Northumberland farm butchery venture marks first year

Father and daughter Ken and Diane Anderson stuck gold by relocating their meat business to lamb farmer Jimmy Bell's butchery

Butchers Jimmy Bell and wife Kirsty (left) and father and daughter Ken and Diane Anderson who are both working from East Wingates Farm in Northumberland
Butchers Jimmy Bell and wife Kirsty (left) and father and daughter Ken and Diane Anderson who are both working from East Wingates Farm in Northumberland

He is a Northumberland farmer, long-known for selling quality lamb to hundreds of loyal customers across the region.

They are a father and daughter from the county whose beef and pork have built up a dedicated following in the North East restaurant world.

Now Jimmy Bell and Ken and Diane Anderson are celebrating the first anniversary of their joint venture, utilising the butchery at Jimmy’s East Wingates Farm near Longhorsley.

Jimmy said: “My wife Kirsty and I started the butchery 15 years ago, with some Defra funding.

“We have built a business selling lamb, my own Texels, direct to the public in season, from the middle of August to the end of February, then we go back to farming.

“We farm for the summer and close the butchery for the summer months, with the chillers shut up.

“We were going nicely doing that then Ken and Diane came to see us and asked if there was a possibility of them using the butchery because we didn’t use it all the time - two days a week were spare and the summer months - so we thought we could carry on together utilise the building as a joint project.”

Diane, from near Bellingham, added: “We use the facilities here all the year round. We started two years ago at East Woodburn but it was too big for just the two of us.”

She and Ken, who has spent his working life as a butcher, source their pigs from a farmer in Hawick and all the beef is from the Scottish borders. They trade as Northumbrian Meats Ltd and are attracting attention on their Facebook page.

“We hang the beef for at least 21 days on the bone and the pork just comes in and out, it doesn’t last two minutes. We do all our hand-made sausage, belly porks, the whole pig.”

Ken added: “We do bacon and gammon, the old 20 days’ cure on gammon and 10 days on bacon so there’s none of that funny white stuff you usually get from the supermarkets.”

 

Jimmy, who retrained as a butcher when he launched his Jimmy the Lamb Man business, added: “The beef’s great, I recommend it to anyone. We hang it in here; the difference is some people say 28 days hung but they don’t actually hang it on the bone for 28 days because it dries out and it’s losing weight.

“What these people actually do is vac-pack it for 28 days which is totally wrong because it doesn’t have a chance to mature itself. The reason why you have to hang is because the natural enzymes in the fat break down themselves and they go into the meat - that’s why people say my lamb tastes so good, because I hang it for at least 10 days and it’s quality and grass-fed, organically reared.”

He is killing 15-20 lambs a week and said: ”The art is to keep that number coming forward every week. That’s the farming side of me, not the butchery.

“It would be easy for me to ring up a wholesaler and ask for 10 lambs but there isn’t the traceability there and it should be in season. Guy Fawkes we put the tups out and get them in Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day we scan and lamb about April 10.

“Our customers know we’re back to Tynemouth on the third Saturday in August. People should get back to seasonal produce, it tastes better and cuts down on food miles.”

His lambs are slaughtered at Burradon, north of Newcastle, while the Andersons use a slaughterhouse in the borders. They mainly sell to restaurants in Newcastle as well as up to Bellingham and Kielder and also have a lot of private customers, many of them from Ken’s time as a butcher in Bellingham, doing home deliveries.

Diane said: “And we have a cutting-up service - farmers come with beasts to fill up their own freezers.

“We hang that for two or three weeks for them then everything is vac-packed and labelled ready for their freezers.”

Jimmy too has his own private customers, as well as selling at the weekly Morpeth market, the farmers’ markets there and in Tynemouth and Alnwick and Morpeth and at food festivals. “Next year I hope to be offering organically-reared lamb at supermarket prices because I don’t want to over-inflate the price, I want everyone to come to markets.”

The trio see educating the public as a part of their work, placing great emphasis on traceability - “As soon as it comes in that door, it’s written down, it’s all traceable,” said Diane - and passing on their expertise about the cuts of meat.

Jimmy does cutting demonstrations for groups like the WI while Ken finds regular audiences when he delivers to restaurants.

He has the longest career in the industry, having done a four-year butchery apprenticeship at Thompson Huddleston in Fore Street, Hexham, then starting up a shop in Bellingham which he ran for 25 years until the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.

After some years delivering tea for Rington’s, he returned to the meat trade.

Ken said: “Where we score is I can talk to chefs when we’re delivering, tell them about where the cuts of meat come from.

“A lot of them just seen a picture in a book.

“On the market we have a couple of signs showing where the stuff comes from, a lot of people ask for skirt and where it comes from and they think it’s great to find out.”

Diane chipped in: “Dad’s delivered a whole side carcass and started cutting it up in the kitchens and the whole place stopped to look, pastry chefs even, because they don’t understand where it all comes from.”

She has just celebrated her 22nd birthday and says people are often surprised when they discover she’s a butcher. “A young person and a woman, it’s a shock. Most of my friends are hairdressers. I never expected to follow in Dad’s footsteps but that’s the way it’s turned out. I did agriculture at school, land-based industries at Haydon Bridge High School, then I worked in the butchery.

“I had training, you think it would be really easy and it’s not - if you’re making sausages you think the meat just comes out of a tube and it doesn’t you have to control it. The first few attempts weren’t that successful.”

Their sausage skins are made from sheep intestines.

Ken explained: “It’s getting good-quality skins that makes the difference; most people are using plastic, they’re so hard to chow.

“That’s the main reaction we get, ‘Oh they’re natural, they’re going to be soft.’ When you cook them, they don’t go hard, that’s the difference.”

They admit that the father and daughter dynamic is a bit of a unique selling point for them. “People always ask what Diane does,” said Ken. “Well, she makes all the sausages and burgers, does all the paperwork and I do the other side of it.”

It’s a winning combination that, coupled with Jimmy’s expertise and generous use of the shared space, and the great taste of their meat, should keep the two families doing well for a long time to come.

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