Blog post – Orgasmic meat and cooking with Commandos
September has been a month of food festivals for me. I have been up and down the country, with my pans and baskets of ingredients and cooking and talking my little heart out. And I’ve had the most amazing time doing it. From Essex chilli festivals, to North Yorkshire market towns, via a picture perfect castle perched on the banks of the River Exe estuary.
The festival at Powderham Castle in Devon was a little bit different, in that there were no cookers as such but only great big fire pits, barbecues and smokers. There were also Royal Marine Commandos, who train just down the river at Lympstone village and had come along to demonstrate how they get through their missions with a 4000 calorie per day ration pack they carry with them. The marines contingent was led by Colour Sergeant Mike Beaton, who having served in various theatres of war around the world, was now leading a slightly different battle, teaching disadvantaged youngsters how to cook and feed themselves with healthy and nutritious food.
He was cooking a chicken curry (which featured the unusual ingredient of a chocolate Bounty bar), so the director of the festival thought it would be a great idea to have me go up into the van and have a cook-off. It was certainly one of the most surreal moments of the year so far, taking on a Royal Marine Commando in his own environment, but I’m pleased to report that I held my own and the tasters I handed out received a resounding thumbs up from an appreciative crowd.
And from the frying pan it was straight into the fire. To be exact it was back to the theatre of fire and smoke, which was held in a big tipi perched on the edge of the estuary. The fire master was Peter Greig, who with his wife Henri, run Pipers Farm which is an all-grass, family farm, just north of Exeter.
Peter, who is a charismatic and handsome fellow, had the audience completely fascinated during his talk about raising and butchery of livestock. He spoke of his own journey from working for his father in an industrial chicken unit and how after he met his wife Henri, and once their two children were born, they wanted to change the direction of the way that they were producing food. They realised that they didn’t actually want to feed their own children the chicken that they were producing, and so began the Pipers Farm vision.
Peter was inspirational in the way he talked about the natural and traditional way in which they raise animals on the farm. He talked about their Red Ruby cattle, which are only ever fed mother’s milk and grass, and which are reared slowly out on Exmoor. Pipers Farm, said Peter, are not in the organic business but rather the orgasm business; providing orgasmic meat to be enjoyed by all. Tasters were handed out and the resultant ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of enjoyment seemed to rather confirm Peter’s hype!
Peter taught himself to butcher animals, travelling extensively in Europe to discover the different way that they butcher animals there, and gave an insight into why certain cuts of meat are better used for certain types of cooking. He explained that cuts from the four corners of the animal (such as brisket, neck or shin) had worked hard all their lives, developing sinews and muscle which, when slow-cooked, break down to give unparalleled flavour. This flavour will only come from animals that have matured slowly and from meat which has been hung for the appropriate length of time. Cuts from the middle of the animal, such as the forerib or fillet had enjoyed an easier life, meaning they could be cooked quickly and still be tender and delicious.
Peter spoke so passionately about the way meat is produced these days. He described how the naturally reared Pipers Farm pigs farrow and make nests for their piglets, but most commercially produced pork is from pigs that don’t have space to turn around let alone build nests. Interestingly, he made a great case for eating less meat but to have the best possible quality, without added water or the routine doses of antibiotics that are found in intensively farmed meat.
It was a genuine pleasure to meet Peter and Henri and I bought some amazing beef, lamb and pork to try again at home. It was all so delicious that I will no doubt be making a follow-up online order very soon! And the chilli and sesame fillet beef canapés that I made for the audience during my demo were so utterly delectable that I have a feeling most of the audience were entirely convinced as well. So with the Royal Marine Commandos and the orgasmic beef, Powderham Castle was definitely one of my best days out this year. I’m really hoping they invite me back again next year.