As Hill & Szrok turns the ripe old age of five, we’re thinking about what we’ve learned, and we’ve decided that the typical model of a butcher’s shop doesn’t sit right with us. In a typical month we sell 15 cows’ worth of ribeyes, but only four cows’ worth of rump and one cow’s worth of topside. The maths doesn’t add up, and somewhere along the line, meat is wasted before it even gets to us. In recent years, offal and non-premium cuts have become a trendy way to promote more sustainable meat-eating, but it’s led to a nose-and-tail culture rather than a nose-to-tail one. Meanwhile, intensive commercial farming methods are destroying the planet. We think our industry can do more for the environment and economy, but we need to change two things: the way we operate and our customers’ attitudes to eating meat.
So we’re going to trial a new model for our butchery; one that aims to support the British farming industry and celebrate its artisans by buying whole carcasses from small producers and selling or using every piece in our butchery, deli and restaurant. We’re working with producers whose animals are reared outdoors for their entire lives using traditional methods, so they’re never rushed into maturity to expedite their journey from pasture to plate. In the same way the low-intervention wine movement has championed makers who produce true expressions of terroir and variety, low-intervention farming carries its producer’s and provenance’s signature. We want to be able to tell the difference between one breed and another, or one county and the next. Most of our farmers have small herds, and many of them haven’t sold their meat before, but keep livestock for private consumption or to graze their land. So you won’t be able to get their meat anywhere else, except perhaps from their own farms.
This means we’ll only be stocking animals that have been fed naturally, and only cows and sheep that have grazed on grass. Soil is one of the world’s biggest carbon stores, and commercial farming releases damaging gases into the atmosphere. By letting animals graze to maturity as nature intended, they work the earth, putting carbon back into the soil where it belongs. Our point is to take a stand against the intensive modern methods which damage the environment and propage cruelty, instead celebrating the artisans who have the potential to revolutionise the industry and maybe even the planet. But unless consumer demand comes around to the same way of thinking, their and our efforts will be in vain.
We’re making it our responsibility to adjust perceptions and expectations of butchery, and provide inspiration and expertise as much as we can. It’s not going to be easy, and we might suffer for it. It means that we might not always have the cut you came in for, but we’re confident that we’ll always be able to send you off happy with something equally useful, and maybe even more delicious. And when you serve it you’ll be able to talk not just of what it is, but where it came from.