Food is a process.
Whether you are eating an apple freshly plucked from a low-hanging branch on a warm Autumn evening or munching through a Big Mac in a harshly lit McDonalds, you are taking part in a process.
An awareness of this should be essential, especially when meat is concerned.
Many of us consume meat without thinking about the full implications of the process required to transform a living, breathing animal into something we can eat.
As a result the process has become convoluted and swollen like a diseased abscess. Now consumers can pick up neatly packaged portions of meat, hermetically sealed and bearing no resemblance to the cow, pig, sheep, chicken or springbok that it was once a part of.
Spending a day learning the basics of animal butchery with a qualified expert is one such way you can restore an awareness of the link between what we eat and where it comes from.
So, that’s what I did.
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story (full article will appear in due course, once it has been published).
A whole lamb carcass, covered in mutton cloth (meat hates being wrapped in plastic).
I learned the basics of how to butcher lamb, pork and beef but due to technical issues (ahem, did someone say 'memory card'?) only managed to get pictures of the lamb.
The tools of the trade - a boning knife and steel. Knives are sharpened regularly throughout the day. Blunt knives are far more dangerous than razor sharp ones.
Once the mutton cloth is off, the lamb starts to resemble an animal. You can see the kidneys in the foreground like two shiny conkers.
The carcass is then divided into 'primary cuts'...
...before starting to look like more recognisable pieces...
...like this rack of lamb being french trimmed.
The completed rack which went straight into the shop's display, mere metres away, within a few seconds of this picture being taken.
A good butcher doesn't just portion up pieces of meat. Much of the day is spent expertly preparing a range of other items - hams, sausages, brines, bacon or boned shoulder of lamb stuffed with parsley, garlic and olive oil:
You don't get that in a supermarket.
So, what did I learn?
I learned that butchery is a skill, an artform, that is worthy of respect and can take years to master.
I learned that it's hard work.
I learned that there is a world of difference between production line meat of the sort that we buy in supermarkets, and rare breed, well-treated, well-hung meat that is available in butchers' shops.
I learned that butchers have a bigger range and better prices than any of the supermarkets. I came back with cheeks, trotters, tails and lamb breast. Not to mention a promise that anything else I wanted could be ordered in. Sweetbreads, tongue, beef short ribs and many other treats are on their way.
I learned (and I have the sore hands to prove it) how to do a butcher's knot (photo tutorial to follow).
I learned that the anatomy of lambs, pigs and cows is almost identical (no, really).
And finally? I learned that getting your hands dirty is an inevitable and massively enjoyable part of being a food writer.
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