Chris Bishop

He might only be 18, but Craig Hinds already counts Royalty among his customers.

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He might only be 18, but Craig Hinds already counts Royalty among his customers.

Now he's spearheading a movement to make Norfolk as synonymous with organic beef as it is with turkey.

Under the watchful eye of veteran butcher Brian Goosey, who at 63 is more than three times his age, Craig is learning to carve perfect cuts of the rare breed cattle which graze the Royal Estate, on the doorstep of the village stores at West Newton.

When beef is on the menu at nearby Sandringham, or even Buckingham Palace, chefs pick up the phone to Craig.

“They like their steaks,” he said. “They're very particular about what they want; the size, the presentation, how they want it to look.”

Prince Charles, a passionate supporter of rare breeds and all things organic, was impressed by the quality of the meat, when he turned up on an unannounced visit to the village stores earlier this week.

“Within two weeks of leaving school I was working in a butcher's,” said Craig, whose chosen profession cannot be learned at school or college and has few openings.

“I just love it; it's hands-on work meeting customers and friendly people all day. Brian and Vinny say watch what I'm doing, look - you can be doing that tomorrow.”

Vinny - aka fellow butcher Vinny Webb - can trace his career back to the heyday of traditional butchery. Hand-made bangers, that come in strings instead of cellophane, are one of Mr Webb's specialities.

“I don't think there's any secret; it's about putting good meat content in, not too much fat and proper skins,” he said, slowly kneading sausage mixture in a giant bowl.

“It's also about the seasoning and the way you mix it. You can't just throw it in; you've got to do it properly and mix it in gradually.”

Butchers in the village stores at West Newton and nearby Bircham have joined forces with rare breed farmers Tony and Ann Barratt under the banner of Great Bircham Foods.

As well as putting tradition back on the plate, the company aims to create a wider market for organic meats and other produce grown on and around the Royal Estate. By building their brand - in marketing speak - they hope to increase awareness of the area.

As he checked his Red Poll cattle, happily grazing near West Newton yesterday , Tony Barratt said his 200-strong herd began 25 years ago with a single cow called Flapper.

Three years ago Red Poll - a traditional East Anglian breed, of which around 3,000 head survive around the UK - were re-introduced to Sandringham by the Barratts, who also rear dorper sheep and organic pork.

“If they're not used, they could become a very rare breed indeed,” said Great Bircham Foods' operations manager Mark Cooper.

“But you've got to be careful rare breeds aren't turned into just another meat product; we're trying to keep it something unique.”

Reared organically, in stress-free, free-range conditions, the animals' food miles barely break double figures from birth to plate.

Carefully-hung cuts are prepared to customer's requirements by Brian, Vinny and Craig.

Another re-introduction is Mark - the Barratt's 29-year-old son, who has returned to the land after a career in law.

“I was in property until the market crashed,” he said. “They moved me across to litigation, so I decided to come back and drive a tractor instead of driving a desk.”

Great Bircham Foods is also pledging to employ local people, like former Springwood high School pupil Craig, and teach them a trade at the hands of master crafts-folk.

As his father waxed lyrical about the qualities of the rare breed Red Poll, farmer Barratt junior whispered: “Farming is old men talking and young men doing these days.”

www .greatbirchamfoods.co.uk

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