2014-02-12  

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Swaledale Foods Champions British Native Breeds

The cause of British native breed animals is being championed by North Yorkshire-based Swaledale Foods, run by trained chef Jorge Thomas.

The business, which has just taken over new premises, a former food factory on Skipton’s Snaygill Industrial Estate, is fast making its mark in the catering and hospitality world, notably in London, where it is already supplying over 30 high profile restaurants with traditional native breeds meat.

Pictured in the maturation fridge at Swaledale Foods’ new meat preparation unit in Skipton are, from left, operations manager Charlie Cowling, founder Jorge Thomas and head butcher Kyle Mottram.

Pictured in the maturation fridge at Swaledale Foods’ new meat preparation unit in Skipton are, from left, operations manager Charlie Cowling, founder Jorge Thomas and head butcher Kyle Mottram.

Jorge Thomas, 30, from Haworth, near Keighley, who trained and worked as a chef in his native South Wales, before establishing Swaledale Foods in Haworth in 2009, has a true passion for British native breeds.

He sources both beef and lamb breeds through Skipton Auction Mart, including prize-winning show livestock, and direct from local farmers, among them Longhorns from James Hall in the Yorkshire Dales hamlet of Darnbrook, plus Dexters from Mike Medley in nearby Cowling, Highland cattle from the Harewood Estate, near Leeds, along with Belted Galloways and Aberdeen Angus.

James Dewhirst, of Carleton, who represents Swaledale Foods at the Skipton Auction Mart ringside, is also breeding his own Dexter cattle purposely for the business.

In the prime lamb sector, Swaledale Foods actively seeks out local hill-bred lambs such as Dalesbred, Swaledale, Mules, Mashams and Lonk, along with Hebridean and Jacob lambs, again from Harewood Estate.

Pork, all sourced from Yorkshire, comes from Middle White, Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback, British Lop and the lesser-known Mangalitsa native pig breeds.

Until late last year, Jorge was working from Stanforth’s Butchers meat preparation unit at Skipton Auction Mart, but has now taken over and made significant investment in his own 2,600sq ft unit to prepare and mature the meat he sources. It incorporates a cutting-up room, maturation, curing and despatch fridges, and a standalone sausage-making room.

Jorge remains keenly aware that over the past two decades demand for native breeds meat has dwindled, as Continental breeds have become increasingly popular. However, with his background as a chef, primarily at the Walnut Tree Inn in his native Abergavenny, he is at the forefront of a revolution that is leading to renewed demand for native breed cattle, sheep and pigs.

Jorge enthused: “The differerence in the marbling, for example between a British Blue and a Dexter beef animal, is so noticeable. However, it is not just the breed of cattle. Age is also a major consideration and you can age native breed cattle much better, up to five-years-old in some cases.

“We dry-age all our native breeds beef – we hang it for a good month. It can stand it and the meat eats much better too because there is a lot more fat. In fact, I purposely look for older carcases - the taste and texture are out of this world.

“It’s a similar philosophy for native breed sheep. I much prefer them to the more popular Continental-cross breeds, while some of the pork we supply comes from rare breed pigs – and by creating more demand we are helping to ensure their very survival. What’s more, their crackling is out of this world!”

It’s an ethos that’s going down particularly well among leading chefs at some top London restaurants, including award-winning gastropubs The Anchor and Hope in Waterloo, run by Jonathan Jones, The Eagle in Clerkenwell, officially recognised as Britain’s first gastrobub, and The Dock Kitchen on Portobello Dock, run by former Young Chef of the Year Stevie Parle.

Among other converts in the capital are Jeremy Lee, head chef at Quo Vadis in Soho and an iconic figure in the industry, Fergus Henderson, head chef at St John in Farringdon, widely recognised as the restaurant behind modern British food, and husband and wife Sam and Sam Clarke, who head up Moro in Exmouth Market.

Just round the corner in Farringdon Road, The Quality Chop House, a butchers shop first opened in 1869, is supplying Swaledale Foods’ meat both over the counter and in its own dining room and wine bar.

Jorge explained: “London is definitely where the main native breeds market is at the moment and chefs with a real eye for detail are demanding more of our locally sourced meat for their customers’ tables.”

The Anchor and Hopes’s Jonathan Jones concurred. He commented:
“Jorge is amazing. I buy virtually all of my four-legged animals from him - beef, pork, lamb and veal. He is the most passionate procurer and hanger of meat I have come across in my 20 years in the business.

“His unerring passion is what sets him apart. He will not send me anything that he is not proud of. He is one step ahead because he has such an idealistic eye and the quality of the meat he supplies is amazing. He is a joy to work with and I trust him implicitly.

“His own bacon is fantastic and I also buy his sausages. I am not a sausage man, but for him I will make an exception. People come to us because they know the quality and ingredients are first-rate and since I started using Jorge the quality of our meat has improved significantly.

“We certainly don’t get any complaints from our customers about quality and my chefs say it is a pleasure to work with Jorge’s products and that it gives them the opportunity to do something special.”

Jorge has the backing of a small, but select team, among them award-winning butcher Kyle Mottram, who became the first-ever apprentice butcher at award-winning Keelham Farm Shop in Thornton, Bradford.

Last year, Kyle, from Haworth, was presented with the ‘Outstanding Food Learner of the Year’ award by HRH The Princess Royal, Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, at a presentation in London hosted by the Institute of Meat and the Meat Training Council. He was invited to the ceremony after being chosen as Meat Technology Apprentice of the Year in annual awards run by Leeds City College, where he undertook his butchery training.

Kyle has joined Swaledale Foods as head butcher, with Charlie Cowling, of Utley, formerly a globally travelled senior buyer for Tesco, appointed as operations manager. Darren Lunn, of Bradford, is despatch driver, with the team completed by Oakworth’s Nigel Feather, now semi-retired after a career with Jack Scaife Butchers in Oakworth.

With its new unit now fully operational and additional capacity in place, Swaledale Foods is seeking to spread the word on its own doorstep. Jorge explained:
“We already supply the Ilkley Moor Vaults with native breeds meat and are looking to expand across the Ilkley, Harrogate, Leeds and York areas, as well as the Lake District.”

Swaledale Foods also produces its own dry-cured hams, bacon and sausages, among them a number of own-brand products. This is an area of business Jorge is also keen to expand both locally and nationally.

He added: “We always try to source from local farmers wherever possible, as well as through Skipton Auction Mart when the native breeds we seek come up for sale. We are keen to both cement and develop these trading partnerships to ensure we have the supplies necessary to meet the growing demand we are experiencing.”

Craven Cattle Marts general manager Jeremy Eaton said: “We recognise that demand is increasing and would ask vendors to advise us if they are bringing good quality native breed stock to market, so we can advise appropriate buyers.

Swaledale Foods is launching a new website this Spring at www.swaledalefoods.co.uk It will feature an online ordering facility for both trade and the general public. Jorge can be contacted on 07817 739798 or email jorge@swaledalefoods.co.uk

Outside work, Jorge is an accomplished runner, being a former Welsh and Yorkshire cross country champion. He regularly competes for Wales.

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