This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Meet Sophie Cumber, the ‘Pasture For Life’ certified butcher, who heads the Bowhouse Butchery on the Balcaskie Estate. Angus D. Birditt interviews Sophie on how she got into butchery, and why the PFLA is becoming increasingly important in the industry.
How and why did you get into butchery?
SC: I have always loved food. I grew up on a farm with a small shop that sold our meats, and every time the meat came back to us at the farm, I always wanted to know which cuts were what. I first got into butchery through doing a chef diploma, during which there was a butchery course, which I just loved. I wanted to know the process of food, the whole process.
My first job was in London at Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa, and after that I worked at Turner & George, which was more of a shop then just preparation at Barbecoa. Having worked there for a while, I then relocated to Fife, as I wanted to be closely connected to the farmer; learn more about the whole process and see first-hand the animals before they go to slaughter. I found working with the whole carcass makes you more focused to make the best of every animal.
Now I am at Bowhouse Butchery at Balcaskie Estate, I am able to be that direct link between the farmers and the consumers, both of whom I know very well.
"...what the ‘Pasture For Life’ stamp does for our meat at Bowhouse Butchery is set a standard, and by having that standard, we attract a number of chefs that want to work with us, plus the general public is getting more and more involved with what we are doing."
Tell us about the meat that you use, and how the ‘Pasture For Life’ certification helps in promoting your work?
SC: The meat that passes through here at Bowhouse Butchery is farmed locally on Balcaskie Farms. The animals graze on land that extends from the coast, over the lowlands, and up onto highlands, so they have a huge array of pasture and freedom to forage. All of the beef and lamb coming in from Balcaskie Farms is ‘Pasture For Life’ certified. I am also certified [as a butcher]. This means that both Balcaskie Farms and I represent what PFLA is all about, maintaining high levels of food standards, whilst working towards being regenerative.
My part in the whole process is to choose the beast from Balcaskie Farms, so that’s visiting the farms and talking to Sam [Parsons], the estate manager. When I need an animal, I book them in with the abattoir, again local to us, which comes directly back to me here at Bowhouse Butchery. After hanging for four weeks or so, I break them down from start to finish, whether that’s cutting them down to size, making burgers or sausages. Again I use the whole animal. We sell the meat direct from here at Bowhouse Butchery, and a little to wholesale.
For a long time, people could say that ‘my meat is grass-fed’ with not much to prove it. But what the ‘Pasture For Life’ stamp does for our meat at Bowhouse Butchery is set a standard, and by having that standard, we attract a number of chefs that want to work with us, plus the general public is getting more and more involved with what we are doing. We work with great local chefs and places like James Ferguson at Kinneuchar Inn, Cellar in Anstruther, and the Harbour Café in Elie. The ‘Pasture For Life’ certification just goes to show that grass-fed meat is the way forward on so many levels, especially when farming with traditional, native breeds.
Have you seen any trends in consumption over the time you’ve been in the industry?
SC: I’ve been a butcher for eight years, and even in that time, things have changed a lot. When I started, there were lots of people who were interested in breeds and where they came from, but not what the animal was fed or how it was raised. I think over the years people are now more likely to ask about the diet of the animal rather than the breed.
In terms of what people are buying now, there is a lot more variety of cuts nowadays, especially here at Bowhouse Butchery, as we break down the whole animal. A decade or so ago, it all got rather traditional with typical prime cuts like ribeye, sirloin and fillet, or people who wanted to braise and stew mince. My ethos is all about making the most of all of the carcass, so I try to promote other lesser-known cuts like the Denver steak, which is the muscle that comes out of the chuck (the shoulder), and is normally diced or cut like a streak. I’m sure we will start to see more and more different cuts become popular, similar to what we have seen with the flat iron steak. Look out for the Denver cut; if it’s raised correctly, you will have a wonderful marbled fat running through the meat and a deep rich flavour to it.