The Art of Meat has been recommended to me many times over the years but regrettably I had not ventured beyond my regular butchers to try them out, so I took the opportunity to visit them for the first issue of scuseme … what?
The Art of Meat is tucked away in a quiet corner of Arbury Court, a lovely community focused public square (with plans for redevelopment to create an “urban social square”). Here I met with owner, Jon West, to find out a little more about this much talked about butchers, whose name suggests so much more than just a place to get your lamb chops.
From biotechnology to butchery
Cambridge is world renowned for its strong links with science, so perhaps Jon’s earlier life as a research scientist was not so astounding. That the research involved plant biotechnology and plant genetics, was more of a surprise.
His path into academia was one that many have followed in this city. But after a few years he fancied a change. And what a change it turned out to be. Jon had worked for a year in a butcher’s shop after he left school, and over a pint with old friend Brian Adams, ideas soon led him down a very different path. Brian had owned and run BP Adams Butchers for 18 years, and the new owner wasn’t doing so well, so Jon and his wife Clare made the decision to take over the business. As Jon said:
“We took over the shop on the 4th July 2005, our first child was born on the 15th July & we got a mortgage the following year. It was quite a transformation.”
From flora to fauna: creating the Art of Meat
Jon had an idea of what he wanted to do & achieve from the word go. He knew he was never going to beat supermarkets on price so he would have to beat them on quality & service. Jon said of living and working in Cambridge:
“We’re so lucky here because in East Anglia there’s a whole host of really good independent producers.”
He proudly listed some of the top of the range wholesalers supplying produce such as Dingly Dale Pork, Riverside Beef and several good free range chicken suppliers.
The Art of Meat’s excellent reputation comes from their exceptional quality and service. But the innovative flavours created for their sausages and other meats betrays Jon’s natural scientific flare for experimentation. Naturally all the sausages are made by hand and they have some traditional flavours such herby, Italian and breakfast but they change and introduce new recipes frequently. When Jon shared some of his favourites, it became immediate obvious why the Art of Meat is such an apt name:
- hog roast with pork scratchings and apple
- liquorice all-sorts
- toffee-apple on Bonfire Night with bits of fudge and caramelised apple running through
- Mergertz with paprika, fennel, harissa and cumim.
Jon and his team are always trying new ideas, so no doubt this list will expand. At this point I was introduced to Dylan Carter, who started as an apprentice and has been with them for over 10 years. Dylan is interested in Roman re-enactment and was working on a Roman style burger with fish sauce instead of garam because that is what the Romans would have used and dates, coriander and green peppercorns.
The Art of Meat also makes their own marinades. Their useful website provides great tips for their customers both in terms of cooking and butchery.
Jon has worked hard to meet people in the community who have the same standards as him when it comes to food provenance and quality. He has always been interested in food and he gets deliveries up from Smithfields to provide more top quality and exciting things for people who are really interested in food and cooking.
The success of the business is based, unsurprisingly, on keeping a loyal base of customers happy, and the lessons Jon has learnt over the years and his knowledge of pricing and cuts means that he can keep his prices consistent throughout the year, which makes it much easier for their customers.
Predictably The Art of Meat is very well connected and with the growing popularity of food vans, Jon thinks in part because people can’t afford restaurants – I was not surprised to find out that they supply Steak and Honour, Guerrilla Kitchen and Jalan Jalan to name three of the more renowned new outlets in Cambridge. Jon knows that these people hold quality as dear to their hearts as he does, and with the vibrant street food scene, competition is strong and self-regulating so only the good ones will survive. Those that invest in serving good quality food.
Five people working at The Art of Meat, Jon, Dylan, Aiden Gillett, Clare and Brian Adams who is semi-retired. Find out more about The Art of Meat
Jon’s Top Tip
The thing I’ve learnt with knives is to keep a knife sharp is easy; to make a knife sharp isn’t.
Jon was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, the founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme