Judging the best meat for the table

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There’s nothing quite like a superb joint of meat, ready for the oven – but the eating quality is highly dependent on the shape and size of the animal it came from. So winning a joint or carcass competition really is the pinnacle for many farmers and butcheries, as it directly relates to the end consumer’s plate.

Paul Sargeant, a family farmer and butcher from Gayton, Staffordshire, judged the carcass and joint competitions at this year’s English Winter Fair, and had a tough job choosing the top spots. “There was really very little to pick between some of them, as it was such a good entry,” he said.

Scooping the champion beef carcass was Richard Lawrence from Warwickshire, with a 373.8kg Limousin grading E4L, which went on to sell for £7.90/kg (£2,953). “I was judging from a traditional butchers’ perspective, so was looking for length, conformation and even fat covering,” said Paul. “I want a good all-round carcass, with weight on the most valuable cuts – the hindquarters, loin and rib.”

All of the livestock are slaughtered at the same abattoir – Manifold Meats – so that there is consistency in the way they are dressed and prepared. In the lamb carcass competition, a Beltex from DS & LE Wadland caught Paul’s eye, grading at E3L and killing out from 50kg liveweight to 28.4kg deadweight. “It ticked every box – it’s so full of meat, with shape in the legs and lovely well-fleshed eye muscle,” he said. It went on to sell for £12.70/kg (£361).

Butchers will keep an eye on carcass winners, and are particularly looking for consistency in the end product – so top farmers can expect to command more for their animals in the sale ring. And Messrs Wadland certainly have that consistency, with this being the third year running that they have won the lamb title.

In the pork classes, an 84kg Pietrain cross from M Horsley & Son took first prize, boasting plenty of flesh in the leg, good shape down the loin and a nice amount of fat throughout. “I’m looking for volume of meat in the leg, as that’s the expensive part of the animal,” said Paul. It sold for £6.80/kg (£571).

The prestigious Royal Smithfield Club competitions saw a rib of beef from a Limousin cross heifer exhibited by Perry’s of Eccleshall and bred by Steve Cartmail take the champion prize and sell for £390. “Paul was drawn to the thickness of the eye muscle and nice fat cover,” said Richard Saunders, secretary of the Royal Smithfield Club.

Claiming the champion saddle of lamb and selling for £260 was a Texel from Greenfields farm and butchery. “Paul was really impressed by the thickness of the eye meat and length of the saddle,” said Richard. Ben Greenfield, who had a butcher’s stand at the Fair, said he was delighted to win. “We’ve entered for a number of years, but have never won before. It proves that what we produce is commercially viable and helps on the promotional side with the shop.”

Ben’s family keeps 1,000 ewes at the farm near Twycross, which are Texel x Cheviot Mule and then bred to a Texel or Dutch Spotted terminal sire. “The saddle was from a ¾ Texel lamb, and it’s a real treat to win.”

In the poultry hall, a 17.6kg white stag turkey won the supreme championship for Robert Cartmail and sold for £145. “It had good conformation with a broad breast and nice fat covering,” said poultry steward and chairman of the Fair, Sandra Hopley. “It was very well presented, meaning it was clean-plucked with a creamy texture under the skin.”

Most entries came from farmers rearing turkeys for the Christmas market, supplying butchers or selling from the farmgate, she said. “As a national show and sale, it’s a great way to advertise the quality of their products.”

For more information visit www.staffscountyshowground.co.uk/english-winter-fair



Print resolution images from the 2023 English Winter Fair can be found here.