Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Farmer's Choice Online Butcher

Operating a strict dietary policy of organic or free range meat and dairy, I often find myself at a culinary loss. Large items aren’t a problem – free range chicken is available at the supermarket, lamb is free range and anything else I can source from the network of local-ish butchers I have built up.

The questions is, where do you get free-range chicken livers for pate? What if I want to make sticky wings or BBQ ribs? How about bacon? Or pancetta? Luckily there’s a place I can turn to and I don’t even have to leave my lounge. Famer’s Choice is an online cornucopia of free-range products, dedicated to sourcing from a range of free-range suppliers with rare breeds, no GM/hormones and good husbandry. The company has been in the same hands for twenty years and this leads to a flexibility of service and huge range of choice, there’s over 600 products and cuts you can order.

Tony - the orignal Farmer's Choice butcher, still looking after the business today

My delivery was sent to work; Farmer’s Choice will send anywhere so you don’t have to worry about meat being left on your doorstep or in a sunny porch. Packed in a sturdy cardboard box and insulated with wool, the meat arrived frozen and stayed rock solid until I got it home five hours later. I had initially been worried that it would start to defrost, but the care taken over packing and the sensible use of materials ensured everything stayed as frozen as when it left the Farmer’s Choice depot.

The wild boar haunch I ordered was two good slabs of dark pink steak that we fried up and ate with caramelised apples and a juniper sauce. The meat was gamey with resistance in the bite, without being tough or chewy and had that lovely sweet porcine flavour, but deeper, more robust and more savoury.

Wild boar with thanks to Farmers Choice

I chose the slower growing, free-range chicken from Farmer’s Choice as I was intrigued at how an older bird, slaughtered at 56-60 days, would taste compared to a supermarket free-range bird killed between 36-40 days. They source their birds from Childhey Manor in Dorset, who have specially selected a breed that suits this slower growing. I was impressed that Farmer's Choice/Childhey Manor free range is properly free range; hens live small flocks in insulated arcs and are allowed to go out after three weeks to scratch around and become 'proper' chickens (apparently before they're a favourite food of the magpies!) - supermarket free-range birds live in enriched, open sheds, but hardly roam out as they like to stay by the food troughs.

Chicken as it arrived

Following my usual roasting times I cooked the chicken on a trivet of stock veg, added apples, sage and onions to the pan and roasted my potatoes around the bird – pretty usual fare in the Nosh household. There was a definite difference in the quality of the bird, the boy noticing it as soon as he put the first mouthful in. Compared with a supermarket chook, the Farmer’s Choice bird had a fuller flavour and the meat had more bite. This is not to say the bird was dry or tough, just wonderfully chewy rather than dull and pappy.

Ready for the oven

The accompanying juices that came off the bird also had a depth of flavour I haven’t had from a supermarket free-range bird before. Indeed they were so thick and flavoursome that I didn’t need to make a gravy from them, but used them strained straight from the roasting tin. We ate the cold meat over the next few days and the dark meat was superb, adding deep savoury flavours - I can't wait to taste what the stock is like from the bird.

Ready for my tummy

Initially I had been put off Farmer’s Choice as the meat is all frozen, however when it arrived I realised this was far more beneficial for me, as it stayed fresher as I was at work and I could bung it straight in the freezer (which was where it was going anyway!). After processing the meat at Farmer's Choice is blast frozen to ensure it's frozen properly, with no loss of taste or quality - this was obvious from the meat we ate, there had been no deterioration.

The produce from Farmer’s Choice isn’t cheap, but that’s something to be expected from a specialist producer sourcing rare breeds and quality meat - it's certainly not overly expensive or charged at a premium. The old adage that you get what you pay for is certainly true in relation to Farmer's Choice.
Farmer’s Choice is an excellent resource for those of us who care about the food that we eat and it’s the choice and variety they offer which is the real bonus here. There’s free range stock bones, offal, chicken wings, game, cured meats – products I usually can’t get hold of, even at other online suppliers and have had to fore go many a time.

Please note I was sent my delivery for free, but the views expressed in this article are my own.


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  2. Great looking pictures, making me hungry!