The weekly food shop has soared in price recently. Things which families used to purchase on a regular basis are becoming less affordable; particularly meat.
My weekly shop usually includes chicken, fish and red meat but my usual meat joints, steaks and packets of bacon have surged in cost. No longer a mealtime staple, red meat is becoming more of a treat, which is fine if the inflated supermarket prices reflect an improvement in quality. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
At a time when overheads are high and businesses are still trying to recover from the impact of the Covid pandemic, supporting local and independent companies has never been more critical. Buying meat from local butchers can often cost more than it would from a supermarket but if you’re already paying more for meat without changing your shopping habits, why not pay a little extra to guarantee top-notch produce?
Very recently, I was introduced to Swaledale Online Butchers – strictly whole carcass, nose-to-tail specialist butchers based in Yorkshire. Their easy-to-navigate website beautifully showcases a huge range of exceptional, native-breed meat products which were previously only accessible to the UK’s top restaurants, gastropubs and chefs.
Up until very recently, mere home cooks such as myself would only ever be able to sample their meats when ordered from restaurant menus so I was keen to see how their products differ in quality from my usual supermarket purchases.
With a budget of around £50, I explored their website to choose some meat for family meals. It soon became apparent that my budget wouldn’t stretch very far and I would only get a few items for my money. However, this is the meat used by experienced chefs in award-winning restaurants so it was never going to be available at supermarket prices. With three adults and one child to feed, I thought it best to order a couple of meat joints. These could be used for Sunday roasts and then the leftovers turned into midweek meals.
Swaledale uses DPD for deliveries and there’s a minimum order value of £40. For orders between £40 and £59.99, there’s a £3.95 delivery fee but if your order value is above £60 you get delivery for free. They deliver Tuesday to Saturday and, in my experience at least, your order arrives precisely when they say it will!
I received an email first thing in the morning on my requested delivery day and was given a 1-hour time slot during which I could expect my parcel. It arrived on time and perfectly packaged with sealed bags of ice inside the box to keep the meat fresh on its depot-to-doorstep journey. Swaledale butcher all meat to order and it’s never frozen. My meat had quite literally been butchered, packed and sent straight to my door.
All the joints were actually a little larger than I expected and probably around the same size as joints I would usually choose from the supermarket, which more often than not decrease in size by at least 25% when cooked. The packets of bacon were also the same size as a standard 6-8 rasher pack you would buy from a supermarket.
The bacon was the first thing to be tried as my parcel just happened to arrive after Mr Wilson-Barrett had been into town and treated himself to a Full English. I had an intense craving for a bacon sandwich so I dry-fried a couple of rashers in a hot pan.
The aroma from the dry-cured meat was beautiful whilst it was cooking and the superior quality of the meat was instantly evident. The rashers barely shrunk at all and I didn’t end up with a pan full of moisture which had to be drained away in order for it to crisp up sufficiently. It cooked perfectly and the resulting crispy rashers tasted delightful when sandwiched between two thick slices of seeded sourdough.
Two rashers were enough to fill the sandwich too. More often than not, supermarket bacon shrinks when cooking due to the added water but these retained their size and a third rasher wasn’t required. Absolutely superb! The second packet was swiftly shoved in the freezer to be saved for Christmas Day.
I was already sold on Swaledale due to the outstanding quality of the bacon I had sampled in my sandwich and had high expectations for the Loin of Pork. Although we admittedly spent many years not bothering due to different working hours and food preferences, the Sunday roast has had a bit of a revival in our home of late. Our 8-year-old son adores a roast with all the trimmings so I do now ensure we have this weekly family meal together.
Our son’s preferred Sunday meat is chicken and will only very occasionally clear his plate if served pork instead. I was eager to discover whether a difference in meat quality would make a difference and if he would devour it with enthusiasm like he so often does chicken.
All the pork from Swaledale comes from outdoor reared, native breeds and is dry-aged on the bone for at least ten days to ensure maximum flavour. The Loin of Pork was a decent size and was delivered with the rind already scored so I didn’t have to struggle with my currently unsharpened knives.
Like many, the crackling on a pork joint is a Sunday dinner highlight for me but it isn’t always present. I prepared and cooked the Loin of Pork from Swaledale the same way I always cook pork so I could compare the results. I was not expecting such a delicious outcome!
Every centimetre of rind across the joint began to crisp up almost instantaneously and, once the joint was fully cooked and rested, we had the most incredible crackling I have ever eaten. I am not ashamed to say that it didn’t make it to the dinner plates. It was devoured straight from the meat by myself and my mother.
The meat beneath it was equally as delicious. Juicy, succulent and packed with flavour, it was an absolute joy to eat! I had intended to save some of the meat for the next day to use in a stir-fry or serve with salad but we all agreed that meat of such sensational quality should only be eaten there and then.
Much to my surprise, our son did indeed eat every morsel of meat as well as the roast potatoes which had absorbed some of its flavoursome juices. A truly magnificent meal that I’m sure I will only be able to recreate by ordering from Swaledale again.
Not wanting to cook two roasts in the same week, I put the beef joints in the freezer and will be cooking and serving them over Christmas. Keep an eye on our socials to see if the beef also surpasses all expectations! I expect it will as this grass-fed heritage breed beef is dry-aged on the bone for 28 days and was awarded a 1-star Great Taste in 2022. I’m very much looking forward to serving it with fluffy Yorkshire puddings and lashings of homemade gravy!
If you’re getting a little tired of paying over the odds for poor-quality meat, I highly recommend browsing the Swaledale website. Having tried their products, I firmly believe that they are worth every extra penny and there are actually some rather reasonably priced deals if you take the time to browse through. Their meat boxes are priced from £48 and include enough for a few meals.
My next order will almost certainly include a couple of steaks. With the pork being so noticeably superior to any I have cooked at home before, I simply cannot wait to sample a piece of Ribeye or a Tomahawk!