High steaks on the high street
The McFarlane brothers butcher’s shops are taking on the challenge of competing with the supermarkets by offering customers high quality meat cuts and a range of locally-sourced groceries. Wendy Short reports...
Most high quality butchers buy heifer beef for the prime cuts and McFarlane’s follows this principle, says Stuart McFarlane, whose brother, Alistair manages the shop in Middleton-in-Teesdale.
“All our beef roasting joints and steaks are from heifer carcases, matured for 28 days, to bring out the flavour.
“Heifer beef is of superior quality and tends to have a finer grain, compared to steers and bulls. In my opinion, Aberdeen Angus beef tends to be the tastiest, and Hereford beef has a nice cover of fat and an excellent grain. Our suppliers, Jewitts of Spennymoor and Thompsons of Witton le Wear, buy from local farmers and operate to a very high standard,” says Mr McFarlane.
“Provenance is very important to our customers and we also like to support agriculture in our region. Teesdale and the surrounding areas have some very good farms and our lamb and pork comes from the same sources.
“Over the years, eating habits have changed and people often ask us to trim off the fat from their meat, though my personal preference is to keep a layer of fat on because I believe that it improves the eating quality.”
As well as selling meat over the counter, McFarlane’s supplies several restaurants, including Valentine’s and Blagraves House, in Barnard Castle, with Coghlan’s restaurant and the Teesdale Hotel also using McFarlane’s meat.
Much of the work at a butcher’s shop goes on behind the scenes. McFarlane’s is no exception, curing their own bacon and producing sausages and home-made pork pies, with the latter winning a gold award a couple of years ago.
Other pies include an award-winning minted lamb pie and, for the more adventurous, a chicken balti pie, with pastry made by Stuart himself. Another in-house speciality is the ham and pease pudding.
The popularity of ready meals and ingredients that can be put together to make a quick meal has influenced the range of products on offer. Last month, the brothers launched a range of 20-minute meals, among which is a beef truffle. It is a bake-in-the-oven recipe made of shaped minced meat, filled with onions and a peppercorn or barbeque sauce and topped with cheese.
Being in the heart of shooting country, the butcher’s shops are well-placed to provide game in season, with rabbits supplied all year round by local gamekeepers.
Alistair and the elder Mr McFarlane, Ted, are keen shooters and they provide the rabbits for the shop.
Butchers have been in the Barnard Castle building, on the corner of the main street and Horse Market, since 1890. The McFarlane brothers took over the business form Keith Tarn when he retired.
“I never set out to become a butcher,” said Mr McFarlane. “We bought the business just after foot-and-mouth outbreak, so it was a challenging beginning, to say the least.
Stuart and his wife Caroline, who works in the office at Dunhouse Quarry, have two young children. Jake, 11, and William, five. They often help out in the shop when not at school.
“Some people think it might be difficult working alongside my brother, but in fact we get on very well. We manage the two shops separately, but they are run as one business and it works very well.”
Stuart McFarlane has been a volunteer firefighter since 2015. He is on call from 7.30am-5pm Mondays to Saturdays, and several times has had to leave the shop, to answer an emergency call.
“I am currently training to be one of the drivers. We are called out at least a couple of times a week and on one occasion we had to cut passengers out of a car following an accident on the A66. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. We also supply and fit smoke alarms in people’s homes, free of charge.”
Average working week? 60-plus hours
Job’s best bits? Meeting different people
And the worst? Being in the cold room in the winter
If not this, then what? Fireman
Your prized possession? I don’t have one
Tempted by....? Pies
Who has influenced you the most? My father who was a civil engineer.