Three local farming families, the Knights, Paskes, and Reynolds bought the business on West Street from K Johnson and Son in 2004 to bring their products straight from the farms to the cooks. Their priority was that their customers knew that their livestock was raised with high welfare standards, and that the “meat is fully traceable back to the day the animal was born”.
Sally Knight said the family farm has been in Stoke Doyle since the 1930s. “We rear cattle on our farm. After going to the abattoir, the beef comes back here, so we are very much farm to fork.” The beef and lamb sold in the shop is local to Oundle, and the chicken and pork come from farms in Suffolk.
A family butchers could not be more traditional, and yet their business is right on trend, with growing concern to buy British, and more interest in knowing about where our food comes from. Supermarkets still dominate, but more shoppers are rejecting their plastic wrapped, mass produced food, and turning to smaller, local producers.
Mrs Knight said that among the many advantages of buying locally produced meat is knowing where it comes from and who has prepared it. “A lot of it is provenance, and a lot of it is skill. You get the meat in its primal cut and we can actually tailor-make it into what you want.”
The personalised customer service that a butcher can provide is indispensable for both novices and experienced cooks, and contributes to a relationship that builds over years. When you shop at a butchers, you can have a meaningful conversation, because butchers don’t just prepare the meat, they know how to cook it. If a customer is uncertain about how to cook a particular cut, the butcher can advise on the best preparation. Butchers can recommend what cut to use for a new recipe, and help choose the best selection for your budget. Best of all, they can prepare the piece to your specific requirements, from boning to tying or mincing.
Mrs Knight knows that the future of farming will be more challenging, from volatile global markets to the weather. For instance, she said that this year the early wet weather meant that they had not been able to drill a large amount of crop for the next harvest. People’s food choices are changing, too, and they are eating with less red meat during the week. And when we spoke in early March, none of us predicted that the coronavirus outbreak would close the shop and move orders to home delivery.
While current trends and global pressures beyond our control put stress on businesses, they also help focus the consumer on what remains important in sustaining our local communities. Local butchers have been a staple of every high street in every town for hundreds of years, and they have endured for a reason: the relationship is valued, the service is essential.