
8 bay leaves
2 tbsp vegetable oil
white wine & stock to deglaze the pan
lemon to serve

Preheat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Prepare the pork or beef by cutting each steak in half then using a rolling pin to flatten the slices into thin escalopes – they should be rectangular and big enough to wrap a heaped tbsp of stuffing but don’t over do it or they will just fall apart. Blitz the bread into breadcrumbs. Halve the crumbs and pour one half into a mixing bowl. Add the lardons to the breadcrumbs in the bowl plus the finely chopped onion, sage and cheese. Season and mix well. Gradually add enough olive oil so that the mixture clings together and holds well allowing you to shape it. Divide the breadcrumb mixture into 8 – about 1 tbsp of mixture per involtini. Place mixture at the end of an escalope and carefully roll up, folding in the sides as you go to completely seal in the filling. Repeat with remaining escalopes. Take a flat sided metal skewer and thread four rolls onto the skewer, alternating with onion wedges and bay as you go. Repeat with the remaining skewer. Have two plates to hand. On one plate add the reserved breadcrumbs. On another plate add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Coat the skewers first with the oil, then crumbs, pressing down well to coat the meat. Repeat with the remaining skewer. Place the skewers onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment, then into the oven for 25-30 mins or until the crumbs have a nice colouring. Carefully turn half way through cooking. Once cooked remove and deglaze pan with a little wine and veg stock. Reduce and serve with a squeeze of lemon and basmati rice.

Ben’s Newsletter: How much meat?

There is only one general Riverford meat topic right now – how much meat should we be eating? It’s a tough question for a butcher and one that, not surprisingly, most aren’t prepared to face up to.

Easter’s come and gone and I’d be interested to know whether anyone has scaled back on the meat element of their festive fare in response to the How Much Meat? campaign. With Professor Tim Lang suggesting a daily allowance of 70g, that doesn’t give a lot of leeway for celebratory meals. So what’s the answer? You’re certainly not going to fi nd it in the papers or cookbooks. A quick dip into The Guardian and Observer last weekend gives full bags of tricks for using pork mince, cooking chorizo, slow cooking pork ribs and breast of lamb. The plus side is that there was no beef on the menu and the suggested cuts and sausages are made from lesser used cuts but, on the down side, work your way through that lot and you’ll be well on your way through your monthly rations.

Being naturally contrary, the debate sometimes brings out the reactionary in me; I was on the verge of going online and booking tickets for Grillstock. “Music festivals are good and all, but have you ever been listening to a band and thought, ‘wow… I wish I was eating a big pile of meat.’ That’s where Grillstock comes in, a magical place where hotdog eating contests……..” says the website, and there lies the problem.

The mammon that is the culture of meat is so deeply embedded, even in the quasi alternative of music festivals, that changing it is going to be like moving mountains. Karl Marx would probably have had a thing or two to say about it. He probably did.

So what’s the answer? Thinking back to the early days of the climate change debate, I don’t remember it being like this. There were a few ‘holier than thou’ types on bicycles but, for the most part, we were all wrong together and now, for the most part, we’re all learning together. The meat question is just one issue. In the present context the methane figures are alarming but I stand by what I’ve said that around 25% of total GHG emissions isn’t a bad price for feeding the world. That’s it from me, but the debate continues on our website: www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat.

Ben’s meat newsletter: lamb shoulder joint

Easter is something of an anachronism and doesn’t really fit in with British farming reality. Most flocks of ewes lamb in late winter/spring and the lambs take four months plus to grow, meaning that eating new season lamb at Easter definitely doesn’t fit into any rationally conceived farming calendar. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of Pagan ritual to remind us of our past – especially when it tastes so good. We tend to think ‘leg of lamb’ at Easter, but shoulder can be equally good, if not better. To make the most of it, marinate the lamb for a few hours and then cook slowly. Over time in the oven, the layers of fat reduce and help keep the meat moist, so it’s great as a weekend celebration, and the leftovers used as a seasoning with all sorts of pulses and breads during the days to come; I’d even be tempted to forget the Sunday lunch and move straight on to the leftovers.

Our Easter lambs are all Devonian, born and bred by Peter Howlett at Moorhuish Farm, Brixham and David Camp in the South Hams. Both are top farmers that we have worked with since we started offering meat boxes at Riverford. Born in late spring/summer last year and raised traditionally, it may be a little older than the 4-month old, slightly forced, mainly indoor reared, ‘sucked lamb’, but it’s enjoyed nine months or so out in the fields and a bit of sun on its back; perfect for slow roasting.

As pointed out in Saturday’s Guardian, shoulder is far more suitable for slow cooking and lends itself to a Moroccan spice combo of smoked paprika, cumin, coriander and garlic with a dash of vinegar to sharpen things up a little. Wrap the whole caboodle in tin foil and roast for a couple of hours at 160°C/gas mark 3. Take it out of the oven, unwrap and baste, and give it another hour to crisp up around the edges.

Pulled pork pizzas seem to be cropping up everywhere and our Italian style pulled pork works a treat. Pulled lamb works equally well and makes a good alternative to the usual minced lamb in a Lebanese pizza. In the Guardian, chef Tish suggests a pulled lamb wrap for leftovers and while I like the sound of his quick pickled fennel and cabbage, I’d rather stick with a homemade pizza crust with the lamb pushed into the dough.

Read the pulled lamb pizza recipe on our website

Ben’s Newsletter – How much meat?

ben-watsonEating no, or less, meat is all very well but it needs to be looked at within the bigger picture. The most depressing bit is that a lot of us are eating less but it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the 75% of the UK population who aren’t, or the vast numbers globally. I’ve always been a great believer that, given the information, people will make the right decisions. With most food related issues it seems that interest will precipitate a series of simple questions and consequent decisions. If only things were as simple with farming and greenhouse gases. There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but all we can do is give you the information and a few hints in as unbiased a way as possible. Guy’s doing that and I thought last week’s newsletter got it about right. Eating meat isn’t just about one issue – but nothing I’ve heard to date has come close to changing my opinion that organic is the best option for the taste buds, heart (in its emotional sense), body and the environment.

Unfortunately what we thought were the most natural of meats, beef and lamb, have been shown to be, in GHG terms, the worst. Enteric fermentation, resulting in methane emission through flatulence, has made ruminants the bad kids on the block, but would they be saying the same about the tens of millions of bison that roamed the North American prairies if we hadn’t wiped them out and substituted them with beef in feed lots? In the States about 22% of beef is grass fed – I would assume it’s a bit higher over here. Organic beef is almost always, by nature of being free range, grass fed. Permanent pasture or long term grass leys and their root systems obviously don’t sequestrate anywhere near as much carbon as rainforests but they’re a lot better than a field of, dare I say it, vegetables. Grass fed also means no nitrogen and energy heavy arable feed crops, or rainforest destruction. It’s also largely local and doesn’t get frozen and shipped around the world. I rest my case m’Lud and I hope you’ll take the similar cases of lamb and venison into account as well.

cows-grazing

Pigs might not belch and fart in the bovine manner (as Guy wrote last week, in GHG terms, they’re far better than cattle and sheep) but as with beef, the more we eat, the worse it gets. The William Cobbett inspired picture of eating every bit of pigs but the squeal, fed on waste from the kitchen, is about as likely as pigs with wings. Since Foot and Mouth in 2001, feeding swill has been banned, so grain, supplemented by soya protein, has become the norm. More animal feed means more fertile land needed for cultivation and we all know where they find that. Pollution, antibiotic use and appalling animal welfare all go hand in hand with large scale pig farming. Organic is the only system and label that provides any worthwhile guarantees. Free range still has no legal meaning – they could be free to range around a 2m x 2m pen. Outdoor reared means they’ve had access to the outdoors (could be a small concrete yard) for half their lives and outdoor bred means just that – absolutely nothing from day one onwards. If the FSA pulled their fingers out and helped find a safe way of using food waste we could all eat a bit of ‘low impact’ pork without being told we’re putting the planet in jeopardy. Of all the meats, it’s pork that falls most readily into a, ‘meat as seasoning’ diet. In fact, it is the best use for organic pork. It’s full of flavour, a great meat for processing, curing etc, but it’s a different beast to fast growing intensively reared pork and needs to be treated as such.

For the most part, chickens fall into the same basket as pork. They’re naturally omnivorous and great scavengers, and until the second half of the last century, an affordable roasting chicken was unheard of. Chickens produce 300 eggs a year and this, coupled with intensive rearing, selective breeding and a good feed conversion ratio, meant cheap meat for the masses. Cheap chicken has come to define the modern food industry, and it tastes of virtually nothing. However, we all want it so the organic sector has had to come up with an acceptable alternative. The differences are enormous; double the age, flock sizes of 500 (rather than tens of thousands), constant access to pasture etc etc. I could go on but I don’t want to be accused of my own version of enteric fermentation so in a nutshell, if we’re going to eat less meat and, for the most part, treat it as a seasoning, I hope you’ll agree that organic fits the bill far better. It’s a bit like killing two birds with one stone, but we should only eat one.

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat blog: Food fraud, regulations & halal

For once, organic British shepherds must be rubbing their hands in glee. Their reputation is definitely 100% untainted. There aren’t any organic licensed halal slaughterhouses and I shouldn’t think there ever will be. In fact it’s all a bit of a storm in a teacup. It’s hard to get a complete picture of what goes on in New Zealand abattoirs but, in all probability, the method used for halal and non-halal slaughter is identical, except for the prayer. But as usual, a little bit of digging exposes a murky world of parcels of meat without addresses or senders. In the UK some halal slaughterhouses, endorsed by purists, don’t pre-stun at all. Nor do kosher Jewish operations, and demand for certain cuts means that surplus meat is sold on to the conventional market.

Food fraud has become the buzz phrase of the year and this week’s news shows yet again how the existing system of self regulation, combined with external Food and Trading Standards, just doesn’t work. Organic standards aren’t perfect but make a difference because everybody concerned wants and needs them to.

For the vast majority of our lamb and beef, we use a local operation a couple of miles away that Riverford has been dealing with for over thirty years. They’re a family run business with three generations actively involved. It’s a s*** job but someone has to do it, and they do it with a degree of feeling that makes me happy to shout about it rather than hide it – and that’s saying something.

I was going to go on to talk about news from a couple of weeks ago that many processed lamb ready meals were anything but. I think I’ve said enough. That particular fraud won’t happen with a short, straight supply chain. Who knows what happens on a slow boat from New Zealand?

Ben Watson