A trip to Swaledale Foods, our meat supplier, takes you to the eponymous dale in the northernmost and most rugged part of the Yorkshire Dales. The name itself, spoken back at you in a broad Yorkshire brogue, combined with the scenery, seems almost perfectly bucolic; when you arrive you half expect to meet some wild Heathcliff-like figure, apron sodden with blood, cattle marauding around a crumbling farmhouse. So it’s a little disappointing, if fundamentally reassuring, when you of course arrive at their office in an industrial park just off the Dales, kitted out with all the layers of security you would expect from a modern and forward-thinking abattoir.
What’s more disarming is that the wonderful Brent, our contact at Swaledale and the person our butcher speaks to more often than any of his friends or family, is a native of Melbourne and greets you with an unmistakably Aussie twang.
However, please don’t let this ruin too much of the magic, because in terms of the work they do and what they represent, Swaledale are completely crucial to our business. Our relationship with Swaledale and meat is completely different to everything else we work with. A vegetable or a cheese or a bottle of wine will (if in season) be readily available from a supplier and ordered to our spec – if we need six we ask for six and we get six – in a sense it’s no different from a generic retail experience. Swaledale and our butcher work completely differently – firstly we will buy most of our meat as a full or whole carcass, not by the actual cut they will end up as on the menu or in the butchers’ fridge. Secondly lots of these carcasses will be aged, sometimes by Swaledale for us, sometimes in our butchers or sometimes both. It’s a continuous game of ‘meat Tetris’ if you will, to make sure we have the right quality and quantity, in stock and ready to use, but also ageing and on order.
If there was one word we would use to describe the meat from Swaledale it would be
‘depth’. The cattle that Swaledale’s network of small scale farmers rear are of course free-range and fed well on grass and hay but they are also always at least 30 months old before they go to slaughter. Commitment to age is also a big part of their pig and lamb rearing process. For us, British meat is at its best with the bold and almost-gamey flavour profile of aged meat. Much as we’ve loved our trips to the Extebarris of the Basque country or the clean, almost light taste of a bistecca fiorentina in Tuscany, we feel British meat is superior in the way it takes on more complex, heavier flavours through ageing. The desiccation process at the core of dry-aging beef creates a headier, beefier range of flavours.
In Swaledale, we have a partner fully committed to the same principle.