WHEN BBC’S Countryfile’s viewing figures trounced ITV’s X Factor in the ratings last weekend the reasons may not have been wholly down to a growing weariness with the latter. The public simply has an increasing fascination with farming and food.
The Great British Bake-Off attracted the year’s top viewing audience with 14 million viewers last week and TV chefs such as Yorkshire’s James Martin mentioning the provenance of beef, pork, lamb, poultry and game on his weekly Saturday Kitchen have made food the new game show and reality programme front runner.
Farm shops continue to open, the local butcher is back in vogue and the nation is becoming more receptive to treating the way we taste meat in the same way that we choose wine. It might not be the case as yet for those who are still chucking a steak into their trolleys in a supermarket but there’s a change taking place in a growing proportion of the buying public.
It’s this sector that John Pallagi and Lee Simmonds are targeting and having great success in supplying through their four-year-old online butchery and meat ordering business, Farmison based in Ripon.
John’s a Middlesbrough-born Yorkshireman, the son of a Hungarian father and Yorkshire mother; Lee is Leeds-born and bred. They’re not farmers but they understand about taste, provenance and looking after their farmer suppliers. They worked together previously in building a restaurant chain in major cities including London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds.
“What I learned from running restaurants was provenance and taste. It’s called ‘romance on the menu’ where you can almost taste the food from what is written,’ says John. “We had some great produce being bought by my chefs and I couldn’t understand why they weren’t available to be bought by the public. That’s where Farmison started to materialise. We began thinking about how we could get this amazing produce so that people could cook at home. We are now particularly strong supporters of farms with smaller herds or flocks of what some regard as rare breeds but that we talk about as heritage breeds. We use that term mainly because when we started using the word rare a lot of people had a misconception that because a breed is rare you shouldn’t be eating it as they may assist in it becoming extinct. That’s definitely not the case. If the produce is eaten in greater numbers then more animals would be bred, but that’s why we changed to calling it heritage produce.”
The Internet and social media, linked with constant updates, watching for when a market ‘spikes’ due to TV chef recommendations and giving website users a pleasant, rewarding and informative experience is where Lee’s talents lie and they have now got 25,000 regular customers throughout the country.
“When customers visit our website it’s all about giving them a good feeling and encouraging their interest in purchasing great produce. We champion our producers by showcasing their herds and flocks and we’re at the cutting edge of e-commerce in terms of people buying meat online. We give the back story to where the meat has come from so that it can be seen quite clearly the level of care and animal husbandry that takes place whatever the type of animal. Once customers shop with us we then get to know their likes and can start talking with them about future preferences, cuts and breeds. White Park beef flies out as soon as we put it on the site; Middle White pork does the same; and there are many more examples because we have such a wide variety.
“There’s an increased interest also in different cuts of meat and it really seems like an insatiable appetite for more. Spider steaks are on the up at present along with hanger steaks; and Jacob’s Ladder is trending well. When we see spikes for that kind of cut we react immediately and get ourselves up as the first choice people go to when searching. Others that are trending well at present are rose veal, wild venison and all manner of game. Our customers love the choice we give and ox cheeks and pigs’ cheeks are other favourites.”
John knows that it is one word that makes the real difference.
“We offer meat from multiple breeds and multiple farms. At the moment we have what I believe is the biggest range of British cuts by breed online anywhere in the world. Ultimately though taste is everything no matter how well it is produced, hung, cut or cooked. Taste is where I come in. I taste red meat in the same way sommeliers taste wine. It’s so important that meat breaks down well in the mouth because if it doesn’t taste well then people won’t eat it. The characteristics of each breed are vastly different too.
“We’re loving Mangalica Hungarian pork at the moment and Berkshire is fantastic. We’ve just taken delivery of Hampshire lamb, which tastes great and Swaledale mutton is just phenomenal. David Harrison of Grewelthorpe is one of our many farmer colleagues and produces superb Galloway beef from his purebred herd. We’re always on the lookout for more though so if you’re reading this and have something interesting by all means get in touch.”
SUPPORT FOR LOCAL FARMERS
Farmison buys direct from smaller producers or via abattoirs and livestock markets with 60-70 per cent of their produce coming from Yorkshire farms.
Its Ripon premises have a packing and production plant, the online business and two chefs who offer recipes and cooking tips on the website.
John and Lee recently purchased K.E.Balsdon in Summerbridge which will continue as a butcher’s shop and as a pick-up point for online orders. Andrew Carrington who owned the business is now a director of Farmison.
Farmison sells 80 per cent of its meat online with 20 per cent going into high end restaurants. This week they won the contract to supply Tate Modern in London.