I remember when we first tasted our home reared organic meat. As the bacon fried in the pan we oohhed and aaahed because NO yucky white liquid came oozing out of the bacon. This was going to be good. We made a big thing of sitting down with our plates of bacon and sausage, admiring the evenly sized, plump sausages, beautifully browned, the rind on the dry cured bacon, crisped to perfection. We slowly raised our forks for that first mouthful.
That first mouthful. I still remember the taste. Ahh heavenly. We’d never tasted such fine bacon or such succulent sausages. The sense of achievement was intoxicating. Well of course it was going to taste amazing wasn’t it because we’d reared the meat ourselves? All the care and hard work that had gone into choosing the breed, getting the right feed, setting up the outdoor paddocks. All that work was gloriously justified in that first delicious mouthful.
It might not have been like that.
We might have tried cutting up the pork ourselves, found a recipe for bacon and sausage and had a bash at making our own. Then our reaction might have been a little dampened by the chunky mis-shapen rashers cut without a meat slicer by our amateurish selves. It’s likely that a first attempt at curing bacon could have gone awry leaving us with over salty cured meat. As for sausages, there’s so much that can go wrong, turning your delicious pork into an inedible mess.
The same care would have gone into raising that meat but the lack of skill and knowledge in the processing and butchery could have led to a big disappointment.
Instead we used a superb contract butcher, Amberley Vale Foods.
What is a contract butcher?
A contract butcher provides butchery services, particularly for farmers wanting to direct sell their own meat. They either charge per kilo, or they may charge by carcass weight range. Some abattoirs, wholesale butchers (usually supplying independent retailers), high street butchers and even other farmers, may offer cutting services to other producers.
Surely it’s easy to learn butchery skills?
Why would you use a contract butcher?
Butchery takes precision and practice. It is a skill you have to learn. A totally different skill from farming. For any product, presentation is crucial but for meat in particular if you want to get a good price then please don’t take short cuts with the butchery.
A skilled butcher can take an unpromising hunk of meat and turn it into appetising, ready to cook chops, roasting joints and diced casserole cubes. They make it look easy. It isn’t.
You could save a ton of money if you set up your own cutting room
It’s true you could save on cutting charges and you would have more control. Many producers ultimately do set up their own cutting room. But when you’re starting out, you get so much more than a cutting service from a contract butcher.
As well as the best presentation for your meat, you get valuable feedback on the quality of your carcass. For instance over-fat pigs produce bacon with a thick rind which most consumers don’t want. Butchers are very fussy about the quality of meat they take in from the abattoirs so you can learn so much from a butcher’s critique of your carcasses.
At the other end of the process, a butcher will have trusted suppliers for labels and packaging. All these contacts will be invaluable for you when you set up your own cutting room.
In the meantime it can help reduce up front costs if you pay the butcher to package your meat. This saves you having to bulk purchase packaging if your throughput is small. Again you can learn so much from how the butcher lays the meat on the trays, which type of packaging he uses and even where he puts the label.
If you form a good relationship with your butcher, he may let you watch him cut up the meat. When you do set up your own cutting room, this will give you a standard to aim for.
Until or unless you can achieve a similar standard, why would you want to take all that trouble. Many contract butchers are worth their weight in gold? And especially if you find a skilled one.
What butchery skills can you expect from a contract butcher?
At the highest level you have Q Guild butchers. For these guys butchery becomes an art form. You would be lucky to find a Q Guild butcher offering contract cutting services. They are usually working in top end High Street butchers. The simplest solution is to use your abattoir’s cutting services.
Using a cutting service at the abattoir makes life easier for you. You can deliver the animals and collect finished product from the same place. If you use a butcher elsewhere you need to agree who pays for transport of the carcass from the abattoir.
Expect to pay more for any additional processing such as sausage making. Curing bacon requires specialist equipment. Our contract butcher was a bacon and sausage specialist. He supplied top end independent retailers in London from his industrial unit in Gloucestershire.
What about white meat, like poultry?
Poultry butchery is another distinct skill area. You may find it more difficult to get contract cutting services for poultry. It’s best to ask at the abattoir. Just as there are good farmers and poor farmers, butchery skills vary too.
Not all cutting services are the same. You will get better quality and service from a business that promotes cutting services and is used to dealing with farmers.
Make best use of a contract butcher when you first set up
We were lucky to find Amberley Vale Foods, a family run business whose owner took us under his wing. He helped us produce better pigs and his butchery skills wowed our customers from our very first market. He even gave us a bottle of champagne when our first child was born.
Don’t inflict amateur butchery skills on your customers.
Go away and enrol in classes to learn how to do it properly. In the meantime a contract butcher will give you the professional presentation of your meat that will help you win sales and favour. The added benefit of using a contract butcher is that you can learn so much from them abut butchery, packaging and labelling which will be of huge benefit when you do set up your own cutting room.
If you’re a farm enterpreneur, looking at direct selling meat, then save yourself a ton of time and money by getting advice from someone who can tell you what pitfalls to avoid and how to market your products and turn customers into raving fans. Get marketing advice from Juliet Fay. Email me for a quote.
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