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A marriage made on a plate

I’m a big believer in supporting local producers and suppliers and as you probably know by now it’s especially important, I source locally for The Old Stamp House and Kysty. It’s not just about supporting local farmers, it’s also about sustainability too. I mean why would you want to look anywhere else for your meat when we’ve got some of the best in the world available to us right on our own doorstep?

Increasingly people are more and more interested in where their food comes from. In some ways it’s almost a bit like turning the clock back, especially as we’ve started to rediscover some of those relationships, we used to have with our food producers and suppliers, such as the milkman, baker, fishmonger, greengrocer and butcher.

Perhaps our return to shopping locally all started with the resurgence of farmers markets and the appearance of farm shops up and down the country in recent years, including those on our doorstep like Kendal, Orton and Sizergh. And it’s probably true to say that popularity has probably been reinforced more recently because of the situation we all experienced during the pandemic.

Whatever the truth of the matter, I'm really pleased about it. Why? Well it means we can all start to have open and honest conversations with the people who produce and sell our food, get to know them and their businesses and build good old-fashioned relationships with them.

As a chef quality and provenance is everything. I think most top chefs would agree that the fresher the ingredients are, the better the flavour they bring to a dish, so it’s worth the effort to source fresh and local from tend to produce the best-tasting dishes.

The really great thing about eating local produce is you get to know exactly where that food has come from. You see through simple conversations with those you buy from you begin to make direct connections with farms and food producers. You can ask questions about how the produce is created, ingredients used, farming practices and in many cases pop along and see for yourself exactly what they do. Not only that, building relationships with those who grow and produce your food is a great way to build and strengthen your community too.

Oddly, most people think it’s pretty difficult to eat locally. The truth is it’s never been easier, and we’d encourage you to get out and explore what’s on your doorstep. And to prove a point we checked out a relatively new local butcher’s in Kendal a couple of weeks back. Roast Mutton, in Woolpack Yard in the heart of the town. I’d heard good things about what they were doing and felt it was about time I popped in for a chat about what they do and to pick up some pork to find out if what I’d heard was right.

Robert Unwin the shop’s owner is full of enthusiasm, actually it’s pretty infectious and it didn’t take long to get into some serious conversation about what he was trying to achieve. Turns out Robert was brought up on a north Lancashire smallholding where his family produced all their own meat, which is where he learned all about humane animal husbandry from a very early age.

I was surprised to learn he’d done a stint in the world of insurance in London before opening his Kendal shop. Turns out Like me he’s a little bit obsessed with quality and provenance and interestingly he often found himself being disappointed by the quality of the meat served in many of the restaurants he dined at. He often found himself asking the question: ‘’what makes some meats so much more delicious than others?’’

Ultimately that led to him quitting his job at the age of 25 to return to his roots, change career and to retrain as a butcher. For the last three years Robert has worked in a variety of different butchers’ shops across the north of England, learning the trade and discovering the answer to his life changing question - that the best meat-eating experience depends entirely on attention to detail, respect for the animal and the end product at every stage - something that rings very true for me too.

Robert’s done lots of research into the best places to source his meats from, alongside that he’s also done his best to try and make sure that the farms he uses are within a 20-mile radius of his shop. As part of the process he’s walked those farms pastures, got to know them and their families and more importantly gained an insightful understanding of each individual supplier’s approach to farming. From the very beginning of the process Robert was determined to only work with those producers that clearly shared the same passion and respect for the animals they rear as he does.

The pork chops I picked up from Roast Mutton comes from a Johnscales farm just outside Kendal at Crosthwaite. This isn’t a specialist pig breeding farm, it’s fairly small scale, more of a hobby for farmer Ryan Holmes, who mainly rears Saddleback and Berkshire Blacks, which he sells directly to Robert for his shop via Denney’s, which is next door to the farm.

The pigs from Johnscales are slow reared, which gives the resulting pork a sweet, nutty flavour, which is further enhanced as the meat is dry aged by Robert in his shop for seven days to condense the flavour even further and to seal the deal there’s a really good fat layer, which is exactly what you want.

In my view we all need to eat better quality meat sourced by people just like Robert from farmers that they know and trust. Which will help us to return to a time before supermarkets got in the way of the relationship that shoppers had with the people who produced their food.

If your popping into Roast Mutton, ask Robert to cut you a couple of chops so you can try this recipe, it’s a particular favourite. When we got married, we’d already agreed what the main course would be, but unknown to me, my wife Gemma, wanted our guests to tuck into pork with apple sauce on our big day, so she sneakily contacted the caterers and asked them to change it. It has to be said I certainly didn’t complain, it’s one of my favourites anyway!

Pan Fried Pork Chops with burnt apple and damson sauce:

Serves 2.

Ingredients Pork Chops:

2 pork chops rind on (roughly 2.5cm think)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

50g butter

Bulb of garlic cut in half

10g thyme

Ingredients Apple & Damson Sauce:

200g damsons

500g sweet apples

100ml cider

50ml cider vinegar

50g caster sugar

50g butter


Start by melting the butter and coring and quartering the apples. Add the melted butter to a bowl and coat the apples with the butter. Once the apples are evenly coated removed and place on to a heavy baking tray and put in a pre-heated oven at 180 °C and cook until the apples turn a dark golden colour and are almost burnt.

While the apples are cooking add the sugar, cider and cider vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to the boil, adding the damsons. Cook until the damsons break down. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool and then carefully remove all the damson stones using a strainer, setting aside the puree.

Place the apples in a jug blender along with the damson puree and blend until smooth.

At this point you can adjust the flavour to your liking using a little honey or lemon juice according to your personal preference.

To cook the chops heat a heavy skillet and add the oil. Season the chops with salt and then add them the skillet. Cook flat side down on a medium high heat until golden in colour, roughly 3 minutes. Turn the chops over, add the butter, thyme and garlic, cook for a further 3 minutes. Remembering to baste the pork with the foaming butter as it cooks, if the butter begins to burn remove briefly from the heat and then turn the heat down and continue to cook.

Remove the chops and rest for four minutes before serving with the apple and damson sauce and some seasonal vegetables and new potatoes.

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