It’s 4pm and we’ve been up since 1am this morning, at which time we were clambering into the Ginger Pig van, somewhere in the industrial outskirts of Paris. Getting up for the Rungis run is an exciting and magical thing to do, which is saying something considering we’ve been at it for over 18 months now (and 1am is an antisocial time to get up for anything – writing this with matchsticks holding up eyelids!).
Rungis is the largest market in the world, and before you think wistfully about the picturesque market you went to in Mirepoix or Meursault, stop. Rungis is big and industrial, with lots of lorries and huge buildings, but that doesn’t prevent it from being utterly brilliant. It’s essentially a distribution hub for many fantastic small producers (as well as larger ones) – meat, cheese, vegetables, you name it! – from which world class ingredients are sent around the planet.
Part of the reason for our trip is that we deliver our beef to a fantastic Parisian steakhouse (The Beef Club), butcher (Yves Marie Le Bourdonnec) and restaurant (Frenchie), because French beef is a different beast to the meat that is produced over here. French beef breeds are larger, leaner and reared to a much older age than ours, which makes for a very different finished product. Rather than coming back with an empty van we wanted to bring back some very special products, and after a six-month application process, 5 years of bank statements and a letter from the UK government, we were granted buying rights at Rungis – and are the only British butcher to have them.
The two main products we bring back from Rungis are Limousin veal and a range of brilliant French poultry, and the reason we do so is that there are no direct comparisons over here. While rose veal is a worthwhile and hugely necessary use of bull calves from the dairy industry, Limousin is reared for its eating quality alone. Calves are reared outdoors with their mother until slaughter, and so their tender, flavoursome meat benefits from both mothers’ milk and pasture grazing.
French poultry is a wonderful and varied thing – a French cook will most probably specify a particular breed or region for their chicken, rather than simply free range, corn fed or organic. There are some fantastic producers over here too – and we’re delighted to work with some of the best – but we love being in the position to stock the rich variety France has to offer too, and that Bresse chickens are the only bird numerous top-notch London chefs will use, speaks volumes for the taste and succulence of these birds – who wouldn’t want to try one?! We also bring back the occasional eye-catching vegetable or cheese, and this week our eyes were caught by wild mushrooms (butchers must have their trinkets, y’know).
We’ll add as a final note, to say that these products account for less than 1% of what we sell overall, and that the vast majority of our meat is British (and wherever possible, from our own farms). As well as our staunchly British beef, pork, lamb and chickens (not to mention pies, sausages and chutneys), we hope you might occasionally try a Barbarie duckling, poulet noir or poulet de Bresse, or perhaps a big juicy veal chop from the highest welfare veal around. C’est bon – we’re off to bed now.