Online Butchers – Reviews
A few weeks ago, when the horsemeat scandal was beginning to gain momentum, I decided I’d take a look at local and online butchers, moving away from buying meat from supermarkets local to me. I’ve never bought produce or perishables online before, preferring to step in and out of a big supermarket and, like many people, get everything in one stop. That’s all well and good but when you begin to question what you are really buying and the quality of the produce you have to make a concerted effort to take a step back, re-evaluate, and make the decision to change your way of thinking.
Unfortunately the one local butcher to me closed down a month or so ago – he held on to get the most out of Christmas traffic – and has now been replaced by a dog grooming business and ironically two doors down stands a saddlery shop! With this in mind comparing local produce with complete traceability to supermarket produce is impossible so I immediately thought of the internet.
Before I go on I have to say I don’t have a problem that burgers, sausages, meatballs, mince etc contain traces of horsemeat, it’s more the point that if they do contain the horsemeat and don’t declare it on the list of ingredients, what else are they omitting? We’ve already heard about harmful drugs being present in certain foods and it was at this point I sat up and began to take more notice.
Ever since losing all the weight a couple of years ago I’ve cut out processed foods and my gym regime and healthy eating is incredibly important to me these days so the fact that they find traces in processed foods such as ready-made meals doesn’t exactly worry me as I do not buy them. I’ve changed my eating habits and prefer to cook when I can.
Sadly, I can’t begin to tell you the fun I’ve had comparing online butchers, the produce, customer service, answering emails and the like. In a geeky, nerdy way, I’ve been rather anal about the whole process. I’ve created a spreadsheet, made notes, spoken to people about the idea of shopping online and spoken to butchers online – it has truly been an education!
For this first report I’m concentrating on three butchers Donald Russell, Westin Gourmet and Stilton Butchers. In future posts I will be looking at a number of other butchers but for now let’s take a look at each one in turn.
The first company I ordered from and arguably the best known, a simple order – 96 Pork sausage and 6 pork medallions. The order process was very straightforward and the website easy to navigate from beginning to end. The design makes it fun to peruse the products and easy to add your chosen products to the shopping basket.Delivery is chargeable at £5 for orders under £80 and free above. The charge is a little more than I would have liked but you do occasionally find the odd free delivery voucher around the web so certainly worth keeping an eye out.
The order arrived as promised, in fact first thing in the morning which helped. As far as I’m aware you cannot book a particular slot for free or for a surcharge fee. The frozen produce – shock frozen – arrived in pristine condition and it didn’t take too long to transfer to the freezer.
The presentation was terrific with the sausages found in two sizeable boxes, bubble wrap and chill packs and finished off with a paper cover held together with a Donald Russell sticker – see image below! It reminded me of the good old days of when butchers wrapped up their produce rather than put them into a plastic bag. The image speaks volumes!
The quality of the meat was outstanding, the sausages a cut above what you normally find in the supermarkets and to my surprise the per kilo price was highly competitive. I would go as far to say that these are among the best sausages I’ve ever tasted.
Along with great produce Donald Russell also supplied a couple of magazines – one a catalogue of produce and the other a how to cook your meat – and a welcome letter offering a very good discount on your next order. A very nice touch.
Email – Very Good – responded to my email in a timely fashion
Twitter – no contact
Delivery/Packaging – Excellent (well packaged and the presentation was impressive to say the least)
Overall – 9/10
I didn’t get a lot of produce from Westin Gourmet (Bacon, Pork Sausage and 1.5Kg of Quality British Steak Mince) so my current report will be limited. I do hope to take another look at this company over the next couple of months but first impressions were good.
I made a number of meals with the mince steak – spaghetti Bolognese (4 portions from 500g) and a number of seasoned beef burgers. The mince was full of flavour and certainly helped improve the taste and quality of the Bolognese, the Bolognese sauce was made over 6 hours in a slow cooker and the combination of quality mince and the slow cooking helped with the final product. The burgers retained their shape and size with very little shrinkcage following cooking – they didn’t last long which is always a good sign!
Of all three butchers tested here the sausages came in last place but even so they were preferential to store bought sausages. Donald Russell sausages were streets ahead in terms of flavour, consistency and meat content but the Westin Gourmet ones – meaty pork sausage – were enjoyable nonetheless.
My biggest disappointment came with the Bacon. The unsmoked bacon arrived in a 2.27kg pack in columns of three and as it would be impossible to eat that amount in a short period I decided to separate and freeze the majority. I noticed that a third of the bacon was very fatty and in fact there was more fat than meat in the middle column of bacon, very disappointing. I did cook a number of rashers and was very pleased with the taste, only a trace of salt, negligible change in shape and a very good thickness with each rasher weighing in at a sizeable 50g each. I would order again on taste and size alone but would hesitate due my experiences above.
Delivery charges – currently the best of the three on offer here as they offer half price delivery at £3.75 for any order, great value if you only want to order a few items.
Email response – Poor (no response in 2 weeks to my email regarding a produce question)
Twitter – Good (responded within 24 hours)
Delivery/Packaging – Very Good (no frills but food arrived safely and chilled)
Overall – 7/10 (marked down due to bacon and no email response)
By far the biggest delivery of the three, a delivery that contained Steaks, Lamb & Mint Sausage, fish, 5kg of Chicken breasts and gammon steaks, I was particularly impressed at the comprehensive packaging from Stilton. Although not as glamorous as Donald Russell the delivery was by far the best packaged. The produce was individually wrapped (apart from the 20 or so chicken breasts – as expected) and well chilled with numerous chilled blankets keeping everything as it should . I decided to try something a little different with this delivery and waited all day to open the box as I was keen to see how it would arrive had the delivery came towards the end of a delivery schedule rather than first thing in the morning. Everything was as it should have been; in fact it surpassed my expectations.
The produce itself looked incredibly fresh – the fish loins and fillets were frozen – and appetising. I have only had chance to cook some chicken and the sausage but was very impressed with the flavours. The chicken is certainly a standard above what you normally come to expect from a supermarket and during the cooking process the breast maintained its size and shape. I did notice a little water but nothing to write home about. Succulent, tender and moreish I’m looking forward to experimenting with the chicken breasts!
I’ve been on the hunt for a decent lamb and mint sausage (and burgers) for ages and this one didn’t disappoint. I will certainly be adding this to my list in the future.
Delivery – as far as I am concerned – is a little pricey and unless you spend £50 or more (£4.99 delivery at this threshold) then you are faced with a £9.99 delivery charge. It’s at this point they would lose me as a customer unless I knew my order would hit £50 – and not down to just making up the numbers to reach this price threshold. Free delivery on orders in excess of £100.
Email response – Impressive (responded to a few emails in timely fashion)
Twitter – Very Good (good interaction and replies)
Delivery/Packaging – Excellent (no frills but food arrived safely and chilled, frozen items remained frozen all day)
Overall – 9/10
So there we have it. Three well established butchers with a good online presence and impressive websites that all afford easy navigation from product to product. I will be looking at more butchers over the coming months and if you have any recommendations or companies you’d like me to explore then please drop me a line and I’ll do my best to oblige. I will also be updating this report in the next fortnight.
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