For a long time now I have felt that maybe I should just pack it all in and become a butcher.
That way, I could do something a bit manly (I’ve always liked a bit of that), eat a lot of meat, and also live partly in the past. Evidently time travel has not yet been accomplished, and until that fateful day has come, those of us who like to stare into the middle-distance a lot and pretend we’re not actually in the London Borough of Hackney, 2012, but are instead in the Stoke Newington of Anna Barbauld, Edgar Allan Poe and Daniel Defoe, can only console ourselves by hanging out around old buildings, reading books, and partaking in Olde Worlde pastimes. Butchery is one of those activities that can help us feel closer to the past, being a profession that cherishes practical skills that were learned many centuries ago - who first decided how to cut up a cow, I wonder? – and this, combined with the fascination of chopping up a dead animal and the allure of gaining some pretty handy expertise made it the perfect mid-day fantasy for me.
A butcher’s shop can be pretty grim nowadays, with slippery slices of beef in polystyrene packaging, slowly warming through the windows and produce suspiciously on sale for a pound. However, there are still many gems out there, and if you are going to find a lovely, clean, old-style butchers with chopping blocks and tiled walls anywhere, its going to be in Stoke Newington. Meat N16 opened on Church Street last summer, filling a gap in the market that the yummy mummies (and I) were crying out for. So what could be more exciting than to receive a voucher for sausage making classes at this middle-class meat haven? Not a lot. And, luckily for me, I was handed said vouchers on my birthday by my lovely mother.
The evening of sausage production was a very civilised affair, with plenty of wine (which did slightly hamper my already rudimentary knife skills) and some nice meats and cheeses laid out on slates. There was only five of us in the class, which meant we all got a lot of attention, but at the same time made for some difficult judging of when to and how much of the proffered snacks we should consume. I left feeling that I could have snaffled slightly more free pig.
After introductions, a talk on the company and a brief history of sausages (…) we were all given a belly of pork to bone out, slice up, skin and mince. This was by far the best bit. I find that minced up meat has less appeal than a big chunk, and slicing along the bone to remove the ribs was both challenging and highly enjoyable. The meat was duly seasoned, and once we had slid the intestinal casing, like a large and embarrassing condom, onto the sausage machine we each popped out a huge length of misshapen but delicious looking Cumberlands.
As well as our hand-made links, we each got to take home the ribs and skin, which was a much appreciated bonus, and the following morning I fried up some of the sausages, which turned out to be very tasty - although if I were to make my own again, I would probably like them a little chunkier. However, this slight fault only served to encourage my resolution to repeat the process in my own home, and therefore I feel that the overall aim of the evening was realised in my newfound passion.
Although at first I was worried about going alone, being absolutely terrible in awkward social situations, by the end of the night I was all praise and my heart is now set on the shop’s £175 lamb master class, after which you are left with a whole baby sheep to somehow stuff into your freezer.
All in all, at £55 to learn a new skill, take home a large amount of pork, and with a complimentary light head, the evening was a bargain. Thanks mum.