With Great British Beef Week in full swing, Danusia Osiowy talks to the face of this year’s promotional drive.
Young butcher Sophie Cumber is the face of this year’s Great British Beef Week and she could not be prouder.
Having grown up at a 600- hectare (1,480-acre) mixed farm in Markham, Oxfordshire, Sophie credits her upbringing as providing her with an appreciation of quality food. She says: “Certain aspects were instilled in me from a young age; for example, eating good quality, British produce.
“This, combined with my experience working as a butcher, means I fully understand what goes into producing top-quality British beef.
“I am so pleased to have this opportunity to represent the industry I’m so passionate about and help consumers getthe best from their beef.”
The campaign,which began on April 23 and runs until Monday, May 2, aims to encourage consumers to support Britain’s beef farmers and help them get the best from the meat – whether by creating a classic roast dinner or using leftovers in a standout sandwich (see recipe, below).
So far this week, Sophie has been talking to consumers at events across the country, explaining the importance of provenance and the purpose of the Red Tractor logo.
“Many people do not know their meat can be fully traceable from farm to fork, so I am encouraging them to visit their local butcher.”
Sophie’s journey into butchery began after she left home for university.
“I suddenly realised if I wanted to eat as well as I had been accustomed to at home, I needed to learn how to cook properly as my mum always had for us.”
Cooking soon turned into a passion and, after a couple of years working in London, Sophie completed the Leiths School of Food and Wine diploma.
It was here she experienced meat preparation and butchery demonstrations.
“I was immediately hooked. Once I finished the course I started applying for butchery jobs with no idea really what I was doing or whether I would ever get a job.”
But when Barbecoa butchers, St Pauls – the butcher’s shop attached to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant of the same name – came calling, it was an opportunity Sophie knew she couldn’t miss.
“I was called in for an interview and the manager immediately got me started on a block test. Straight away I assumed I would not get the job once they saw my pretty basic skills, but I ended up staying there for several hours trying to do everything they threw at me, thinking at least I could learn as much as possible.”
Four hours later, to Sophie’s surprise, the manager offered her a job as an assistant butcher.
“My initial job involved a lot of sausage-making and boning out, but over time I learnt more and eventually I was capable of handling most jobs in the shop.”
She stayed there until the beginning of this year, taking some time out to travel to Argentina, visiting various farms and cattle markets.
For the horseradish mayo
After returning to the UK, Sophie has been working at Turner and George, a butcher based in Islington, north London, which focuses on selling rare British breeds and working with producers and farmers.
“A busy shop and online business means my day as a butcher is happily full of meat cutting and preparation,” she says.
And there is no doubt Sophie loves what she does.
“It is an extremely interesting and satisfying job. There is always more to learn and working with lots of people teaches you many techniques.
“I love serving customers and passing on my knowledge to them so they can take it home and cook something great. I like showing people butchers are here to help and not people to be afraid of.”
Organised by Ladies in Beef, Great British Beef Week is also raising money for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), a charity close to Sophie’s heart.
"My dad has been involved with RABI for 10 years and spoke to me about Great British Beef Week in the past.
“I thought it was a great chance to get involved in something which really should be as importantto British butchers as it is to British farmers.
“As butchers, we want to provide our customers with the best produce and I believe British beef is some of the best in the world.
“We also want to be able to tell them where it has come from, how it has been reared and what it has been fed. The only way we can do this is by building relationships with British farmers and supporting them, otherwise we could see more British beef herds disappearing.”
While the campaign lasts for 10 days, Sophie’s eye is never far from the nexttrend.As such, she is hopeful they will continue to encourage footfall for butchers.
“Right now in London, the trend is barbecuing and slow cooking, with a lot of cooking on wood.And a lot ofthe lesser used cuts are becoming much more popular, for example brisket, shin, skirt and short rib.
“I think this will continue as more people realise how much flavour you can get out of these cuts, which is great because it is making more out of the whole animal. Luckily I do not think steak will ever go out of fashion as it is just something which quite honestly, can’t be beaten.”
“Keep your knife sharp and pointed away from you. ”
“Along with a classic grilled rileys steak, my favourite beef dish would be slow-cooked beef cheeks in red wine. Brown off the cheeks and then cook them slowly in a casserole with wine and stock for the whole day so they are falling apart.
"I would serve them with bone marrow mashed potato, roast baby carrots and seasonal greens. ”