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Butchery Basics – Meat Education for the Modern Age

News Section Icon Published 20/11/2013


In today’s fast-paced, consumerist world, the journey our food takes from farm to fork has become more and more complex. But thanks to a new breed of hands-on butchery courses, meat-eaters can get to know their topside from their tenderloin. We get to the bare bones of the latest foodie trend.

These days, we tend to go to the supermarket to buy our meat. We pick and choose our favourite cuts from rows of neatly stacked, air-tight, sterile packets. We cannot feel or smell the flesh, which is usually already gutted, skinned and boned. The experience is impersonal and detached, to say the least.

But in a backlash against the squeamish status quo, more and more people are opting for a dose of meaty reality by taking a class in traditional butchery. You might be a small-holder, a chef or just someone who enjoys a prime cut every now and then – shouldn’t you be able to stomach it (if you put it in your stomach, that is)?

Back to basics

From animal husbandry and slaughter to preparing the carcass and learning about different cuts of meat, the new breed of butchery classes covers the lifespan of livestock, from farm to table. They encourage respect for the animals we kill and eat, emphasise high standards of welfare (which generally means better-tasting, more nutritious meat, too) and teach you how to transform a whole animal into traditional cuts of meat in a matter of hours.

It goes without saying that training is given in using butchery tools – saws, choppers and boning- and steak-knives. But beyond basic butchery skills, the sessions also often include techniques such as curing, smoking, salting and sausage- and pâte-making. You can focus on pork, beef, lamb, goat, poultry or game, or sign up for an all-in-one workshop. The choices are endless, if you look around. Below, we’ve picked a handful of the best.

A cut above

  • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage in Devon offers four short courses: Pig in a Day, Meat Curing and Smoking and Game Cookery. The emphasis here is on great-quality, locally reared meat. And if you’re lucky, the aptly named on-site expert Stephen Lamb might be running your class! A lunchtime feast of River Cottage produce is a central feature of the course.
  • London’s The Butchery, founded in 2011 by Australian butcher Nathan Mills, also covers the gamut of techniques in the main meat categories. As at the other butchery schools in this blog, ‘sustainable’ meat is the order of the day here; think organic, free-range, seasonal and so on. The school’s ‘nose-to-tail’ approach means that as much of the animal as possible is used, including the offal.
  • At Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire, Wales, it’s claimed that you can witness humane slaughter in action, as well as practise a whole host of butchery and preparation techniques. All meat used is raised on the farm, where the team is passionate about engaging people with the realities of meat production. Ruth Tudor and James Swift, who run the courses, say: ‘Disconnection and artificial reality are dangerous. The distance between consumer and food is becoming even greater.’
  • Finally, for a little slice of North Yorkshire in London, head to The Ginger Pig. The short-but-sweet afternoon and evening sessions here offer a snapshot of prepping meat, followed by a hearty meal.

Back down to earth

So, if you want to know more about your meat’s journey from field to fork (for most, a very mysterious affair), an eye-opening butchery class might be just the thing. Here’s to edible education!


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