In recent decades, we have become more concerned about the welfare of animals that are bred for food. Television programmes like Jimmy’s Farm and similar documentaries about the meat industry in general have opened our eyes to what goes on in the course of putting meat on our tables. Indeed, with the horsemeat scandal fresh in everyone’s minds, there has been a growing genuine concern amongst the British public about where the meat that goes into our food comes from.
The best way to find out the heritage of your meat, and to make sure you know exactly what it is, is to rear and slaughter your own animals. But, for most of us that’s not an option. So if you’re lacking in the smallholding department, a butchery course can improve your knowledge of meat and give you the confidence to prepare meat yourself, without relying so heavily on pre-prepared meat dishes. By finding out how to work with cuts of meat at home, you can reduce the need for anyone else to do anything for you – which is both a cost effective solution, and one that gives you reassurance that your meat hasn’t been interfered with during the preparation process.
The history of the butchery trade
Butchery is an ancient trade, with butchers’ guilds having been in existence since 1272. However, since the rise of supermarkets, butchers’ shops have become less common as more people buy all of their food from one shop. Supermarkets often have in-store butchers, who undergo the same type of training as independent butchers, and can offer an alternative to buying pre-packaged supermarket meat.
Did you know? Egyptian butchers wore high heeled shoes so they would not step directly in offal.
What happens on a butchery course?
Butchery courses vary in terms of course content. Commonly, though, courses aim to give you an overview of animal physiology and the history of butchery trade. They also offer an introduction to the tools of the trade (think hacksaws and cleavers) – and will help you to develop the knife skills you will need to prepare your own meat at home.
Some specific examples of skills covered on various butchery courses:
· Bone and joint a chicken – given that a whole chicken can often be found for the same price as a packet of two chicken breasts, this is one butchery skill that can save you money.
· Tying a butcher’s knot – you use a butcher’s knot when roasting a rolled joint of meat. The knot (a kind of slipknot) is suitable for this because it allows for easy adjustment during the cooking process.
· Pig butchery – specialist ‘pig butchery courses’ take you right from cutting up the carcass to making your own sausages, stopping to bone and roll a shoulder of pork on the way. Other specialist options include lamb butchery or poultry butchery.
· Making your own sausages or bacon – some butchery courses focus on one very specific area of butchery, such as sausage making. A sausage making course will teach you some recipes for delicious sausages and give you the chance to familiarise yourself with specialist equipment.
· Butterfly a leg of lamb – a butterflied leg of lamb will give you a flat piece of boneless meat that you can then cook on the barbecue or in the oven.
There is usually opportunity to sample the meat you have prepared during the course, as well as take some away with you to cook at home.
Did you know? The primal cuts of a pig are the loin, belly, shoulder and legs. These are then cut into retail cuts, which are chops, rolled joints, and tenderloin.
What happens after a butchery course?
You should leave your course with greater confidence about buying and preparing meat yourself, whether you choose to learn how to make sausages or roll a joint ready for roasting. There is a wide range of butchery courses on offer, so once you’ve mastered one type of meat you could return and learn all about something different.
You might find that your butchery course inspires you to embark on a career as a butcher, in which case there are opportunities for apprenticeships on offer (there is usually scope to train as a butcher ‘on the job’ and work your way up.) At the moment, there is a national shortage of skilled butchers which means that there are good opportunities for new entrants.
By Fiona Hughes