10th June 2024

Shona’s farm to fork approach

Next weekend, Shona Marshall and Luke Burnett, part of the butchery team from Marshall’s Farm Shop near Kintore will be taking to the stage at the Royal Highland Show, demonstrating their craft with Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork. They’re one of four butchery businesses taking part in the Scotch Butchers Club-sponsored Food for Thought Cookery Theatre.

For Shona, it’s a great opportunity to show what she has learned on her journey to becoming a butcher. Having obtained an Honours degree in rural business management at Craibstone, she now combines involvement in the family farm with running the business’ thriving butchery counter.

The drive to become a butcher came when the family decided to expand their successful farm shop and café. The shop had always sold pre-packed beef, lamb and pork, bought in from known suppliers. But the new shop brought new opportunities, she says. “We had our own cattle and sheep, and I thought we could sell direct to customers, like we already did with our homegrown tatties, veg and free-range eggs.”

That led to Shona and her sister going on a week-long butchery course in Sheffield to gain some understanding about what was involved. “It gave us an insight into just how much there was to learn!”

Now, Shona is part-way through her butchery apprenticeship. “I am on the last stages of completing Level 2 and planning on going onto Level 3 with the intention of doing my Diploma.

“I think if you want to do something, you need to know how to do it yourself. As I learn more and am becoming closer to breaking down a whole carcase of beef, I can see how we might be able to use cuts differently, whether it’s selling in the farm shop or serving in the restaurant. It’s really amazing what a good chef can do with a lesser quality cut of meat.

“By cutting out the middle man, we are aiming to get the margin at both the farm side and butchery side of the business. The biggest challenge I have is making sure every cut is used to its full value, and our busy restaurant really helps with carcass balance in the butchery.

“About 90% of the food on our Sunday roast plates is either grown or reared on our farm, a story we are really trying to tell our customers. Our menu is annotated with which dishes include our own beef, pork or lamb, and this in itself encourages customers over to the butcher counter after they’ve enjoyed their lunch.”

Currently, about three cattle a week bred from the farm’s 150-cow Aberdeen Angus suckler herd are being killed by Millers of Speyside and used in the business. A further 300 Simmental and Sim-Luing sucklers are kept but their numbers will reduce as the Aberdeen Angus herd grows – the aim is to have 250.

“The first beast we killed for the shop was an Aberdeen Angus and we have never changed. We find it’s very consistent for carcass size and quality, which our customers like.”

The farm also runs 600 ewes, a mix of Cheviot, Mule and Texel crosses, but the business uses only one lamb a week. “It’s really hard to sell lamb in Aberdeen – beef and pork are much more popular.

“Within the last 18 months, we’ve established our own pig herd of 20 sows, all outdoors just 1.5 miles from our shop. We chose breeds that give quality, taste and a good level of fat in the carcass. The Hampshire and Duroc are working well for us and I can see the pig herd growing as more customers begin to enjoy our pork.

“I love being on the butchery counter and talking to customers. It is great to be able to say to them that I am involved in the whole process from calving and lambing to rearing, then onto butchering in our on-site butchery.”

All meat sold in the shop comes from the farm, and while having a consistent and known supply chain is essential, butchering, pricing and selling the meat requires a lot of planning and thought. For Shona, the help of QMS Scotch Butchers Club manager Gordon Newlands has been invaluable – as has the support of other butchers.

“For instance, I wasn’t happy with my lorne recipe and Gordon contributed a few ideas of ways to improve it. Between his advice and persistent effort from everyone in the butchery we were able to produce a lorne sausage that will hopefully be a good seller for us.

“He also gave me some really honest advice after spending a couple days up at the shop. It was tough to take at the time, but it was the best thing he could’ve done to push me to make the changes required to improve the counter.”

Other members of the Scotch Butchers Club have been equally helpful, inviting Shona to visit their businesses and helping with new product development. She also has plenty of new ideas after a recent Scotch Butchers Club trip to Ireland, visiting leading Irish butcher shops for ideas and inspiration.

Pricing was a surprising point. “The Irish butchers price quite a few products by unit – so for instance, a steak would be priced at, say £10 rather than £38/kg, which makes it easier for people to know what they are spending. We tried this when I got back with some 10oz ribeye steaks and they were a top seller over the weekend.”

Shona has also been trialling ‘pensioner packs’ which include five meals – butchery or deli products, plus tatties and veg or eggs for £20, and is selling about 100 of these each week. Another offering at the butchery counter is a value pack for two for £25 which includes four meals and a dessert of the customer’s choice. “It is a great way to encourage customers to try new products or to help with carcass balance by including cuts that we have a surplus of.”

Presentation was another learning point. “Since returning from Ireland, I am now buying in fresh kale and edible flowers for our display which makes the counter very colourful and eye-catching.”

With a clear focus on making the most of beef, lamb and pork, Shona and Luke have chosen the theme of ‘around the world tapas’ for their Highland Show debut, and will demonstrate different flavours as well as the variety of dishes that can be produced from different cuts.

“Luke and myself are both really looking forward to the demonstration next weekend, and it’s an exciting and challenging opportunity for us. We hope we can do the Marshall brand proud!”

Scotch Butchers Club

QMS has more than 250 members of the Scotch Butchers Club; like-minded, forward thinking independent high street butchers who source premium, quality assured Scotch meat.

You can see Scotch Butchers Club members showcasing their skills and providing mealtime inspiration at the Food for Thought Cookery Theatre:

Thursday 20 June, 12 noon – Anna Forbes, HM Sheridan, Banchory

Friday 21 June, 10am – Steven Strachan, Strachan’s Craft Butchers, Larkhall

Saturday 22 June, 10am – Shona Marshall and Luke Burnett, Marshall’s Farm Shop, Kintore

Sunday 23 June, 10.30am – Karl Hearton, Kinnaird Bitchers Shop and Deli, Larbert

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