The secret to buying the best cuts of beef? Any farmer, chef, or food-lover will testify that the higher standard of farming, the better-tasting the meat. Meat box companies like Field & Flower, Pipers Farm and Peelham Farm all pride themselves on the quality and welfare of their animals. But if you’re buying from a butcher, how do you make sure you’re buying top-quality beef? Firstly, the highest quality beef looks firmer than cheaper equivalents. It has a substantial fat covering and good marbling, which is a creamier colour.
HOW TO GET THE BEST CUTS OF BEEF: 5 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR BUTCHER
1. WHAT FARM IS THE MEAT FROM AND HAVE THEY PERSONALLY VISITED?
A good butcher shouldn’t hesitate to tell you the name of the farm and they definitely should have visited – in fact, they should probably be proudly telling you about the relationship they have built up with the farmer over a number of years. They’ll also be able to tell you the story of the cow, where it was born, how it was reared and slaughtered.
2. WHAT CERTIFICATION/ASSURANCES DOES IT COME WITH?
Organic is one of the highest animal welfare labels, especially if Soil Association certified. Pasture-fed for life is also a very high standard, these cows are free-range and haven’t been fattened up on grains.
3. HOW LONG HAS THE MEAT BEEN DRY-AGED FOR?
Hanging tenderises the meat. As it matures and dries out the flavour intensifies. This doesn’t tell you much about welfare, but is an encouraging sign as the producer was willing to lose weight (and therefore money) to create a better flavour. Typically meat is hung anywhere from 14-28 days. Supermarkets can demand the hanging process is a lot quicker, chefs often ask for it be hung a lot longer. Beware of ‘aged’ meat labels – which can just mean it’s been sitting in its vacuum-packed bag since slaughter.
4. DO YOU EVER BUY A WHOLE CARCASS AND BUTCHER IT YOURSELVES?
This is a good sign of knowledge and quality.
5. CAN YOU RECOMMEND THE BEST CUTS OF BEEF AND HOW BEST TO COOK THEM?
Of course better meat is more expensive.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Clever marketing using words such as ‘local’, ‘farm fresh’, ‘British’ and ‘natural’ are meaningless when it comes to animal welfare, but conveniently lead people to believe they’re purchasing a higher-quality product.
It’s purposefully confusing and it can be intimidating to ask questions if you’re not 100% sure of the answers you’re looking for.
A genuinely good butcher will be proud to answer your questions in an informative way.
But the less popular/well-known cuts are often the cheapest ones. These may require a bit more careful cooking, but treated properly will be just as delicious as your favourite fillet, rump or rib-eye. A butcher who is able to give you this information cares about the end product, another good sign.
Main image: The Horned Beef Company