IT'S not a job for everyone, but there are those who dedicate their lives to it. CAIO IWAN tries his hand as a butcher in Newport.
THERE was a time, so I’m told, when people would do their shopping solely on the high street. Long before the domination of the supermarket chains, bread would be bought at the local bakery, chocolate bars would be purchased at the corner shop, and meat would be bought at the local butcher’s. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
Nowhere is this decline in local shopping more evident than at Newport Indoor Market. When AD Turner and Sons was established in 1961, there were 21 other butcher’s inside the market. Such is the decline in demand, Turners is the only butcher’s still standing, and despite recent council construction work in and around the historic market affecting trade, a steady stream of customers is now returning.
But what is the secret to their longevity? Mike Turner, 45, and one of the sons of the company, tells me it is all about the customers.
“We value our customers – at the end of the day they pay our wages,” he said. “We get terrific regular trade by people who have supported us throughout the years. If our regulars, for some reason or another, could not come and get their meat, then we offer a delivery service.
“You’ve got to look after the customers – they are number one. Because we are in the market, we are in everybody’s faces. It’s important to be good to the customers even if you’re busy because in one morning you could be doing so many different things – you’ve got deliveries coming in, then the next minute you’d be boning [the meat], answering the phone, and serving the customer, more or less at the same time.”
The camaraderie between the workers and the customers is obvious. The team at the stall is made up of James “Stretch” Thomas, Gavin “Barto” Edwards, Ray “the cutter” Jones, Mike (whose nickname I did not ask for), and his father Tony “the boss” Turner, who started the family business more than half a century ago. Pat Turner, Mike’s older brother, runs the Turner Fine Foods stall located at the front of the market, which serves cold and ready-cooked meat from the butcher’s.
As I embark on a morning of meat-filled activities, I soon discover that presentation is key. The specially-designed counters, where meat can be kept overnight due to its constant 0-3 degrees Celsius temperature, are filled to the brim with a range of various meat products. Spicy sausages, marinated chickens, and flavoured burgers are a sign that the butcher’s are moving with the time. A simple beef burger will no longer do for some.
Hygiene is very important here as well. The first thing I am told to do before treating the meats is to wash my hands thoroughly. I am then handed a white cloak, an apron and a hat, and almost immediately I feel and look more like a proper butcher.
My first real job was to make the sausages. The pork is placed inside a machine, which has a funnel and a knee pedal.
The sausage filler, a naturally-made form of skin, is put on the funnel while my knee is used to project the meat out of the machine and into the filler. It is harder than it looks and takes some time to get used to.
Then, the fillers are repeatedly folded into what becomes the end product, but this is the hardest part of the process – but not for Stretch. He tells me he would make around 500 pounds worth of sausages per week. I can only imagine how many sausages the 35-year-old has “linked” during his 18 years in the job.
Next up - burgers. The beef is minced through a machine before being hand mixed with bread crumbs and water. I then rolled up the mince to portion-controlled weight at around 120g-150g each, before placing the balls in a compressor machine where I pull down the leaver to create a perfectly shaped burger. Hundreds of burgers, of various spices, are then kept in the freezer in preparation for Saturday’s early morning rush.
Ray Jones, a part-time cutter with 51 years of experience, then shows me how to pull the shoulder blade of a pig, in order to cut it up into chops. I am told that I am not allowed to use the knives, and for good reason.
I was then handed a “chain metal apron” and a “two-digit glove”. On the face of things, they are flimsy pieces of clothing, but they actually protect you from cutting or stabbing yourself accidentally while treating the meat. They were bought many years ago after a worker had accidentally stabbed himself in the midriff while boning the meat.
Having been given the clothing, a question springs to mind. Had any of them suffered any injuries while working here? Stretch puts his hand up to my face and I notice that two of his fingers are a limb short. The accident involved the mince mixer, but I won’t go into detail... But even without a full set of fingers, I am in awe of his ability to link the sausages.
I was allowed to hold the knife (for the benefit of the camera) but not to use it. Mike tells me that procedures need to be followed in order to be able to use the knife. An aspiring butcher could take months to use one properly.
Saturday is the busiest day of the week, between 8.30am and 10am in particular, so preparation in the week is vital for a smooth Saturday morning.
The vacuum packing system, Mike explains, is a “God send” to butchers. The idea is to be able to prepare the food, date it, and then keep it for weeks on end in the huge refrigerator they have in the stall.
The machine takes the moisture out of the bag completely, the meat is sealed in, which in turn keeps the meat dry and fresh. And with some meats, beef in particular, it helps to mature it over time. The normal procedure with beef is that is stays for two weeks on the bone, then vacuumed for a further two weeks after being boned.
This is all explained to me by Mike, who has been working in this environment for most of his life. He was a “Saturday boy” at his father’s butcher’s aged just 12. But during my brief time at Turners, I learned that there is much more to do behind the scenes, than what meats (!) the eye...
PANEL - Butcher terminology.
Here are some phrases and expressions I learned during my brief time with the boys at the butcher’s.
“On the block” – someone who does not serve or deal with the displaying of the meat, but who stays further back, cutting and boning the meat.
“Manufacturing” – turning the meat to a presentable product for the customer.
“Platting” or “linking” – the process where sausages are turned to their presentable form.
“Hoof to table” – sometimes referred to the process of turning a whole piece of meat into a selling product. For example, turning a whole pig into sausages.