A career with a twist: How I got hands-on with a string of sausages
Continuing a series of features looking at different jobs, Chris Jones picks up his cleaver to work at a Derbyshire butcher's shop.
MOST people tend not to want to know what goes into a sausage but I was about to find out in a deeply personal way.
With my sleeves rolled up, I watched butcher Anthony Griffiths tip a sack full of what I can only describe as "pork bits" into a big metal tray.
Then he turned to me and said: "Right, you're up."
Fast forward 20 minutes and I am standing in the back room of Anthony Andrews' butcher's shop, in Ashbourne Road, Turnditch, proudly holding up a string of finished sausages.
Sure, some are bursting a little bit and some are bulbously over-filled but this isn't too bad. I've just made a whole pile of sausages, all by myself, and it's not even lunchtime.
I'll get to the details of sausage construction in a bit, but it was one of many highlights of a morning finding out what happens at a rural Derbyshire butcher's.
I arrive at the shop at about 9.30am to find Anthony, 30, and his partner, Jo Kavanagh, who run the business together, finishing making a batch of pork pies.
They set the shop up last year and have been building in popularity. Anthony, whose youthful stubble and wide smile belie a lifetime's experience of butchery, reveals he picked up the trade as a teenager.
He tells me: "I was 13 when I started in a butcher's shop in Borrowash. I would get dropped off just after school and I went in and asked if there was any work.
"I started just cleaning down the shop and tidying up but when I was 16 I got a knife in my hand and started to learn about boning meat.
"I learned that preparing meat was a real art, trying to get as much from the bones as possible. There is a lot more to learn than I first thought."
Before starting his own business, Anthony had worked at Duffield farm shop Croots. It was there he met Jo, who had been working as a hairdresser.
The two got together and decided to open their own butcher's shop. And after getting a start-up loan, they began looking for suitable premises.
Anthony says: "That's when we saw the Ashbourne Road place. It used to be a post office and we saw it was right next to the pub, the Cross Keys, and would be the only butcher's shop in the area. So we went for it."
At this point, Anthony gives me a tour of the small shop, taking me through his average day. We start in the front of the store, coming through the doorway as a customer might.
He says: "I get up at about 7am and the first thing I'll do is sort out the display. All the meat is kept in fridges and we put it out each morning."
Under the glass counter are the usual sausages, bacon, chops and steaks. There are cheeses in wicker baskets, pasties and pies. There are also bowls of pre-prepared stir-fry.
Anthony says: "We mix it up a bit, keep the customers guessing, move things around. The stir-fry is a really good seller, it's easy to prepare and easy to cook and it is a way we can use up meat.
"We hate throwing anything away. There is always something else you can use the meat for. If mince starts getting dark you can turn it into burgers. If they are near a sell-by date you can freeze them and use them as barbecue burgers.
"There are a lot of myths about meat. You go to the supermarket and you get this bright red mince and you think it is fresher, but there are things you can add to meat to make it look bright and red. Real meat goes dark and brown but it doesn't mean it is off."
Along with the meats and cheeses, the shop stocks various sauces, chutneys, bread and vegetables. Jo and Anthony source almost everything locally, visiting food fairs to find new products.
"Jo sorts out all the other foods. She really enjoys it," says Anthony. "These farmers' markets and food fairs are vital for rural businesses. It's a way of finding new things but also of making contacts. A lot of times this can lead to good contracts."
Such as providing meat to the pub next door – the Cross Keys – the Hackwood Farm Shop in Mickleover, and the Bull's Head, in Shottle.
Anthony says: "We've established ourselves quite well since we set up in April last year. We believed in the local butcher's. We knew we would be the only butcher's shop nearby for a lot of people.
"We set the business up in the middle of a recession but we're doing well."
Almost on cue, customers start to thread into the shop, Jo comes out to serve and Anthony and I head into the back of the shop to talk meat.
He has two deliveries a week, from local farms via abattoirs. Out the back door is a huge walk-in freezer with various cow parts hanging from frighteningly sharp hooks.
While we talk, a customer orders a particular joint of pork. Anthony lugs a lump of pig to the chopping table in the back room and goes to work, whipping a knife from the gunslinger-style belt at his hip.
He talks me through the job, running the knife tip through the pale skin – "This is to get good crackling" – and dexterously tying it up with the iconic red-and-white string.
He takes it out to the customer, stopping for a good chat – "Many people just like to come in for a chat. A local shop is about the personal experience" – before coming back in and washing his hands.
Anthony says: "I'll wash my hands maybe 100 times a day. Hygiene is a huge part of the job."
A couple of minutes later and I'm in charge of those sausages-to-be.
With a metal tray full of porky chunks, I guide them into a kind of plughole, through which they gurgle, crunch and churn into mince, which streams out of the side of the device.
I then add a secret mix of herbs and spices – "Get your hands stuck in there, son" – before running the mixture once more through the mincer for good measure.
The next bit is the tricky part; winding a length of sausage skin (yes, it is intestine; nothing else does the job quite as well, according to Anthony) on to the spout, from which, when I press the pedal on the base of the machine, sausage meat will stream forth.
Hopefully you get the idea. It seems simple; press the gas pedal, keep the skin coating steady and, voila, you have a big, long sausage.
Not quite as easy as that in practice.
I ended up with a couple of metres of bulky, inconsistent banger, which then had to be twisted, balloon animal-style, into standard sausage lengths. This was the bit which blew my mind – and mangled many of my sausages.
His hands a nimble blur of rapidly twisting sausages, Anthony says: "At Christmas, I can be here for hours just keeping up with demand, making hundreds of sausages. So you get pretty good, pretty quickly."
Afterwards, I hold my finished product up to his. With a sigh, I concede mine aren't going to win any awards.
But Anthony and Jo might. Barely a year after setting up their shop, they have been nominated for innovation of the year at the 2012 Butcher's Shop of the Year Awards. The finals will be held in London later in the year.
Anthony says: "It is really exciting to be in with a chance. People have taken to us really well round here. There is definitely still a place for the local butcher's shop.
"A supermarket is more convenient but we can give advice on cooking, get the exact cut of meat you want and be part of the community."
HOW TO COOK UP A CAREER AS A BUTCHER
FOR anyone wanting to become a butcher, the most widely recognised qualifications in the industry are NVQs levels 2 and 3 in meat and poultry processing.
The Meat Training Council also offers equivalent courses – the intermediate and advanced certificates in meat and poultry.
As an apprentice or trainee butcher, the starting salary will be in the region of £10,000 to £12,000 a year.
With a couple of years of experience, this figure could rise to between £13,000 and £20,000 a year.
Experienced butchers and butchery managers or owners can expect to earn more than £30,000.
All trainee butchers will need to complete a basic food hygiene certificate.
Potential butchers should not be squeamish about handling and preparing raw meat, dealing with carcasses, blood and meat products.
Butchery can involve hard physical labour, with a lot of lifting and carrying of heavy carcasses and joints of meat.
Despite the growing reliance on machinery, a lot of meat preparation is still done by hand.
Apprenticeships and trainee positions are open to those with no experience but about two to three years of previous experience is required before individuals are allowed to apply for a professional butcher's role.
For more information, access www.meattraining.org.uk.