Closing the Loop: Nose-to-Tail

Here at IDC we live our passion from the very top of the company, down through the whole of our staff, to our partners, suppliers and customers – from our nose to our tail. Last year our CEO, Chris Edwards, attended a nose-to-tail butchery skills learning day at ‘Daylesford Cookery School’ which got us thinking…What are the benefits of this style of cookery? What does it actually entail and how can it be integrated into menus and at home?

One of the ways we can all justify and enjoy eating meat well into the future is to rethink how we use the meat we have; to ensure that rather than continuing to drive the current demand for prime cuts, businesses and households might instead embrace delectable slow cooked offcuts like beef cheek, or adventurous snacks like bone marrow. After all, a farmer raises a pig not a pork chop. Many parts of any animal carcass that is sold are often thrown away with no understanding of the treasures that have been discarded.

Choosing offal and offcuts on menus and cooking them at home can drive down both food and energy waste. If consumption of these cuts were to increase to twice a week  per person, livestock emissions could be reduced by as much as 14%, as using more of an animal means fewer need to be reared overall. With fewer animals to rear and consumers paying to use every part of those animals, there is the potential for more to be invested into each animal, ensuring their health and wellbeing and in turn, the quality of their meat.

“An animal has given its life for us to enjoy the meat. The least we can do is stretch it as far as possible, if you keep the connection and know where your food comes from, you’ll appreciate your food more. Meat becomes a treat and you eat less of it. If the consumer eats something weird that has been prepped and cooked for them, chances are they’ll love it. And when they realise these things aren’t as intimidating as they originally thought, they’ll start cooking them at home.”

Andy Fenner, Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants 

Under the subject of ‘nose-to-tail’, it would be remiss not to mention the grandfather of the movement, St. John  a restaurant whose menus and first cookbook, ‘Nose-to-tail eating: The whole beast’ hailed a resurgence of a more traditional style of British cooking. Eating the whole animal was once not so unusual in Britain and is still popular in countries, such as Italy and China. The UK however, discarded offcuts and offal in the exuberance of prime-cut post-war Britain, shaking off years of rationing with an enthusiasm that stuck. But now, across the UK restaurants like St. John are cropping up and revelling in the offcuts Brits have for years turned their noses up at. Headed up by the eccentric Fergus Henderson, it is not unusual at St. John, to eat trotter, tongue or tripe because, in Fergus’ own words: “’Nose to Tail Eating’ means it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet.”

Sharing skills may be at the heart of bringing offcuts and offal back to menus and dinner tables. Nowadays professional chefs are rarely trained classically in butchery and methods of serving the more unpopular cuts to their diners. Trevor Gulliver , co-founder of St. John believes, “offal opens up the sense of the whole beast to the Western world, gives greater value to those cuts and brings back greater skills into our kitchens.”

It is a view shared by Stephen Hellewell, our resident expert in meat and poultry here at IDC. A former butcher, Stephen has seen for himself the imbalance of a carcass, where prime cuts and roasting joints are the driver of profits, making it difficult to find a market for the inevitable by-products. Skill sharing is key to shaping this trend. Discussing a recent visit to a supplier alongside a customer, Stephen describes how “before you visit, it’s just the name of a business, and ‘Steve at IDC says pork collar’s good’ and that’s about as far as it goes. But if you’re actually there and you’re talking to the people who are doing it, seeing it being produced and hearing that other businesses are using that product, it’s a better insight. So, they put pork collar on their list.”

Of course, there will always be a place on a menu for a hearty prime cut but seeing ‘odds and sods’ on a menu is a subtle cue to the customer that the chef knows what they are doing. Cooking less popular cuts and parts of an animal requires great skill and care to be taken to ensure the tastiness of the end product. The growing popularity of nose-to-tail practices in restaurants is a sign that this ‘caring cookery’ is being brought front and centre of a business’ success.

This January, in an effort to raise the profile of this considered style of consumption, charity, Organuary  launched their campaign in collaboration with Public Health UK under the slogan ‘Minimise waste, maximise nutrition’. The campaign was endorsed by doctors, with offal being hailed as some of the most nutrient dense foods available. Obesity researcher and nutritionist Dr Zoe Harcombe  says, “nutritionally, offal is quite simply ‘unbeatable’.” Not only this, but for institutions and home cooks, nose-to-tail eating is a considerably cheaper way of consuming meat. An unpopular cut, breast of lamb  for example, will sit at around the £4.00 mark, while more popular cuts like ½ a shoulder of lamb might be upwards of £16.00. Hitting the double target of health and wealth, this time around offal may be here to stay.

According to the UK Government  in 1974 the average person in the UK ate 50g of organ meat per week, whereas in 2014 it had dipped to only 5g. Despite the great offal revolution currently sitting at the end of this downward trend, hope lives on that we will one day return to a more sustainable method of consumption. As organisations and consumers embrace a no/low waste outlook, changing perceptions of offcuts and offal will help drive a more sustainable way of eating meat. Building consumer confidence in consuming or indeed, cooking the less desirable cuts can be achieved through experimentation – chicken heart yakitori tonight, brined lamb’s tongue next week, oxtail stew as the winter draws in.