Meet Skipton's native breed farmers supplying some of London's top restaurants

It’s a pretty safe bet that mentioning names like Brat, Leroy, Moro and Anchor & Hope will mean very little to many in the farming fraternity not just in Yorkshire but probably anywhere else – and yet these are some of the leading establishments in the capital where Jorge Thomas and Charlie Cowling’s enterprising meat company Swaledale Foods are developing a fabulous reputation through white rose reared livestock.

Forget about food miles for a second and consider this. At a time when we are being bombarded with what often amounts to political nonsense over whether or not being part of an international organisation is going to cause the worst catastrophe since the Second World War, there are businesses such as Swaledale Foods that are finding and securing a market for British farm produce for British people.

Jorge Thomas, managing director of Swaledale Foods at Skipton (left), with farmer Amos Dewhurst and some of his Dexter herd on the moors near Winterburn. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Jorge Thomas, managing director of Swaledale Foods at Skipton (left), with farmer Amos Dewhurst and some of his Dexter herd on the moors near Winterburn. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Not only are Jorge and Charlie doing this, they are doing it with rare, native traditional breeds of beef, sheep, pigs, poultry and game.

Ninety-five per cent of their business is conducted with restaurants and outlets in London and Brat, currently London’s hottest restaurant according to Jorge, is one of their ever-growing customer list.

“You would perhaps think that with buzzwords in food being vegetarianism and veganism that companies selling meat might be in a poor position right now, but I feel the current mood is making people really considerate of the meat they choose,” says Jorge, who was born in Abergavenny in South Wales and came to Yorkshire through his studies and to improve his running.

Jorge ran for Wales at 1,500 metres and 5,000 metres, was the Welsh 1,500 metres champion and Yorkshire Cross Country champion beating the Brownlee brothers.

Jorge Thomas, managing director of Swaledale Foods, with a side of beef in the company's cold store. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Jorge Thomas, managing director of Swaledale Foods, with a side of beef in the company's cold store. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

“I came to Leeds University to study creative writing and pursue my athletics career, but food is now my biggest passion. I was and still am a fanatical cook. I rented a house in Arthington and was always interested in finding things to cook for myself. I grew up part way up the Skirrid in the Welsh Black Mountains, famed as a magical, mythical area and with farmland all around I have always been aware of animals and different breeds.

“At Arthington I began to realise there might be a niche in providing rare breed produce for chefs who were looking for that something different as I had done.

“I was running for Wales and had a big meeting to run at in London. I stayed with Charlie. He’s my brother-in-law and was born around here in Yorkshire but was working in the capital at the time. While I was staying in London I checked out my Good Food Guide and called in at The Draper’s Arms in Islington where the chef made me an espresso, we talked about my ideas and he said he’d buy from me. That was my first order.”

From his start-up with a refrigerated van, purchased through a small inheritance from his grandmother, to taking a small area in Craig Leadbeater’s butcher’s shop in Cross Roads near Haworth, to space at Stanforths at Skipton Auction Mart, the business of Swaledale Foods settled at Snaygill Industrial Estate in Skipton where Jorge and Charlie now employ a team of 26. It has been a whirlwind ten years.

Swaledale sheep on the moors above Winterburn near Malham that are supplied to Swaledale Foods in Skipton. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Swaledale sheep on the moors above Winterburn near Malham that are supplied to Swaledale Foods in Skipton. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

“Everyone says rare breeds are rare for a reason and one of the reasons is they are not high yielding and have a high fat content, but buttery yellowy fat is where the taste is and using inherently marbled meat from rare breeds is proving time and again to be what chefs in restaurants and at home are wanting.

“It’s a difficult model to make work as in order to do so you have to use up everything. We buy whole carcases, so we need a real spread of customers. That’s why we have expanded our processing into sausages and burgers – and we now supply leading burger bars too, such as Burger & Beyond that recently won an award through the magazine Time Out.”

Having started with Mule sheep from Chris and Christine Ryder in Blubberhouses, developing a great love of Middle White pigs that Jorge rates as the most delicious pig breed; and having realised the extraordinary flavours of Belted Galloway, Dexter, Highland, Lowline, Blue Grey and what he describes as sensational Irish Moiled beef breeds Jorge has become the ultimate meat aficionado. But it’s not all about the breeds.

“What I have discovered is that it is the feed an animal eats and the care taken by livestock farmers that is just as important as the breed. We are very interested in Middle White pigs as they have great potential and we are also exploring the Lowline breed of cattle. They are very close to the native Aberdeen Angus and look like a slightly more muscled Dexter.

“Amos Dewhirst of Winterburn near Gargrave is our main procurer. He’s brilliant for us and understands what we need, which may be Kerry Hill, Jacob, Mule or Hebridean lamb. We’ve a market for them all.”