Sunday, January 19, 2020

Huntsham Court Farm: Rare breed meat for discerning customers

September 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Huntsham Court Farm supplies some of the country’s top restaurants with slow matured beef, pork and lamb. Simon Wragg reports.

Serious foodies can wait weeks to get a table at top Michelin-starred restaurant – but can buy the same high quality meat direct from Herefordshire-based Huntsham Court Farm.

Owned and run by rare breed enthusiast Richard Vaughan and his wife Rosamund, the 156ha (386ac) business supplies Michelin establishments and private customers with beef from Longhorn cattle, lamb from Ryland sheep and pork from Middle White pigs. And all at the click of a button.

“We’re offering quality meat at a similar price to a top end retailer,” explains Mr Vaughan.

While acknowledging many modern farming practices have evolved to satisfy a mass market seemingly determined to spend less on food year-on-year, he aims to satisfy those who share his belief that a focus on quality is better for both man and beast.

“Without looking up the actual figure, people typically spend around 8% of their disposable income on food whereas it was probably nearer 50% around the war years. Now you could argue that’s a tremendous success story. But it has given rise to some production systems which are not attractive from an animal’s point of view.

Different approach

“We’re different. For example, we like our Middle Whites to still forage for their food so feed them on the straw rather than in a trough,” he explains. “It helps with animal husbandry allowing stock to express their natural behaviour as if rooting up rations in the wild.”

With around 120 sows, the business is custodian to the country’s largest herd of Middle Whites. And Mr Vaughan suggests demand for their succulent pork, which is praised by chefs and food writers, has literally helped save the rare breed’s bacon.

Longhorn cattle, which helped establish the reputation for British beef the world over; and Ryland sheep, the sweet meat of Herefordshire, are no different. “It is important to acknowledge the only reason we can support such numbers is because they have a function,” he says.

Rearing stock is just one part of the service offered to those serious about their food. The business is keen to develop its retail sales to the wider public and not just gastro pub, restaurant and high end caterers and retailers, he explains.

“In a way a Michelin chef or high end outlet is a great customer as they buy in volume and come back week-on-week, whereas Mrs Miggins from Manchester may buy half a lamb and may not buy again for another month. But we want to reach out to the public.”

Given the air time on television for food programmes the demand for a centre piece to a party or celebration such as a succulent joint of Longhorn beef, leg of Ryland lamb or Middle White rolled shoulder should be high.

To attract more attention, an update of Huntsham’s website is on the to-do list while effort has been invested elsewhere in the butchery side of the business. Some 16 staff are employed full and part time split equally between livestock, butchery, admin and maintenance teams.

The 32-day matured beef alongside pork and lamb are diligently prepared. “We now offer beef in prime cuts as well as boxed selections but still prefer to offer lamb prepared by either a whole or half carcase, and pigs by the half or quarter.”

Plaudits for all products help Huntsham Court retain a reputation among the catering elite but spreading the word to private public customers is a very different task. “We’re always very grateful for a good review in a publication if it helps sell our product.

Modern business

“Social media just hasn’t brought people to our door in the same way,” reflects Mr Vaughan, having walked a route many modern businesses now rely upon for attracting traffic. Perhaps like the finishing times for its livestock, attracting a paying public will just take longer. Some things just cannot be rushed.

But Huntsham Court is not detached from modern farming. To allow a focus on livestock, the farm’s arable operation was farmed out to a neighbour in recent years. New buildings have been erected to meet environmental regulations.

And there is concern about farming’s intrusive “neighbours”. With woodland adjoining the Forest of Dean meeting his boundaries Mr Vaughan, like others, is concerned over the rising risk posed by wild boar and health issues it can carry.

With rare breeds and food business to protect and promote he has little praise for the authorities tasked with dealing with the tusked tyrants. Bringing the best of British meat to the nation’s dining tables is, evidently, no easy task.

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