Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published September 29th 2014
Real meat from the real deal
For those who care about the quality and thought behind the food that we put inside us, Ben the Butcher's (which includes Ben the Butcher in Balwyn and Gourmet Meats on Bridge in RIchmond) is a must-go for mouth-watering and sustainably-produced meat.
Delicious selection of meats at Ben the Butchers/Gourmet Meats on Bridge
The eponymous Ben, is absolutely passionate about good meat - all of the lamb, beef and chicken they stock is free range and grass-fed (including grass-finished), and comes from single-source, named farms. All of the produce is also hormone, steroid and chemical free. The Dorper lamb, for example, is ethically sourced from South Australia by the Remarkable Meat Co from South Australia, and is the most environmentally sustainable breed for the Australian environment - it is drought resistant, does not need shearing (it drops its own fleece - how clever is that!), and is very lean & tasty. It is also hung for between 6-12 days before being sold (beef for up to 2 weeks), unlike supermarket-bought meat which is usually processed and sold within 1-2 days. You can definitely taste the difference and the meat I tried was incredibly tender. The beef comes from Hopkins River Beef near Dunkeld, from a farm which is determinedly carbon neutral.
Cheeky-chappie Ben in action: Ben the Butcher with his dorper lambs
This environmental ethos extends to Ben's own shop - he is aiming to make all of his shops environmentally sustainable and has a real focus on minimising waste - they only purchase whole carcasses of chicken for example (many butchers will just buy chicken breasts), from which they use all the bones to produce and sell their own free range stock (made to Ben's own recipe), which is sold in convenient resealable bags. I made a delicious simple lemon and chicken soup using a bag of his stock as a base, and it was tasty and moreish.
Ben is rightly proud of the fact that he employs a full time chef (that's Marco on the right below!), who makes up all fresh marinades (check out the Jamaican Jerky Chicken!) and ready meals - the Italian lamb ragu is a firm favourite amongst regulars, but there is also Lamb Tagine, Italian Meatballs, Thai Green Chicken Curry and fresh lasagne. The braised beef and onion pies in particular are worth a trip across town for, and got a huge thumbs up from my family. Stick one of these tender and juicy single-serve (family size are also available) pies in the oven for 20 minutes and you will never eat another Birds-Eye again!
Ben is also passionate about the keeping the art of butchering alive, maintaining that buying meat from local butchers is key to enjoying tender, well prepared and selected meat. You can see the impact of his three years working at the iconic traditional London butcher's, 150 year old Lidgates of Holland Park, where he learned the art of using everything, minimising waste, and really knowing his meats. His juicy pork sausages, made to his own secret recipe, are a bit of a homage to his time there. Ben also believes passionately in his fabulous young staff and apprentices - with an aim over time to set each of them up in their own 'Ben the Butcher' shop, perhaps creating their own tradition.
There is also an online store, with free delivery if you can't make the trip, but my advice is to get into the shops and find out everything you want to know about your meat from your butcher - where it's from, how it's been prepared, what's the best way to cook it. You won't get that knowledge or service in a supermarket.
I love Ben the Butcher and all of the staff down there. We do all of our meat shopping here and particularly love the marinated meats they do. Just a good bunch of butchers, producing great cuts of meat. Awesome.
Great article Julie. This is my local butcher and the one I go to for grass fed meat. They do really good bacon as well. Once I went in and asked for some bacon and they said it wasn't quite ready. Still in the oven. How fresh is that!