Some of you will have seen in the Custard Magazine news section recently mention of the short films Michel Roux has made with various craftspeople. This will culminate in a “craftsman dinner” where all those featured will have the pleasure of enjoying a meal cooked by the 2 michelin starred chef. The films have been made in conjunction with whisky distiller “The Balvenie” and I have to say that the production values are superb just like the whisky. I have personally really enjoyed all 3 episodes that have been released so far and am thoroughly looking forward to the next instalments.
I had the opportunity to interview Sascha Grierson who features in the second film :-
What were your backgrounds prior to starting the farm in 2002?
Hugh came home to the family farm in 1991 after finishing his degree in Agriculture at Edinburgh University. He learnt his trade and took over the reins from his father in 1998. Sascha joined the business in 2006 after a career break to stay home with their 2 young children. Previous to this she was a research biomedical scientist in Edinburgh.
How long was the process of finding the right farm to purchase to meet your vision?
We didn’t buy the farm; it was handed on from Hugh’s father, Sandy.
In the film it states that your organic farming methods can take up to 4 times the manpower as intensive farming – how hard does this make it to run the business and turn a profit?
There’s always a juggle to make it all work and keep all the jobs covered. Finding good people and encouraging them to stay here is the challenge. We are lucky that Perthshire is a beautiful part of the country so living here guarantees a good quality of life in a rural environment. Farm work is hard though so it takes a particular type of person to do it. We have a great team of down to earth people some of whom have been with us for many years. They all work hard in all weathers and just get on with it. It’s impressive.
As to making a profit – that’s up to us to manage the business well, keeping an eye on costs but also making sure things get done right and standards are high.
Virtually all the food your livestock eat is grown on your own farm which is fantastic. How unique is this in the world of farming?
It’s not unique but certainly it is a bit different, but it’s something that many farmers would aspire to, it’s just common sense. Why haul feed around if you can grow it for the same price. However it does take investment in manpower and machinery and having the kind of land that is suitable for growing the crops we need.
With clover being such a great fertiliser and 100% natural why do more farms not utilise this method?
More and more farmers are using clover on their farms as part of their management system. It’s not exclusive to organic farmers, and the benefits for building soil structure are part of the attraction for all farmers.
What breeds of chicken, pigs and cows do you have?
We use a slow growing strain of chickens, our rare breed pigs are mainly Berkshire with some Tamworth and Large Black, and our cattle are Pure Bred Aberdeen Angus
You have your own butcher on the farm – how popular are the less well known cuts?
They are actually growing in popularity, such that we often run out of them. It’s also because of the type of customers that we have. They are coming to us because they do want something different, and are often keen cooks so it’s easy to get them interested in different cuts. Also everyone likes a deal or a bargain and often these cuts are cheaper and offer better value if you know how to cook them.
Where else is the meat you rear available?
We sell at Edinburgh and Perth farmers markets, every week. We send meat boxes to homes throughout the UK. We sell to local farm shops, delis and speciality shops in Perth and Edinburgh.
Do you provide meat to high end restaurants?
Some, but not many. We have a very dedicated & loyal band of chef customers who use us because they like to buy whole carcases of lamb, beef, pork and chicken, or because they like to buy organic as they understand that animal welfare and sustainable farming practices are important for the future of farming and food production. They also buy because they want to support the local economy and do their bit in that way. However they wouldn’t buy because of those reasons alone – the product has got to taste great or it doesn’t make it over their door.
AA Gill reviewed a restaurant that we supply in the Sunday Times and described our mutton as “amazing” but I’m sure it’s because the chefs did such a good job cooking it. Although it’s great to have well known chefs use and like our product or critics and food writers to enjoy it and praise it, its gives me great pleasure if a local small cafe use our produce. That’s because that will put our produce within the reach of people on tighter budgets. It’s important that everyone has access to organic produce and it’s not just the preserve of wealthier people.
Have you ever cooked a dish using Balvenie?
Yes I make Cranachan which is a traditional Scottish dish made with oatmeal and raspberries, whisky and cream. Also I marinate steaks in Balvenie, pat them dry and then BBQ them – fantastic taste.
Which is your favourite expression on Balvenie and have you visited the distillery?
Yes, as part of the Craftsmen’s dinner we went on a distillery tour and it was fascinating and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’m a fan of the Caribbean cask expression of Balvenie – we had it with our Christmas pudding and mince pies this year.
How long did the filming take for your piece?
Was the Craftsman Dinner a highlight of the decade for you?
It was definitely the most exciting project we have been involved with. We were delighted to have been chosen by Balvenie as the organic farm for this series. There are many other wonderful organic farms in Scotland all of whom do great things with their land and produce so in a way we are really only representing organic farming in Scotland. However, welcoming Michel Roux to the farm, showing him round and cooking for him was a delightful if slightly nerve wracking experience. He’s a true gent who sets a superb example of how to encourage and celebrate all that is good about food and farming in the UK. The film crew did a super job; they captured the beauty and majesty of our land and cattle which is a very difficult thing to do. It felt emotional watching the film and knowing that lots of other people have the opportunity to see what we do here in our little patch of Perthshire. That’s not something that happens very often in farming, so I am grateful to all involved for that.
Organic farmer Sascha Grierson has partnered with The Balvenie whisky and Michel Roux Jr. to create The Craftsmen’s Dinner film series. These six short films celebrate the very best in British craftsmanship and explore the true meaning of craft. Sascha’s episode is available to view now, follow the film series here: www.youtube.com/TheCraftsmensDinner.