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Kitchen Confidential: Having a butchers at M. Moen & Sons

Harriet Worthington15 March 2017

The bright blue shop front of M.Moen & Sons, is a familiar sight for the early risers amongst the Cactus Kitchens team who venture to the butchers at the crack of dawn to collect the meat for the day's cookery class. Founded in 1971 by Maurice Moen, the shop originated in South Norwood before moving to Clapham Old Town in 1978 where Garry, Maurice’s son, took over the reins. The shop not only sells a huge variety of meat but also stocks cheese and a range of deli foodstuffs. 

The butchers pride themselves on their extensive knowledge and like a challenge from teaching Providence House Youth Club how to joint and skin a chicken to sourcing obscure store cupboard ingredients. To mark National Butchers’ Week, we spoke to Garry Moen about his life in the trade.

How did you become a butcher?
I started when I was twelve - I took a Saturday job working on the floor of my father's butchers shop. When the business moved to Clapham in 1978, I took over the running of the shop.

What advice would you give to those who want to get into butchery?
Start young and put the time in to really improve your knowledge and skill. We get at least half a dozen calls a month from people who want to leave their jobs in the city and come and work with us to learn how to become a butcher. They work for a week and then think they’ve learnt everything there is to know about butchery when really they've just scratched the surface.

What makes a good butcher?
The knowledge and skill that comes from years of practical training and experience. It's being able to look at a piece of meat and feel it and know whether it's good quality or not.

It’s also about being a good businessman and by this I mean leaving saleable pieces. You always want to be able to leave something to sell, e.g. if you have a 690g block of cheese and someone wants 600g, don’t cut off the excess 90g because you then you're left with something you can't sell. Cut a bigger block of cheese so that you’re still left with quantities that customers will buy.

Is it still a male dominated industry?
Yes, but it's definitely improving. I like to have a female influence in the shop as I find it makes for a good working atmosphere.
What are the benefits to buying local?
There is too much emphasis placed on buying local. We like to focus on quality first and foremost. Our beef will be sourced from a farm where we know we are getting the best possible quality - sometimes that might be from Surrey, sometimes France. Quality shouldn't be sacrificed for the sake of the 'local' label. We try to stock other items from local sources, our sourdough bread comes from Brixton. 

Have you found that the customer demographic has changed in the last twenty years?
Originally when we arrived in Clapham there were a lot of young people living in the large houses around the common and in the old town who used to pop in at the weekend to pick up something for their tea. The houses were then sold to large affluent families who started to come to the shop.   

Is there a difference in what they buy now?
The media has played a big influence. There’s a lot of care taken over what our customers cook and eat and they come into the shop having researched and planned their meals. They tend to buy a specific piece of meat that's part of a specific recipe rather than just picking up a bag of mince. 

What's your personal favourite piece of meat?
Rack of lamb.

What do you think the most overlooked piece of meat is in terms of quality?
Shoulder of lamb.

What's the most economical piece of meat of you can buy?
Shin of beef.

We always tell our Knife Skills guests to take their knives to the butchers to be sharpened. Do you sharpen knives?
No, we possess the machines to do it but it’s a skill in itself and takes the best part of a day. We have someone who comes to the shop to sharpen them every two weeks.

What’s one butchery skill everyone should know?
How to carve a roast dinner. Done right, it ensures you get the most out of your piece of meat. A piece of meat behaves differently depending on how it's been cooked. For instance, if you prefer your meat rare, you need to cut it in a different way than if your meat is well done.  If you learn how to carve correctly you're going to get your money's worth and reduce waste. 

It’s also safer to learn how to carve the right way as you should always have your hands behind the knife when you're carving otherwise you’ll end up with more than just the beef for your Sunday lunch!