Genes & husbandry, humane slaughter and correct hanging are the 3 elements which conspire to create the great product.
I have made a commitment to use more veal, and the cheaper cuts at that. Coupled with the fact that for some time I have been promising myself one of Farmer Sharp's butchery classes.
The course which runs at Borough Market every week, usually Friday, is held at his stall. I can vouch for a facinating and insightful session where you are guaranteed to come away enriched and inspired. When I booked I enquired how long is the course, the lady on the phone told me anything between 3 hours and 7 hours! She's not joking.
Andrew is widely recognised as a master butcher, a mine of knowledge; an artisan. London's leading chefs, journalists, writers and gourmets, all value their relationship with Andrew. From history, genetic make up, ancient migration routes to seasonal grazing and feed influences, slaughter, butchery and hanging, Andrew will talk literally until the cows come home. He is an understated expert when it comes to generously sharing cooking tips. You can be fairly sure that either Andrew or one of his enthusiastic team have their hand in some of the most celebrated bovine menu creations in London.
Farmer Sharp shuttles down to London each week, 300 miles or 298miles as he likes to be precise, door to stall at Borough with a delivery of fabulously well reared, humanely slaughtered and correctly hung beef, veal, lamb and mutton.
The class starts with a description of the landscape of British livestock industry. Regulations for livestock farming are the toughest and most stringent of any industry in our country. Sadly, when the likes of Andrew Sharp and his neighbour at Borough and fellow countryman, rarebreed pig farmer Peter Gott withstand the barrage of relentless bureaucracy, it's a wonder we have anyone putting up with this. Quite frankly, its easy to see why farmers have militant tendancies. These gems of native and rare breed farmers who support humanely reared livestock are truly heroes for anyone who appreciates and loves food of excellent provenance.
Then there is the small matter of the fact that males do not make good meat and will never find work in a dairy farm. With no 'useful purpose' baby boy calves are invariably shot after 3 days. It is this cause which Andrew Sharp heads a campaign to promote pink veal. The calves live till 20 weeks, which is the average life of a humanely reared pig twice the life of a chicken. The calves live a healthy and happy life. Not to mention the fact that the life of a beautiful cow has not been in vain and provided valuable, clean meat to the food chain and given the farmer a well deserved income.
We started the practical with the half carcus of a 6month calf, with Andrew breaking the carcass down with amazing dexterity and speed. We all had a turn of tackling a cut, wearing a chain apron and glove, which over a two hour period turned into neck, leg of mutton joint, shoulder, osso bucco, brisket, breast, skirt, flank, forerib, and that's what I remember.
Seeing a wide range of recognisable cuts and joints (and ones I didn't know) emerge from this dead beast did provide the inspiration to better understand cheaper cuts. I would never have had the inclination to stuff a breast of veal. The Italians are somewhat masters of making great classic dishes from these humbler cuts.
Our next task was turning a hind quarter of a 24month Galloway into silverside, rump, leg steaks, braising steaks, Chateaubriand.
I'm going to be proudly ordering a breast of veal next week at Borough, this is aficionado speak and I'm secretly hoping that my nonchalant order will not go un noticed to those on my side of the counter.
Andrew passionately wants folk to better get hold of the wider range of possibilities from cheaper cuts. This is the key to making native breed livestock which is more expensive than intensively reared livestock, a financially viable proposition to the growing demograph of fiscally challenged. If chefs, caterers and your average home cook could embrace the fact that ethically reared veal meat is a really sustainable option we could be better using thousands of unnecessarily slaughtered calves.
Thus, we as consumers, or as co-producers, can better support the admirable tenacity and tolerance of this hardy Cumbrian Farmer and indeed all those farmers who don't intensively rear animals and choose an absurdly tougher option. It is a precious commodity and it should be respected.