Pork was the star at Radmore Farm Shop's butchery demonstration
It finally appears spring might be coming, and the farm is crying out for some prolonged warmth. Our biggest problem with the very wet weather and very late spring is mud.
Our free-range chickens, whose paddock is on the side of a hill, have had rain water running through the paddock and coupled with all those little feet paddling around and scratching for worms – we have a mud bath. Their feet are much better adapted to cope with it than ours, so we’ve been slipping around all over the place in our wellies!
Now spring is making an appearance, they are ready to move onto pastures new, as we are in the process of refencing a new paddock for them. Once the fence is in we will hitch their house onto a tractor and drag it over onto the new paddock and then close off the existing area, so the ground can rest and regenerate. I’m interested to see how the egg yolks change in appearance and taste once the chickens get an explosion of spring grass to feast on.
The cycle of using and then resting the land is one that has happened for generations throughout farming. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it. The machinery might look different as the years go by, but the core principles of farming never change, and in a world where everything you do gets outdated so quickly, it’s the one reassuring thing that I love about what we do.
What does change very rapidly is the demand for what we grow. It’s an area of real fascination for me since we’ve been in the world of retail – how and why things go in and out of fashion. We’ve seen some huge downturns in the last two years in sales of potatoes and lamb, and from what we’ve seen in the trade press, we are most certainly not alone in this. I wonder how long this is for and what the spark will be that brings these things back?
We’ve also seen a steady and continuous rise in the popularity of free-range chicken over the past 10 years, and in the same time we have seen a steady and continuous decline in the sales of pork. I often wonder what pork has done to fall out of favour? It’s relatively inexpensive, certainly the cheapest meat we sell. It’s also delicious and versatile. Perhaps it’s the higher fat content compared to chicken. Focus these days is very much on lean protein like chicken and fish and perhaps the natural fats in pork have turned shoppers away. Whatever the reason, it poses a huge problem for the farming industry. When you have a farm rearing pigs, you can’t just stop the process because the demand has fallen, it takes a long time to rear a pig – it’s not a factory line you can turn off.
However, something wonderful has happened. To use the pork that isn’t being sold as roasting joints and raw cuts, we have seen the dawn of British charcuterie. Producers are suddenly popping up everywhere, making their own style of salamis, chorizos and air-dried hams, coppas and lomos. What I love about this boom in British charcuterie is that it’s not a direct copy of what’s being made in Europe, it’s a new and exciting product that reflect the specific regions of the UK.
What does the future hold for pork? I’m sure that pork as a cooking ingredient will come back into fashion. Things always seem to go full cycle. And after all, the craze for charcuterie is nothing new really – it’s only reinventing the way people used to make bacon, gammon and ham to preserve the meat and stop it being wasted. I recently read a study that was singing the praises of pork as a good protein source, but the pork had to be high welfare and fed a varied diet to get the benefits, and another study that reminded me that things go full circle. The study found that poor, rural societies which ate high-quality foods bought locally had the best diet and health in mid-Victorian Britain. And isn’t that just what we are all striving for now?
I’m sure there will be a resurgence in pork sales, like there will be an ever-growing focus on shopping locally, and the quality and credentials of what we buy will continue to be of utmost importance.