Sunday, 18 March 2012

Peter & Pipers

I first met Peter Greig early in 2005 when taking the reins at the ol’ Hotel B kitchen.  It didn’t take much sniffing around to be told that the cream of the crop traded all things carnivore from a shop on the illustrious St. Leonard’s strip.  Any chef worth his salt wants the best, preferably from as close a source as possible, and so I found myself in discussion with a man soon to become one of my true food heroes.  Pipers Farm is primarily retail and quality of this calibre comes at a premium so it was a huge disappointment that I could not incorporate their product into my menus at the time.  But the man made an impression.  The fact that he bothered to meet with me, to explain all that they did and why, knowing full well before coming that he wouldn’t be able to help...well, anyone that knows Peter will understand what I’m getting at, the perfect gentleman.  Pipers is very much a family affair with wife Henri the gentle matriarch behind Peter’s charm and son Will head of marketing/whatever needs doing.
           Fast forward a few years and all good things come to those who wait.  A forced sabbatical afforded me the time to lend a hand when Pipers was in need and this allowed me to have an inside view of the integrity and attention to detail that is the daily routine of this operation. It was a real pleasure to get to know the hard working Greigs and all the Pipers team.  A close relationship formed that paved the way for Southernhay House Hotel to use Pipers for the majority of its comestible beasts.  I could go on and on about the quality of the meat, the two week hanging time for pork (unheard of, and creating unparalleled flavour), the majestic history of the native Red Ruby cattle, or the multitude of local and national awards under the family’s belt.  It goes without saying that Pipers and the farmers they work with are doing things ‘the right way’.  So, let us talk about butchery itself.  Jut because the man is in a striped apron and a little hat doesn’t mean he has a clue about what is going to be done with that meat once it reaches your kitchen.  Let’s be honest for a moment.  Butcher shops don’t fool me anymore than many restaurants, some are good and some...not so much.  There needs to be a real love for the job, a care for the environment and a thought to how the goods go in the pot.  Pipers have an old frying pan set up on a gas burner right there in the cutting room where Peter and the lads do their daily tastings much in the same manner I would go about checking and tasting things in my kitchen.  This is a key to consistency and knowing your product intimately before it reaches the customer.  Pipers is the only meat supply I have ever used where I don’t have to do further butchery.  Catering butchers, or some smaller shops that are too set in their ways are not looking at their product with fresh eyes.  If you take into consideration that one quarter of a kilo of diced shin will need to be discarded once you do your necessary ‘after butchery’ or an inch of fat needs to be taken of that sirloin steak, do the math...Pipers prices aren’t quite as steep as some would like you to think.  The market is awash with bog standard, water heavy, often foreign cheap meat.  Those of you that proudly proclaim your latest purchase of flesh purely on merit of price are missing a huge point.  Value for money can be a matter of perspective.  We weren’t designed to eat meat everyday; that would have made us quite the hunters, never mind the fact that we don’t exactly work it off anymore.  I’m not preaching from some plateau of perfection here, I’m a big ol’ chef...but then, never trust a skinny one.  Peter would have you believe that well hung, properly butchered meat without all the extra moisture of inferior product is denser, fills you up more so that you need less.  Eat less and make it more of a treat.  I am a convert.  The last thing I want to hear is that my meat is ‘fresh’.  28 days isn’t fresh, its ripe and perfect.  Pipers also employs a much more continental approach to butchery.  I’m proud to champion most things British, but traditional butchery is not one of them.  The French in particular put far more thought into how the meat will ultimately be cooked, so there is much more pulling apart of muscles that cook differently rather than the chopped right angle blocks of British cuts.  This is why I can serve you a rump steak that comes across to some as nearly fillet like in quality.  The first thing I look for when I go to a butchers is those sad, thin, multi muscled rump steaks forlornly lining one side of the counter.  This is the sort of butchery that gives certain cuts a bad name and reflects poorly upon the establishment.

Another great thing about Pipers is everything done under one roof.  Sohan, their chef works in tandem with the butchers creating all their great pies for Lord’s cricket ground and ready meals (Many of the recipes developed by yours truly).  The stocks for the gravies are made from their bones and the suet ground from the fat of their animals.  How many pie makers, let alone butchers can boast this amazing provenance?    
The economics of farming stacks up about as well as running a successful restaurant.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Pipers provides a stable, above market price for its network of feeder farms across Devon and Somerset, thus creating a pocket of certainty in what can often be a hand to mouth existence.
For me, Pipers Farm fights the good fight on every front.  Quality and consistency through continually testing and asking questions about their own product.  A strong philosophy behind all that they do and from a chef’s perspective, unparalleled butchery skills.  Pipers is an integral part of the Devon countryside, quietly leading the way by example.  
-Pipers Farm operate an excellent home delivery service and their shop is in St. Leonard’s, Exeter.

An edited version of this article was featured in Devon Life Magazine, March 2012

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