It was January this year when we got the call from Gelf Alderson, Executive Chef for River Cottage. The Christmas 2018 frenzy had finished. Customers were buying bones and carcasses for broth making, braising steaks for casseroles and turkey curry had been well and truly exhausted.
We hadn't met Gelf before, but we felt like leaping through the telephone cable and giving him a cuddle when he told us that River Cottage HQ and Canteens were reviewing their organic meat suppliers. He had heard good things about us from Gill Meller, Rachel De Thample and Steve Lamb, all of whom we had worked within 2018. Gelf invited us over to the Axminster canteen for a chat about their requirements.
It's interesting when you get asked to quote for good people. Much less daunting than going into the lion's den with someone who wants something for nothing. In fact, that's the opposite of what the team at River Cottage demand of us at Coombe Farm Organic. Now nine months into supplying the four kitchens with Organic Beef, Lamb, Pork and Chicken and it is clear that what they demand is great flavour and a wonderful foodie story to be able to share.
A huge difference we have encountered whilst working with River Cottage is that the team of chefs don't just cook food. They live for it! They are butchers, bakers, fermenters and picklers. They embrace the seasons and think about the extent to which they can use a resource without exhausting it- always putting some back to promote sustainable cycles of fishing, farming or foraging.
This is the first group of people who have asked for a price based on taking a whole lamb. This really got us excited as not only were the so-called best cuts wanted, less desirable cuts were involved too, River Cottage wanted the whole lot! One example was the Organic Lamb Barnsley Chops. You might have an impossible search to find these beauties in your supermarket. These chops are cut from across the loin, meaning you get a tender, juicy and substantial chop perfect for a hearty supper. River Cottage base their menu on recipes that will use chicken drumstick meat up as fast as they go through chicken breasts because they know that this is fair on the farm.
What is more, they take the time to tell ALL of their staff at Axminster, Bristol and Winchester why this way of working is essential. They even very kindly allowed us and their other suppliers to tell the staff about it ourselves. This was a wonderful experience to share with a like-minded bunch along with a yummy BBQ and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's tales of early days at River Cottage and his dream that it will outlive him and them and generations to follow.
So you could say that at Coombe Farm Organic we are Huge Fans of River Cottage. Not least because they understand the pressures of farming and work so well with us to make the most of every animal that we rear and prepare for them. Rather because they scream and shout about the importance of consuming meat mindfully. They are our kind of people and we highly recommend you visit one (or all) of their kitchens!
Take a look at their impressive site right here. Going strong for twenty years now, we had a wonderful evening celebrating this River Cottage anniversary with Hugh and his team at the River Cottage Kitchen Bristol last summer.