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Norwich butcher’s celebrating almost a century in the city

PUBLISHED: 12:09 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:11 12 March 2019

James Archer, owner of Archers butchers, outside the deli/ take away and butchers. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

James Archer, owner of Archers butchers, outside the deli/ take away and butchers. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

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Third generation butcher Jamie Archer on why we should continue to support our high street champions.

Our high streets are struggling. It’s an undeniable fact. But in the dark, there are glimmers of light. More of us than ever before are interested in the provenance of our food. Of the story behind the ingredients we pop on our plate. Norfolk has seen an overwhelming explosion of food and drink producers in the last five years alone – and exceptional higher welfare meat is something the county’s especially lauded for. Which leads us to award-winning Archer’s Butchers.

While it can no longer boast the five shops it had in its heyday, Archer’s on Plumstead Road in Norwich, has remained a constant in the city for generations and the Proudly Norfolk member celebrates its 90th birthday on May 11. In a lovely nod to the shop’s heritage, the occasion falls in line with original owner John’s birthday.

“He started on Norwich Market,” Jamie Archer says of his grandfather’s fledgling business nearly a century ago. “He had some money come his way and wanted to invest it. It was something he was really passionate about. He had a few contacts and opened his first shop on the market in 1929.”

Now one of the oldest butcher’s shops in Norwich, Archer’s spread its wings to have several stores when, says Jamie, “there used to be a butcher on every street corner. We had three butcher’s on this street alone!”

A selection of meat on sale at Archers butchers. Picture: Ella WilkinsonA selection of meat on sale at Archers butchers. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Today, Archer’s remains in its flagship premises where all the sausages (many made to grandad’s original recipe) bacon and ‘breaking down’ of carcasses has taken place for decades. Jamie’s dad Jimmy took on the shop from John in 1982, running it for 27 years before selling to Jamie in 2009 – so 2019 also marks 10 years for him at the helm.

The industry, Jamie says, has changed dramatically since his good old grandad set out his stall, likely selling rather simple, honest cuts to the people of Norwich. And, he and the team have had to adapt and bend to meet changing shopping trends. “People are buying more pre-prepared products. More marinated meats and stuffed meats, or smaller joints, so we’re doing lots of mini roasts. Families are smaller these days and the Sunday roast isn’t as popular as it was a few years ago.”

Some things don’t change though. Grandad John (who’s favourite phrases were “God sends the meat, the devil sends the cook” and “meat without fat is like love without kisses”) had a hand in the shop’s success when it came to Norwich’s Battle of the Bangers – his original sausage recipe helping the business take the prize for the eighth time last year (the final outing for the event).

“Grandad was a Craske,” says Jamie, “and they were very noted for sausages. We use their original recipe, handed down to me from my father, but other than that a lot of the products we make are our own creations.”

A selection of different joints on sale at Archers butchers. Picture: Ella WilkinsonA selection of different joints on sale at Archers butchers. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Something that hasn’t changed is Archer’s’ commitment to quality and sourcing from the best of the best. Pork outdoor, naturally reared from Tim Allen. Beef is grazed by a trusted farmer near north Walsham. Lamb comes from Costessey. And chickens are free-range from Hindolveston. “Ninety-nine per cent of produce is from within a 25 mile radius of the shop,” Jamie reveals, “which is good because it gives us a low carbon footprint.”

So why, with convenience in the form of supermarkets, should customers be choosing their local butcher in the 21st century?

“It’s got to be quality,” Jamie says with passion. “It’s far superior to that of a supermarket. The reason meat from a butcher tastes so good is because the animals have been kept really well. I also think it’s about the advice we can give. That personal service. People come in and they’re not sure how big a piece of meat they need or how to cook it – we can help them. If they want something prepared a certain way, we can do that. Supermarkets don’t have that flexibility. Here, you can come in with a recipe and often we can even make it for you. Like sausages, we’ve had people come with a particular sausage recipe and we’ve produced those for them!”

As well as all your usual fare, from steaks, chicken pieces, legs of lamb and bacon, Archer’s has adapted over its lifetime to be perhaps one of the best in the region for adding value to raw ingredients. In the kitchen, says Jamie, is a brilliant chef from Sorrento, Italy, who’s helping the team crack out ready-prepared meals, from authentic meatballs, to coq au vin, hunter’s chicken, bolognaise, chilli, shepherd’s pies and even side dishes like dauphinoise potatoes.

Norwich Market in 1939  Picture: Jamie ArcherNorwich Market in 1939 Picture: Jamie Archer

The kitchen make their own pies (think steak and Norfolk Binham Blue cheese), sausage rolls, Scotch eggs with a runny middle, pork pies and more.

And at lunchtime there’s a queue out the door for the hot counter, dishing up pork, turkey, bacon and sausage filled rolls, jacket potatoes and more. “We sell about 400 rolls a day easily!”

So what’s next for Archer’s?

“We’ve just set up our ecommerce section on our website so people can order online, and we’re doing butchery classes to teach people that forgotten skill. The first one’s gone really well!”

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