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My shop local taste test
IT’S a truth almost universally acknowledged. That meat of any sort – white, pink, cured, sliced, cooked or smoked – tastes best when it has been prepared by someone with a white hat, a small shop and years of experience.
So it’s a surprise that, even with that in mind, most of us still choose to buy our meat alongside our vegetables, toiletries, clothes, steroes and even car insurance in the nearest supermarket.
Over the past 30 years, the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons et al have established a tighter grip on the British grocery market than a dictator on the throne of power.
In doing so, they’ve driven the traditional butcher, greengrocer and general food stores to the brink of extinction.
But the biggest question hanging over their demise is, why?
If most of us know the best tastes are still to be found on our street corner, then why do we persist in driving miles to the suburbs to perform our weekly shop?
I decided to find out.
Let’s start with pricing. I mean, taste is all well and good, but what really makes us feel warm inside in the jangle of spare change in our pockets, right?
The common image of supermarkets is of a huge buying power, meaning better deals for its customers.
But, from what I saw, that was simply not the case.
A 2kg cut of lamb shoulder, reared and slaughtered in Essex, was just £12 at my local butcher.
The average supermarket price for a similar slice of prime meat was only about £1.20 cheaper, and was anything but local.
When it came to buying vegetables, they were even cheaper than the supermarkets.
I came back from my trip to the greengrocer with 66p more than I would have had, had I shopped at one of the big chains.
So the price argument doesn’t stack up.
What about the convenience? I mean, it’s got to be easier to shop at an out-of-town supermarket than in a crowded, narrow street, right?
Wrong. My experience may be a one-off, but I managed to park my car in Shoebury’s West Road, visit the butcher, the greengrocer and a general food store to pick up some rice, all in under 20 minutes. Show me a supermarket where I can do that.
OK, I wasn’t able to park right outside the shops. Then again, when was the last time you found a space in front of the supermarket’s actual entrance? In all likelihood, you had to drive several hundred metres away from the store to find a space in a crowded car park, and then dodge numerous careless motorists and homicidal housewives wielding out-of-control trollies on your way back. As Kevin Mylroie, butcher at West Road’s J.R. Mylroie, says: “The convenience argument is all in people’s heads. People think it’s convenient because they’ve got used to doing it that way.
“In reality, we are just as convenient, and twice as knowledgeable.”
Finally, there’s the taste factor. It really is just as good as most of us think it is.
The shoulder of lamb I cooked was so tender and moist when it fell off the bone, that it simply couldn’t be faulted.
And the narrow market of a local butcher’s is such that, if you do find a fault, it’s bound to be corrected pretty quickly.
“We focus on what we do and doing it well, and that’s selling good meat,” Kevin said.
“We can give advice and, if for some reason people don’t like something, we can put it right.
“It’s in our interest to keep them coming back.”
So there you have it. Probably easier, definitely tastier and comparably cheap.
It’s time to listen to the voices in your head and shop where you really think the best produce can be found.
What I bought l 2kg shoulder of lamb, £12 (J.R. Mylroie, West Road, Shoebury) 200g closed cup mushrooms, 56p (Happy Pear, West Road, Shoebury) Two red peppers, £1.50 (Happy Pear, West Road,
Shoebury) Average price in five major supermarkets (prices equivalent to weight) 2kg shoulder of lamb, £10.80 200g closed cup mushrooms, £1 Two red peppers, £1.60 WHAT I COOKED
Honey-glazed shoulder of lamb with rice and roasted vegetables 1) Score the lamb skin with a knife, taking care not to cut too deeply.
2) Mix together sage, rosemary and thyme with some olive oil and rub the mixture into the meat.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 160c, put the meat in a roasting dish and cover with boiling water.
4) Cook the meat for two hours.
5) Mix honey with oregano and a pinch of black pepper. Using a knife or brush, spread the mixture over the lamb and return it to the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour.
6) Toss vegetables in olive oil and cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
7) Boil plain rice for ten minutes.
8. When the meat is taken out of the oven, it should simply pull from the bone.