Let’s Take a Butch­ers...

Alex and Lau­ren Bra­zier are the talk of the town when it comes to sup­ply­ing top qual­ity meat to ho­tels and restau­rants. Deb­bie Kings­ley meets the Sal­combe-based small­hold­ers

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Sal­combe Meat Com­pany

Alex Bra­zier is a rare small­holder. He is one of the few who has taken his butch­ery skills be­yond carv­ing up a car­case for his own freezer to sup­ply­ing ho­tels and restau­rants with de­mand­ing stan­dards and par­tic­u­lar re­quests — for tom­a­hawk or T-bone steaks of a cer­tain width, for ex­am­ple. His motto, writ­ten up on the white board in the butch­ery of his Sal­combe Meat Com­pany in South Devon is ‘Stop whin­ing and get on with it’ and it is easy to see that he fol­lows this mantra to the let­ter.

To­day, in a nearby pub, the Bear & Black­smith in Chilling­ton, run by chefs Mal­colm Church and Claire Mundy, Alex is taking a rare break and is tuck­ing into Dex­ter beef pasties and honey and mus­tard sausage rolls as a quick ap­pe­tizer, fol­lowed by an unc­tu­ous dish of Dex­ter shin braised in red wine, served with horse­rad­ish mash and lo­cal root veg­eta­bles. Who wouldn’t want this es­tab­lish­ment as their lo­cal?

The beef is, of course, Alex’s. Mal­colm and Claire refuse to source meat from any­one other than him, and you can trace a link be­tween them a long way into the past — from work­ing on lifeboats years ago. Pre­vi­ously, when meat was in slightly short sup­ply, Mal­colm and Claire would look else­where, but their cus­tomers said they could taste the dif­fer­ence, and so Alex is now their one and only meat sup­plier.

Alex has a pas­sion for choos­ing na­tive breeds, rear­ing them slowly and let­ting them ma­ture prop­erly be­fore they en­ter his butch­ery and go on to find favour with lo­cal chefs like Mal­colm and Claire.

Alex and his wife, Lau­ren, orig­i­nally lived on Dart­moor, but with no ac­cess to land they moved south to sunny Sal­combe.

“I worked in the boat­yard and on the lifeboat,” says Alex. “But Lau­ren and I had been think­ing of keep­ing our own an­i­mals for years.” The prob­lem re­mained the lack of land un­til a neigh­bour, who was re­tir­ing from farm­ing, made them an of­fer.

“He said we could put some sheep in his or­chard to try things out,” says Alex, who to­day has the use of 25 acres of or­chard and grass­land in the grounds of an El­iz­a­bethan house, plus an an­cient barn for lamb­ing. It is two min­utes from the cou­ple’s home.

Four years ago Alex and Lau­ren bought six friendly Devon Close­wool sheep to test the wa­ter. They now have 60, plus some Herd­wicks added two years ago “just for fun”. They are reared as hogget and mut­ton.

Be­cause they live so close, the Bra­ziers’ are able to mon­i­tor their sheep closely.

“We visit six or more times a day dur­ing lamb­ing. Lau­ren takes a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the sheep and does the ac­counts. I work with the sheep, too, and fo­cus on the butcher­ing and the re­la­tion­ship with our farmer sup­pli­ers and cus­tomers.”

Alex and Lau­ren al­ways in­tended to sell their meat, firstly half a lamb here and there to peo­ple they knew and then they would buy in a beef car­case from a lo­cal farmer and sell an eighth at a time.

“We wanted to sell bril­liant meat and peo­ple started to get in­ter­ested,” he says. “Lau­ren had worked in restau­rants and I wanted to learn butch­ery to progress the busi­ness, so I worked in a butcher’s shop for six months to de­velop my skills.”

When the cou­ple de­cided to set up their own butch­ery, they con­verted part of an

It took us four years of plan­ning to set up the butch­ery. It’s not a cheap process. We had to bor­row money

old boat shed. It opened at the end of 2016 as Sal­combe Meat Com­pany.

“It took four years of plan­ning to set up the butch­ery. It’s not a cheap process. We had to bor­row money to do it. It also has to be done to En­vi­ron­men­tal Health spec­i­fi­ca­tions and there’s a fair bit of pa­per­work in­volved.” Alex and Lau­ren’s meat had soon started to find its way into lo­cal ho­tels and restau­rants — those want­ing to use top qual­ity pro­duce that is gen­uinely lo­cal, not just sourced from lo­cal com­pa­nies which get their meat from var­i­ous lo­ca­tions. “Prove­nance is so im­por­tant to us. All of our premium qual­ity meat is pro­duced in South Devon by farm­ers who re­ally care about their an­i­mals and en­sure that each one has the best pos­si­ble life and death: an­i­mals should be reared out­side where they are free to roam all year round and are fed on grass,” says Alex. “Our tra­di­tional breeds are slow grow­ing, which re­sults in bet­ter mar­bling and more com­plex flavours. An­i­mals should live long enough to ma­ture nat­u­rally and also be slaugh­tered in a hu­mane way.”

The Bra­ziers con­tinue to source high wel­fare, grass-fed, slow-grown meat lo­cally.

“We found lo­cal farm­ers who fit­ted the bill, in par­tic­u­lar those rais­ing Dex­ter cat­tle and Glouces­ter Old Spot pigs, all on small farms of around 100 acres, and we take all their car­cases. We’re still a small con­cern, but we need four to six Dex­ters each month, so at least one a week, plus two pigs and two lambs ev­ery week. We’re also look­ing at start­ing with poul­try, of­fer­ing free range chicken in part­ner­ship with one of our cus­tomers.”

After the amaz­ing lunch in The Bear & Black­smith, Alex takes me to meet his sheep. The Devon Close­wools push their noses into our hands. They are thriv­ing. Some look more mop headed than oth­ers, but they are all charm­ing and com­pletely un­fazed by Alex’s dogs, who they treat as mem­bers of their flock.

Alex and Lau­ren have re­cently ex­panded, open­ing a new butcher’s shop and deli on the out­skirts of town where they sell their meat and their own salt beef, hams, pas­trami, burg­ers, sausages and ba­con.

“I taught my­self how to cure meat from recipe books and I’ve been ex­per­i­ment­ing,” says Alex. “For the first time, too, we’ll be em­ploy­ing peo­ple.

“I want Sal­combe Meat Com­pany to be a go to place for qual­ity meat — and we’ll be rear­ing more of our own pro­duce, as well as con­tin­u­ing to sup­port other lo­cal farm­ers.”

And, as if to il­lus­trate the fact that he lives up to his slo­gan and never stands still, Alex adds: “And we’re go­ing to take on four or five of our own Ox­ford Sandy and Black breed­ing sows next year.” To find out more log on to: www.sal­combe­meat­com­pany.co.uk/; www.the­bearand­black­smith.com. Alex sup­plies The Bear & Black­smith pub

Alex cuts up a lamb car­case in his butch­ery

Alex and his Devon Close­wool sheep

Chef Mal­colm Church would not buy his meat from any­one but Alex Bra­zier (right)

Dex­ter skirt pasties are served at the pub

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