Today on a minute and a nibble, we get to chat to Lawyer turned meat merchant and all around culinary genius, Caroline McCann.
Caroline was a practicing lawyer for seven years, before turning her interests to Sustainable and ethical meat trading. A true advocate! Owner of Braeside Meat Market, Caroline also does work with organisations that deal with culinary students from formerly disadvantaged backgrounds. (Citrum Chef Khumalo) And organisations like the Slow Food International.
It is a areal honor and pleasure to have her chat to us.
South Africa is known for being a true consumer of meat, along your travels, where have you enjoyed your best steak?
“Without being funny, the best remains the 6 week dry aged grass fed rump steak we have in our Greenside store. I love the “beef-iness” you get from an older animal raised on grass and the creamy yellow fat rounds off a brilliant balanced flavour.”
Sustainability and conservation are not terms some of our farmers are familiar with, what have been some of your challenges in trying to educate them?
“Its is truly sad that even farmers have lost touch with the and. In the drive to make profits in a food system that rewards only the super large farmers have moved away from asking first and foremost, is my soil healthy and how do I get it to its peak condition? Whether you are farming crops or animals, it all starts with soil health. As a result trying to convince farmers that they actually have the power to change the food system that keeps them impoverished and marginalised is the hardest part.”
The Butchers Fire & Feast Festival is such a great concept, what are you most looking forward to achieving with this event?
“I am proud to be the holder of the rights to the National Butchers Challenge which is sponsored by Crown National. We are holding the inaugural competition to find the best 6 butchers in SA to take to Ireland next year to compete in the World Butchers Challenge. This is the first time that an event is being held that focuses on the dying art of butchering and honors the brotherhood of the meat block. Of course there will also be exciting demonstrations and information sharing by SA Mutton & Lamb and SA Pork, amongst other fun activities. Once people are ready to enjoy the sun, there is the SA Free Flame competition taking place outside where there is a competition for braaing, potjie cooking and low n slow cooking. So all round this show designed for a whole day’s worth of fun, food and FLAME! ”
From practicing law, to delving into the culinary world, what are some of the some of the similarities people would be surprised at?
“They both are all about people trying to communicate and connect. Also both involve a lot of communication – and when that break downs is where the trouble starts! In the food industry when we stop talking to our butchers, farmers, bakers, etc that is when we have a highly controlled food system that favours monopolies and kills the little guys.”
What is your earliest food memory? Which meal leaves you nostalgic?
It must be my gran’s stuffed vine leaves with lamb & rice stuffing. She was Lebanese and I remember sitting as a little girl of about 4 rolling the vine leaves for hours before she would steam them off in freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little salted water. To this day it brings tears to my eyes and I can hear her telling us her stories of growing food in her village in Lebanon..
Please share your favorite recipe with us.
Easy peasy sticky shredded lamb shoulder
Rub smashed garlic cloves, bruised rosemary stalks, crushed peppercorns and Himalyan salt over the lamb shoulder (on bone of course).
Generously squeeze lemon juice and a bit of naartjie over the lamb.
Put in a roasting pan with garlic cloves cut in half, 2 red onions roughly cut up, celery sticks roughly chopped and 2 carrots cut into large pieces with the squeezed out naartjie and 3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Cover and roast at 120C for 6 hours.
Take out the oven, strain the juices into a pot making sure you push as much of the veggies, garlic and herbs through the sieve that you can.. Add 1/2 cup good quality stock and heat and reduce slightly. Add a 1/2 teaspoon cornflour to a bit of cold water. Add this mixture to your gravy and stir until thickened.
Pay attention to the lamb – which should have rested by now. Take 2 forks and shred the meat off the bone.
Serve with madumbi & beetroot mash and lashing of extra thick yoghurt spiced up with a little paprika, lemon rind and oregano.
YUM! ( I am salivating -can’t wait to make this! )
If you had to pick one to eat alone, one to share and one to give away – which one out of these three. (Pork Belly, Beef Short Rib, Leg Of Lamb)
Eat alone – Beef Short Rib (my second favourite cut of beef)
To share – pork belly (brined with apple sauce, soya sauce, little garlic and Chinese 5 spice then roasted till the meat wobbles with excitement as you take it out the oven)
Give away – Lamb leg ….. because its quite literally the opposite of the best part of the lamb – which is the shoulder & neck!
Which meat would you say does not receive enough glory, and does the job of being both flavorsome and easy on one’s pocket?
Beef heart – especially when minced with brisket and made into a burger. Lamb breast and neck cooked together makes the YUMMIEST curries.
Do you have meat free Mondays in your home? Yes – we eat chicken. Jokes aside, I try ensure we eat different meat at least once a week. Biodiversity in the pot is critical and we have such variety of meat in SA that we really should eat. Remember not much of SA is good arable land. What we should have is vast grasslands and the best way to get healthy grasslands is to have lots of ruminants. That means unlike Europe for example, we should be eating a variety of sustainably raised meats as that is what our land is best suited for.
The drought that hit South Africa last year, was quite tough on farmers. Which areas would you say were hit most badly, and how have they been recovering? There was no one area hit worst than others as our country was badly affected. I literally cried when I went to visit my farmer friends in Free State and North West Province. I had never in all my years of promoting grass fed meat, seen so much death and dust. Having said that it was wonderful to see the grasses growing when the raqins started. I remain very concerned for the farmers of the Western Cape where the drought is still very much a reality.
Thoughts on imported chicken?
I am against ALL food products being brought into our country! The food system in its current form is completely broken. We allow products from other countries to come into SA at prices that are well below what is a fair price and this is achieved through things like subsidies those farmers receive from their governments. That puts price pressures on our farmers, especially small and emerging farmers, and mostly sees them going out of business as they simply cannot compete. It also forces farmers to take as many short cuts as they can afford and to be overly reliant on inputs like chemicals and growth promoters. We need a complete overhaul where our farmers take back control of food the system and determine a fair price for their goods and where consumers pay a fair price for goods. After all in a country with as much unemployed people as we have we should be supporting our neighbours and not large corporates!
Your work with food and meat has taken you around South Africa, dealing with people from all races, what about food do you believe is so unifying?
Sharing food is the ultimate expression of our humanity. When we cannot speak someone else’s language we can still understand them through their food. I am so sad when I go to our townships and into so called “suburbia” and see people rejecting “poor man’s” food – food from rural areas and food they ate when they grew up. This is the biggest severing of their ties to their heritage. I love that we all connect around a braai – whether its at our town homes or rural SA or overseas with a bunch of “SAFFAs”.
What is the one food item no Braai should ever be without?
Butchers are traditionally male, the industry in fact is very male orientated, how have you as a young woman, managed to garner so much respect in the field, winning awards and being a sought after teacher and speaker?
Thank you for the kind words. I hope that people see that I am all about finding honour for the lost art of butchering meat and placing more value on our food heritage (which means starting with supporting our farmers). When I started out, I was not taken very seriously and more of a “novelty”. However there were people like Chef Arnold Tanzer and Anna Trapido who understood the message I was trying to put out and supported me. They assisted me in being a better butcher and in being able to tell more and more people my message.
My message is simple – Join Slow Food and become involved in protecting our food heritage. There are many things we can all do –
Eat out only at independent restaurants that source their ingredients from named local producers Buy only seasonal produce that has come from South African farmers
Shop as often as possible at independent retailers like Braeside Meat Market or Bryanston Organic Market or Cheese Gourmet or even better directly from farmers who use sustainable farming practices
Ask where your food comes from AND OF COURSE Cook South African dishes!
Thank you so much Caroline for answering all our questions, your work is truly noble and hopefully we can all get involved at some level, whether it is organically farming conservatively in our homes or buying responsibly farmed produce. We’re looking forward to the Fire& Feast Butchers Festival, where three of our lucky winners will also be attending to learn and enjoy the South African Hero – Meat.