One of the loveliest things about Christmas is getting together with family and friends and enjoying beautiful food. Given our climate in December there’s an increasing trend towards cold dishes like ham and seafood, rather than the traditional roast*.
What’s also changing is consumer awareness around food production. Following a similar route to free range eggs and free range chicken, consumers are now asking questions about pork production. Labelling of pork has come under scrutiny with a raft of terms including “bred free range” making it difficult to know what’s really free range.
The only way to really know about the food you’re buying is to ask the producer. Like a growing number of farmers, The Free Range Butcher has taken control of the food chain and are now selling true free range Christmas ham direct to customers. Occupying over 3000 acres, their property is in North West NSW in an area known for its high rainfall, and perfect for raising free range produce. Owner of The Free Range Butcher, Ben Clinch, describes more: “Our idea of Free Range is animals in the open, feet on the ground, eating grass and sleeping under trees. Essentially an animal free to do as it pleases and display its natural behaviours.
“We are very proud to say we are the only butcher in NSW who both produces free range pork and smokes it in their own smokehouse. Having control of the process from end to end ensures we know that the pigs have been raised in line with our farming philosophy of ‘Ethical, Sustainable and Traceable’, and the product has been expertly smoked by our butchers, with each and every ham being temperature tested to guarantee it is moist and tender.”
With Christmas only a few weeks away now, the team is busily preparing their much sought after Free Range Hams. Ben says that he’s noticed this year that more and more customers are asking questions about the products. “People want to know where the pork has come from, what it was fed, did it live outdoors and was it treated humanely. It’s really heartening to hear these questions and know that consumers are recognising the importance of being able to trace their food.”
Ben goes on to say: “I understand how confused customers feel too. Since being in the meat industry I have learnt that not all is as it seems. The poultry and pork industry seem to be the worst, and the issue seems to me that the deception starts from the top. Let’s take Free Range Pork as an example. I have been in a large supermarket chain and seen pork labelled ‘Free Range’. I might be getting ahead of myself, but I think I know a fair few of the Free Range pork producers in NSW, and I know that if we all got together there is still no way we could supply the amount of pork needed to fill these supermarket shelves. This is simply not Free Range Pork as we are being led to believe it is. The biggest issue is around labelling laws which fall short of the mark in many cases.”
It’s not all doom and gloom though; changes are slowly happening. In reflecting on the business and how it has grown over the last five years Ben says one of the most rewarding aspects has been the increase in community support for Aussie farmers and customers growing interest in where their food comes from and how it has been produced.
So, what’s Ben tip on choosing food for your Christmas table: “The only real way to ensure the food you are eating is what you think it is, is to ask the question; call the hotline or better still, shop at your local farmers market and talk to the producer.”