Butcher Bro 1 – The Art of Meat

The first leg of my journey into the meaty underbelly of Cambridgeshire starts with The Art of Meat in Arbury. Owned and run by Jon West (not to be confused with the tinned fish peddling John West), this is very much a traditional butchers shop with a village feel, right on the edge of town.

Established in 2005 they take great pride in sourcing their products as locally as possible, with an eye on sustainability and quality. This quote from their website sums their attitude up quite well:

“Local free range meats and poultry, sourced from people we know who love what they produce.”

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. With Jon’s colleague Ayden very keen to point out their Chickens from the award winning Fosse Meadows, known to slow grow the oldest chickens in Britain, it’s clear that ethics are also high on their agenda.

Despite their small retail space they have a decent range, encompassing all of the classic cuts your typical retail customer might be looking for. They also stock some marinated options, and even some kebabs for those of us too busy (or lazy) to push a stick through meat themselves.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to measure each Butcher’s quality, and I’ve decided that the humble sausage will be the barometer. It’s also a fantastic excuse to have a regular fry up. Art of Meat make their own sausages and have a broad selection. When I asked which was their best, the lad behind the counter said he felt the simple Salt & Pepper sausage was top. 100% pork with a bit of seasoning.

I ended up purchasing one Salt & Pepper, one Hobson’s Choice (their Newmarket equivalent) and one Toulouse. But no fry up would be complete without bacon, so I went for a personal favourite of mine – Treacle Cured Back Bacon. They buy the bacon in, but again with an eye on the utmost quality.

I made a quick stop over the way at Les Ward (this is as close to a greengrocer review you’ll get out of me Neil B.) to grab some other fry-up essentials. I snagged myself some swanky heritage tomatoes, mushrooms, and eggs, then headed back (in my Hyundai hybrid for those that care) to rustle up some lunch all day breakfast style.

I’m a big fan of cooking my tomatoes low and slow, so they went in the oven with a bit of salt and pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of sugar. Then I got into the serious business of cooking my meat.

As a general rule, the best test of bacon quality for me is all about shrinkage. Despite clearly not being a dry cure, there was prescious little in the way of shrinkage and the bacon held up very well. Treacle Cured Bacon can be a bit of a pig (geddit…) to cook, as the extra sugar content lends itself to burning. Much like the toms, I took my time.

I enjoyed all of the sausages, with the Toulouse probably just pipping the salt and pepper to top spot for me. The bacon was also delicious. We’re going to need some metrics to keep track of who’s the best of the bunch, and by virtue of being first I’m going to have to leave some room for others to creep ahead.

The main metric for all of these reviews will be on the quality of their sausages. Or from now on, their Bangerbility.

Four Bangers!

Towards the end of my visit Jon came back from delivering Steak & Honour their daily minced beef. We got to talking about facial hair (as a proud owner of a curly tash myself) and Jon explained he used to have a classic handle-bar. He holds a deep longing to sport some mutton chops, but out of love for his wife he’s held back.

So for science (shits and giggles) let’s see if there’s any correlation between facial-fuzz and bangerbility. I’m gonna award Jon a facial-fuzz score of 2.5 mutton chops out of 5. Must try harder. 😜

I caught up with Jon after my visit, and he clearly takes a lot of pride in the people he employs. Rightly so, they were a credit to him. Full of knowledge, and with top notch customer service skills. Jon says “I am really lucky to have them and I hope they know I appreciate it”.

The face of a man who loves his job.

Jon himself spent a year as a butcher in ’84 before returning to his studies. Ironically pursuing a career in Plant Biotechnology and Genetics. Sick of 3 year contracts and grants, not to mention academic wage scales, he took a punt on buying a Butcher’s Shop. Almost 18 years later, that punt continues to pay dividends. Much to the benefit of Arbury’s residents and fans of another Cambridge institution – Steak & Honour.