The Art of Meat
St Edmunds Butchers / Artisanal Supplier
Tradition and Progress are often considered mortal enemies. The latter forever usurping the former as the superior methodology.
In a world of 24 hour supermarkets and global supply chains food is cheap and abundant. Surely this is Progress?
Meet Neill Price, owner of St Edmunds Butchers based in the leafy Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds. A friendly and jolly chap as ever you’d come across.
You’d believe in a moment that he was the latest in a score of generations to fill the role, handed down from father to son with great aplomb. That this was something he was born into, a family Tradition.
Neill actually bought the business just 3 years ago, a fact that would surprise any one of his happy customers. Before that he made his living as a farmer.
Neill made the conscious choice to change his life entirely and bet the farm on red… much to the protests of his accountant.
With competition in the area from giants such as Tesco, Waitrose and Asda, what chance would such a relatively small endeavour have of surviving, let alone thriving?
Quality product. Local sourcing. Traditional skills.
This is the trifecta of values that makes St Edmunds Butchers stand out as an “Artisanal Supplier of Award Winning Produce” — a vast departure from a faceless meat aisle.
Mark is the Manager and the living embodiment of Traditional Butchering.
With 20 years under his belt and more knife skills than a retired Samurai, Mark started as a teenager and the epitome of artist.
As a long time meat-eater myself and a realist, I approached this shoot with the state of mind that I understood where my food came from. I knew that bacon didn’t just grow on trees and that from a single animal came a smorgasboard of tasty treats.
What I wasn’t prepared for, was the speed, care and attention to detail that Mark showed me as he turned shapeless forms into beautifully dressed cuts right before my eyes. Or should I say, lens.
Here we see how he goes about French trimming a Fore Rib of Beef in a matter of minutes, only to finish by turning it into these spectacular 2 inch thick Tomahawk Steaks.
Not content with merely offering expert preparation of unusual cuts, Neill and his team only offer locally sourced meats, produced by farms that favour slower growing, smaller breeds that the factory farms shun in favour of sheer volume.
The old idiom “Like watching the sausage get made” normally refrences a horrible truth that you wish you didn’t know. While that may be true for a pack of frozen bangers from your nearest business park based retailer, here it’s an elegant waltz of simple, solid ingredients prepared by hand.
Made fresh daily, these sausages aren’t left overs from a variety of other products, only quality shoulder meat is used, mixed with a house recipe of herbs and seasoning. This is run through the mincer 3 times to get the perfect consistancy and mix.
The natural casing is slipped onto the filling nozzle while a foot operated switch is used to expertly control the speed of the filling. Too slow and your sausages are lumpy and irregular, too fast and it quickly flies out of control.
Once filled, the single incredibly long sausage is twisted and tied into individual ones by hand. Keeping every sausage the same length is something Mark does by feel, defined by the size of his hand and the rhythm he gets into.
Packing them into crates for storage in the cold room, these will be gone by the end of the day.
Sausages done, we move onto another favourite — the burger. Just like the classic sausages, these start as quality cuts of beef that might otherwise end up as steaks, seasoned and ground into steak mince.
The meat is portioned into exact weights and rolled by hand into balls by Theresa. Each one is pressed into the familiar shape using a handy little tool and stacked up with separators to stop them sticking.
The result is a solid no nonsense burger ready to be cooked and topped as simple or crazy as the customer desires.
Other products take a bit longer to prepare such as their range of deli meats, but are kept as straight forward as you would expect.
For any meat lover, the cold room is an Aladdin’s cave of cuts both familiar and exotic.
Personally, I’m all about the steak. One of the beauties of having a skilled butcher on hand, is that you have your steak exactly how you want it.
Were the Tomahawks earlier a bit OTT for you? Get some Sirloin sliced as thick or thin as you like.
It would take all day to cover everything Neill and his team offer, especially when you consider that anything they don’t have in stock, they can order for you.
It was easy to see how this business is thriving after just a few hours watching them do their thing.
Aside from the pure quality of the meat itself, the expert advice and dedication to “keeping it simple” lends an air of authenticity and trust to their products that’s hard to beat.
It seems to me that Progress isn’t about newer, faster, cheaper, bigger — it’s about reflecting on all the ways of going about something and choosing what worked the best and then doing that, even if it ends up embracing Tradition.
With so much of our food coming from unknown sources, mixed to uncommon recipes with uncertain ingredients, it makes sense to go local.
All images in this article were shot with my personal Leica SL and Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar.
All colour images were processed with Nik Color Efex Pro 4.
The views an opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not constitute a technical review or product advertisement.
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