Suffolk butcher-grazier celebrates 50 years of the family business
PUBLISHED: 17:06 04 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:14 04 September 2017
Five decades of his family’s links to food and farming are being celebrated by local butcher-grazier Jeremy Thickitt reports Glyn Williams
In 1967 Jeremy Thickitt’s father, Reverend Jack Thickitt, bought the famous Creasey’s of Peasenhall butcher’s shop near Yoxford and started a 50-year love affair for the family, now proudly entering its third generation. Heading up the Thickitt’s rural farming and retail enterprises in the 21st century is Jeremy, ably assisted by wife Wendy and now joined by his children, son Richard and daughter Charlotte. It’s a source of pride for this humble and quiet Suffolk gent.
Farming is hard graft, at first glance the Suffolk countryside, the beauty of its landscape and nature, the strength of village communities and the joy of visitors enjoying it do paint a bucolic picture of pastoral nirvana. But hidden beneath the surface it is a struggle - rising costs, intermittent cashflow, vagaries of weather impacting crops, overbearing bureaucracy and cheap imports. Sadly, the family farm is a shrinking notion as more and more people leave it behind to get a ‘sensible salaried job’ and investors snap up farmland for a quick profit or pension funds.
Jeremy and his family are bucking the trend and, unusually, they came to farming the back way. Most farmers have inherited the mantle of custodian for their forefathers’ long-owned acres. The Thickitt sons trained as butchers soon after leaving school (Michael, Jeremy’s older brother, has recently retired), and the family took over two now well-known Suffolk butcher’s shops in the 1960s and the 1980s, the afore-mentioned Creasey’s of Peasenhall, and Clarke’s of Bramfield respectively. On the back of that success, 15 years ago, Jeremy and Wendy went on to acquire their home, the 200-acre Marsh View farm in Darsham, near Yoxford, which now houses the busy Emmerdale Farm Shop and Butchery, another string to the family bow.
But Jeremy is no idle gentleman farmer or desk-bound businessman. His gentility and good manners bely his steely determination and unvaunted success. You’ll find him pretty much working a six or seven-day week, dawn-to-dusk, out around the farm moving cattle and milling their feed, or on relief at the counters in one of the shops covering for one of the butchers’ holidays. And when not ‘hands-on’, there is little escape from the constant pressures of day-to-day operations, juggling farmers, suppliers, customers and of course their huge team of staff across the various Thickitt businesses. They run a tight but very experienced team who have worked loyally with the family for years, and despite Jeremy’s looming 60th birthday, there seems little inclination to be offloading much of the daily challenge any time soon.
Not one to shout about his achievements, inheriting his father’s old-school ethic of hard work and doing things right, success evidently isn’t measured in the finances, Jeremy’s face lights up when talking about community and history, working with generations of colleagues, father and son, and looking after local families day-on, day-out in his village shops over the years, first serving father then son and now grandson, or discussing nature and wildlife on the family farm, how rearing native cattle shapes the landscape and local ecology. And another source of pride as is the county’s farming excellence and sense of belonging in the countryside.
However busy he may be, Jeremy always finds time to steward at the Suffolk Show each June, helping to run the cattle classes. The white coat might be the same as his day-to-day butcher’s attire but it does mean dusting off the bowler hat, dark suit and tie, all part of giving back to his beloved county and showing its agricultural prowess off at its best. And you can be sure, tomorrow the Thickitts will quietly go about their business, keeping Suffolk well-fed.
Having bought good local well-bred, well-fed, well-hung steak from an independent quality Suffolk butcher, then you are halfway there. Here are Jeremy’s top tips to get the best onto your plate:
Thick is best – do it properly and buy your steak at least one inch-wide, cut to order, so it’s broad enough to take lots of browning all over, giving a delicious, savoury crust and juicy, tender flesh.
Choosing the right cut – if you like it really rare or blue, fillet steak is perfect. If you are on a budget and still want it on the rarer side, rump is an economical choice. Rib eye, cooked medium, is the butcher’s choice. The fat and marbling give flavour and succulence, but perhaps not for fussy eaters. If you want your steak medium-well or even well-done, choose a really-thick slice of sirloin.
Hot to trot – if the pan isn’t smoking, it’s not ready. Oil it first, sit it on the hob’s highest heat and twiddle your fingers until it’s really hot, then add your well-seasoned steak and leave it to seal for no more than one minute before turning over. Good steak needs to keep moving so it doesn’t dry out. Brown the other side for a minute, then turn every 30 seconds until the end of the requisite cooking time.
Avoid overcooking – medium-rare is how I like mine, pink and juicy. A total of about 5 minutes in a very hot pan is about right for an inch-wide steak. If you prefer it more well-done, finish it in a pre-heated 200c oven until just cooked-through, testing it regularly. Always rest your steaks on a board somewhere warm for a few minutes before serving.
Keep it a treat: Steak is special, not much of a carcass gives steak cuts so save it for an occasion and buy the best.
Here are some interesting ideas and unusual cuts. If you don’t find them displayed on the counter, then chat up your butcher and they will order them in.
Unusual steaks – if you like your steak no more than rare, try the much-prized and under-priced alternatives such as skirt (also called bavette) from the belly, hanger (or onglet) from the chest cavity and featherblade from the shoulder.
Slow-braising – try these casserole cuts: trimmed ox cheeks, thick slices of shin (the lower leg) or large pieces of bone-in Jacob’s ladder (the ribs), their depth of flavour and rich savouriness are unbeatable. It’s best to keep boneless pieces large in your stewpot, no smaller than two inches. Think ahead and make your stews the day before, then serve them up gently-reheated and far tastier.
Butcher’s secrets – brisket is the equivalent of belly pork, cook a big rolled piece with root vegetables in red wine or good Suffolk Broadside beer long and slow for three to four hours well-covered in a gentle oven. Fillet ends are really good value, less than half the price of fillet steak and make a speedy beef stroganoff, quickly sliced and stir-fried with onions, mushrooms, spices, gherkins and sour cream for a quick but smart supper dish. Young ox liver is delicious pan-fried pink, cold-pressed tongue makes tasty sandwiches and a stuffed heart is a nostalgic treat like grandmother used to make.
Making it go further – whole ox heart costs very little and feeds loads; if poached in beef stock for several hours first and then cut into tender chunks, it makes a cheap filler alongside chuck steak for beef casseroles. For a posh dinner party, serve up a few slices of luxurious fillet cooked perfectly rare but paired up alongside miniature steak and kidney puddings or pies, a tasty contrast that shows how much effort you’ve made too. Top up the beef for stews or pies with lentils. They pretty much disappear into the gravy but help to bulk it up without changing that meaty flavour. And if you want a ‘steak’ for a cheap weeknight supper, take some chilled beef leftovers from your casserole flake the meat up and press firmly into oiled metal rings, fry on both sides until heated-through and hey presto, a delicious if different ‘steak dinner’.
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