Do you know where your meat comes from? Was that piece of juicy pork you just served up once a happy pig rolling in the mud or was it locked up in a shed never to see the light of day? That deliciously tender and moist roast chicken, did it once live in a cage? What happened to the calf of the cow who’s milk went into your coffee this morning?
For some people, they just don’t want to know and that’s ok, each to their own. For me, and yes call me naive (I did), before Eat Drink Blog last year, I’d never really thought about it. I just assumed that all animals produced for meat were treated well.
I was wrong. Since discovering what I have about meat and dairy production in Australia I’ve vowed to learn as much I can (which I will share with you once I gather my thoughts), know about what I’m purchasing and make the best decisions that I can.
When I received an email about a new Brisbane restaurant closing the gap between the farm and the plate, I was instantly intrigued.
Alfred & Constance knows where their ingredients come from. Most of it is sourced in the Southern Downs in Queensland – their beef is hand-picked, their potatoes from a little farm up set on the slope of a hill and some of their citrus and stone fruit is fresh from patron chef Jocelyn Hancock’s own farm in Killarney.
As you can imagine with a car full of food bloggers most of the conversation was food-related with a few laughs thrown in. Marvelling at the magnificent landscapes, Kirsten and I wondered at a bridal store in the middle of no-where. ‘Why would they have a bridal store here?’ we asked each other.
Liz piped up from the front seat ‘ah girls that’s bridal as in a horse’s bridal.’ Oops, I did not do my bush family proud with that one.
The view from the car was just magnificent but facinatingly ever-changing. One minute you’d be looking out at flat, arid and dry land the next hilly green pasture. What was really intriguing was that most of the farmland we saw was at 700m elevation (we even hit 1050m at one stage!).
After 2.5 hours in the car we needed a little break to stretch our legs. The second I stepped out I took a deep breath of the warm, fresh country air I was instantly relaxed.
Kirsten and I were determined to master the old bush whistle, made from cupping your hands together around a eucalyptus leaf and blowing on it at just the right angle. I managed a few noises but that was the most success we had.
Back in the car we were off to visit a small, family-owned cattle station where Carey Bros Meats sources a lot of the beef for Alfred & Constance from. Paul is a third generation butcher at family-owned Carey Bros in Yangan.
At Carey Bros they’re very involved in the whole process from beef selection, which is carried out by their buyer Dennis, to slaughtering in their own small-scale slaughter house and then preparation and of course selling.
Having their own slaughter house means they can control the process and ensure the animals are as calm as possible in their last hours. It also allows them to let meat hang a lot longer than if they were to buy it elsewhere. Why hang? Hanging allows the meat to age which results in a much better flavour and texture. A lot of the meat you buy hasn’t been aged long as the process reduces the weight which means less moolah for the seller.
With a bellowing cow in the background, third generation farmer Ian told us about his 60 head of cattle. What shocked me was that most of the meat we eat these days come from what I would call a calf. The beef we eat is just 6-9 months old and still drinking milk from its mother. Some is even as young as 3 months old (they use hormones to make them age beyond their years) in the dodgy butchers and some supermarkets.
Ian says hormones aren’t necessary if you pick the right breed. He uses a mix of heifers which he buys in when they’re ready for reproducing and services them with a rented Limousin bull.
Speaking to mum the next day (daughter of a primary producer), she told me it didn’t used to happen that way. When they sent cattle off to slaughter they were 3-4 years old.
Dennis, the buyer for Carey Bros took us through a few of the finer points of selecting the perfect beast. Say Alfred & Constance wants a certain size of a specific cut that will determine what Dennis chooses. He looks at the age, fat cover, shininess of their coat, what they’re fed on and their weight to find the perfect fit.
There’s a sense of community in the whole process and I in particular love that the restaurant could probably tell you about the specific animal your steak came from should you want to know.
I always expect tender, juicy meat when I dine out but I never knew there were so many factors involved. If the animal is stressed when it’s taken to slaughter that can lead to tough meat that no chef can disguise. Stress can come from the way their handled, the weather, an injury… pretty much all the things that cause us stress.
Kirsten was a little bit stressed when she stood in a big fresh cow pat in her new shoes. Lucky Liz was there to help!
Farewelling the farm we set off for destination two – Jocelyn Hancock’s farm.
As we walk past the fragrant lavender bushes we wipe our feet on the mat and look up. What meets us is a view that could take your breath away. Have you ever seen such a beautiful setting? Jocelyn’s stunning but humble home sits atop a hill overlooking the valley and mountainous ranges in Killarney.
Melting in the summer heat, we were all rather pleased to see Sarah from Limes Hotel pouring beautiful champagne cocktails on the patio. Topped with fresh peach puree made from peaches in Jocelyn’s backyard orchard the chilled glass of bubbles was most welcomed.
We were treated to a magnificent selection of nibbles made of course from locally-grown produce. While I wasn’t quite game to try a kidney I did gorge myself on two pieces of the smoked mozzarella, wood-fired pizza.
After quelling our grumbling stomachs we gathered round to watch Peter from Carey Bros demonstrate how a lamb is broken down (he also showed us where they get the rib roast from cattle) into all the different cuts before being sent off to the buyers or displayed in the butcher shop. Usually a hand-saw wouldn’t be his chosen instrument but as Jocelyn’s already well-stocked kitchen was missing an electric saw, he had to use his muscles.
While yes it is confronting to see a whole lamb in front of you, I think it’s important to know the process. I think if I can’t watch it then I shouldn’t eat it.
I now know why a little lamb fillet is so expensive. You get two of these out of a whole lamb and the section they’re taken from is actually much bigger and usually sold as a rolled roast. To get the fillet they have to remove a lot of usable meat so you’re really charged for the wastage as well.
While we were getting a lesson on butchering lunch was in its final stages in the oven. We dined like royalty I must say. The stars of the show were the two roast legs of lamb and the beef rib roast. The meat was just meltingly soft and so flavoursome.
You can see I had a little trouble choosing between the pickled zucchinis, chickpea and pomegranate salad, boconccini and tomato drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt in front of our eyes, freekeh salad and Jocelyn’s mum’s tomato relish so I did as any good food blogger would and filled my plate with a little of everything.
Do you remember in Willy Wonka when Will says ‘the strawberries taste like strawberries and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries’ ? That’s what I felt like tasting all the farm-fresh delicacies. Every item was so bursting with flavour – even the potatoes.
Luckily we’d been given a food itinerary before we started so I could pace myself and make room for the cheeses and desserts to follow. Michael from Fino Foods took us on a cheese tour of Australia with nine cheeses to sample.
While they were all wonderful, my favourites were Old Telegraph Road’s Jackson Track Vacherin Style and Donnybrook Farmhouse Vecchio 4 year old. The first was a brie that was so soft you could eat it with a spoon and the second, a parmesan we enjoyed with a sweet Coastal Heath honey from Stradbroke Island.
You might remember be mentioning that my all-time favourite chocolate cake is Jocelyn’s Provision’s chocolate mud cake. I have it for nearly every Birthday so you can imagine how excited I was to be eating dessert made by Jocelyn herself.
I had every intention of just sampling a few mouthfuls of each item but next thing I knew I was scraping up crumbs with Jocelyn’s mother-in-laws delicate silver cake fork and scooping melted home-made duck-egg ice-cream into my mouth. The buttery pastry soflty hugging the light almond and home-grown stone-fruit filling was just too hard to resist.
In need of a little walk after such an indulgent lunch we set off for a tour of Jocelyn’s backyard orchard. From my guesstimate she must have at least 30 trees with everything from peaches and figs to pears and olives and every sort of citrus you can imagine.
It sounded like hard work keeping them all alive and thriving but what rewarding work. Jocelyn’s trees were all a picture of health.
After a scrumptious and enlightening day, it was time for us to again walk through the fragrant lavender and start the journey home back to the city.
Instead of returning the way we’d arrived, we took the winding, scenic route through farmland where Alfred & Constance source some of their produce. I feared I might fall asleep after an early start and huge lunch but in a car full of girls (and our lovely driver Michael) we chatted away and were back in Brissy before we knew it.
Back in the big smoke I returned to once again question my views on what we eat and where it comes from and I’ll be sure to share once I finally get my head around it all, whenever that may be.