Let quality be the prime consideration where meat is concerned, says Jill James

Ghastly things appear on the Weekend FT’s food desk. Packet soups. Supermarket “chill-fresh” meals that I would not even give to my dog. Veggie burgers. New snack products, composed largely of salt. And – the latest revolting trend – cook in bottled sauces.

But, now and again, out of the blue, something special arrives. It happened a few weeks ago, a while after Richard and Sue Vaughan had been slaughtering pigs and cattle on the their Herefordshire Farm.

They sent me a joint each of Longhorn Beef and Middle White Pork. The beef was fine – deep red, properly hung, with a good texture, but the pork… the pork was a revelation. It was sweet, succulent and full of flavour.

Now, I pride myself on having a good butcher, but there is no doubt that the craze for larger, leaner pigs is making it much harder for butcher and consumer to obtain top quality pork – which means pork that has a proper amount of fat. As for supermarket pork, it is, sadly, hardly worth a second glance. It could be argued that people who rustle around in cold cabinets looking at plastic-packaged joints of immaculate size, shape and bland taste, deserve little sympathy, but there is always a case for the re-education of people’s shopping habits and taste-buds.

This has been reinforced by the latest UK government health warning. We are urged to cut our consumption of red meat – even those who consume as little as 90g a day (about eight or ten portions a week). All the more reason then, to seek out the highest possible quality when you do consume your daily allowance.

What with health scares and bad shopping habits, it is no wonder that pork consumption has fallen in the UK. In the European Union as a whole last year, 15,349,000 tonnes of pork were eaten, according to latest estimates. The Germans were the largest consumers with 4,506,000 tonnes, while the UK consumed just 776,000 – but another 468,000 tonnes of bacon.
The Vaughans have operated farm visits for 11 years, but these will stop at the end of the season to concentrate on the breeding of pedigree livestock. This is a brave – or foolhardy – decision, depending on your point of view, particularly when the agricultural press is full of stories of small farmers going out of business, family farms being absorbed into PIG-U-LIKE plc, or some such combine, and of set aside and the latest EU directives.

Earlier this century, Middle White was the choice of many a quality pig breeder in England. If the Vaughans can go even a little way towards reviving this breed, they will have performed a service to the discerning customer. Customers are welcome to visit the Vaughans and see the conditions under which their animals are reared and fed.

The latest feather in the Vaughans cap was success at this year’s Monmouth Show, in Gwent, when one of their bulls was made Longhorn breed champion and went on to win the interbreed championship against all comers.

The Vaughans’ company, Huntsham Farm – Pedigree Meats, is offering its meat on an “as available” basis because it cannot maintain constant supply, a point that will no doubt be seized on by the massed ranks of supermarket purchasers.

It is supplied in insulated boxes containing between 16kg and 20kg (25lb and 44lb) of mixed cuts and joints. All the meat is suitable for home freezing – but why not share an order with neighbours? – and the company is happy to discuss individual butchering requirements.