Learning the Art of Butchery – the Ginger Pig Way

The Local Butcher. A dying institution, but one which holds, for me, the romanticism and excitement that other women might find in their Local Burberry. Chilled air, sparse décor, stark lighting, glistening flesh and fresh, primal smells come together and create something that sets my heart racing. No wonder Kødbyen is my favourite part of Copenhagen – industrial chic, warehouses, white-tiled butchers shops converted into galleries, meat shops next to bars and discos (another kind of meat market). And so when I heard that Marylebone High Street’s Ginger Pig offered butchery classes I signed myself up to not one, but two: Pork and Lamb. Pork being my king of meats and lamb being, well, fatty and delicious.

How it works is very simple. You pay (£135 per class – phenomenonally good value for money), you arrive, you don a khaki coloured butcher’s overall, you wash your hands and then gather round as Borut the Butcher kicks the class off (bang on time) with a short introduction to the Ginger Pig and your meat of choice as steaming sausage rolls or pan-seared slices of mint-jelly dipped lamb are served.

A beautiful wooden butcher’s counter is bare save for a headless, gutless animal – soon to be dissected into hocks, rumps, loin, cutlets, ribs, hand and springs, chops, shanks, saddles and neck scrags. And soon we are travelling through the different cuts of the carcass, the various textures, colours and layers – fat, bones, sinew, flesh, ligament, cartilage, (knick-knack) paddywhack – taking on meaning and relevance to the anatomy of the animal and to the impact on gastronomy. Harder working muscles (neck and leg) require slower, longer cooking, for example.

The Ginger Pig's guide to Lamb cuts

Then there are the knives – so sharp there is little tactile difference between using one on flesh and using a blunt knife on butter – and the saws (can those things get through bones with little effort!), all metallic and laid out on the colossal wooden slab like jewelry at Tiffany. The more blood-inclined (that’s me) have a chance to hack through bones and tear through muscle and gauge out an eyeball or two.

Watching the butchers deftly shimmy knives around bones, flick meat off chine bone as if it were soufflé, one appreciates butchery as a science as well as an art. When we are presented with our own hunk of animal to de-bone, we realise how difficult it actually is to extricate the chine bone from a pork loin or shoulder blade from a lamb shoulder without reducing the adjacent meat to mince. Minced or intact, you get to take home what feels like three bags full of glorious meat, along with a nifty little diagram of your animal (see above and below) and advice on how to best cook your joint.

The Ginger Pig's guide to Pork cuts

All the Ginger Pig’s meat – pork, beef and lamb – is grass reared on the Yorkshire Moors and the animals are given free reign to move about as they please. As such, there can be huge variety in the resulting meat: not all animals end up equal. Some will skip about a lot, making for leaner meat. And others will lie about stuffing their faces with grass all day, giving them a fattier, fuller figure – all the better to eat them with.

The breed of the animal has no effect on the taste of the resulting meat – it’s totally down to what the animal has been fed. It doesn’t take a biologist to work out that an animal who has spent its life without stress outdoors, in fresh air and feasting on vegetation will taste sublime next to anything your local supermarket has to offer.

Three and a half hours spent at the Moxon Street shop – the Burberry of butcher’s shops, not a flake of sawdust anywhere – overflows with useful information and it is impossible to soak it all in, especially after a slap up roast (cooked by the butchers with your chosen meat to be feasted upon after the technical part of the class is over) helped down by some hearty glasses of wine – Picpoul for the pork, Cotes du Rhone with the lamb.

A trip to the Ginger Pig is made special by the love for and knowledge their butchers have of their trade and the sincerity with which they impart choice cuts of wisdom to their group of “apprentices”. And with their ebullience and cocky humour, the class feels more like a kick about in the park.

Pork vs Lamb

Pork Lamb Winner
Appetiser Ginger Pig homemade hot sausage rolls – very high meat to pastry ratio, as it should be Slices of pan-seared lamb “cannon” with Ginger Pig mint jelly Pork
Carcass Half a pig plus head.The size of the beast means most of the group get a chance to cut up the various parts, including a go with the bone saw and cleaver  Whole lamb minus head.Contrary to the expectation, this is not a tiny baby lamb you see hop, skip and a-jumping around fields in springtime. The seven month old specimen was rather large (lamb is a sheep up to two years old.) 

Due to the smaller size, only a few people got a chance to cut through with saws.

The physiology of the lamb is a lot more complex and “fiddly” – our butcher did most of the dissecting

 

Tie
Joint Pork loin that we de-chine (1 bone) and season in salt, pepper, fennel and garlic before rolling back up and fixing with slipknots – the most challenging part of the course! Shoulder of lamb that we remove three bones from including the shoulder blade. Taken home tied up and unseasoned Pork
Roast Pork loin roasted with garlic, fennel, salt and pepper with spectacular crackling that breaks like plaster cast. Dauphinoise potatoes, mustard, apple sauce. Bread and butter pudding Lamb shank slow roasted for over seven hours with garlic. Mash potatoes, mint jelly and bread and butter pudding for afters Pork
Wine White for pork – Picpoul Red for lamb – Cotes du Rhone Lamb
The Group My Pork class on a Thursday night was mainly middle-aged married men – an absolute hoot with lots and lots of joking around! Lamb on a Sunday afternoon had more women and “young” people – the banter only got going after wine was in hand and lamb Pork

For information on the mouth watering meat on offer at Ginger Pig shops and the other classes they offer click here

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  • Rolling Sloane

    Caroline, you’ve just made me crave bacon and lamb chops! Mint jelly has just been added to my shopping list too.

Here to live, have fun and then write about it. Prefers things to be weird, unusual and away from the crowds. Travel list includes Iceland, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Hungary, Mongolia, Uzbekhistan, Siberia, Botswana… subject to frequent change. Tumultuous love-hate relationship with London, dislikes public transport and planning; loves the outdoors and sitting cross legged on floors. Writing falls somewhere between the cracks of journalism, criticism, features, opinions and stream of consciousness. Sometimes acerbic, other times naïve. Described by one reader as “unique”. Areas of quasi expertise: Russia, Scandinavia, books and literature, music, art, film, sexual politics, good and bad theatre, odd things done, remarkable exhibitions, places to sip tea, slug wine and be gluttonous, far flung lands and alien cultures. Has created anthologies of poetry, is whipping up a children’s book and has ideas and aspirations for much more. Yet to decide who she is and where she is headed – hop on board for the ride.