Following on from our blog post about Farmer Copley’s in Featherstone, we finally managed to visit Swillington Farm on the outskirts of Leeds. As briefly explained in the earlier post, both farms are of equal distance from our house. Farmer Copley has an excellent reputation for breeding his own cows free range and sourcing other meat locally which have also been reared to a high standard to maintain welfare of the animals.
Swillington is a 100% free range and organic farm. To be honest, we understood what free range meant, but we didn’t totally understand what organic means in relation to rearing animals. However, the website is beautifully presented and full of information about their values and produce.
We had greatly anticipated our visit. Having said that, it was a polar opposite shopping experience to the one we had at Farmer Copley’s. The shop is down a long dirt track and consisted of a wooden shed. Inside, there was a small dresser on the left with a selection of jams, chutney and vinegar on it. To the right there were two chest freezer units with meat in. Directly ahead was a small refrigerated counter which contained the meat for sale. It wasn’t easy to identify what all of the meat was, as most of it was “vac-packed”. To be honest, this did put us off. I don’t particularly like “vac-packed” meat as I’ve found that it can make the meat sweat. However, I can understand that this would preserve the meat for longer and ensure that more was sold with less waste. We decided that we would perform a little experiment by comparing two products from both farm shops to see if we could taste the difference. These were pork sausages and topside of beef.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any plain pork sausages so we bought the last pack we could, which were pork and apple. These were also pre-packed and therefore we couldn’t ask for a specific weight or amount as we could at Copley’s. We bought a piece of “vac-packed” topside, again there was limited choice on size as they were pre-packaged and we had been able to have the beef specifically cut to size at Copley’s.
The Taste Test
Disappointingly, we couldn’t eat the sausages, literally, they were inedible. They were very bitter and had a sandy/gritty texture. We even wondered if they had gone bad and we had a feeling that they may have previously been frozen (taken from the chest freezer full of meat inside the shed). I was very disappointed and wondered if we had a one-off bad batch because they are highly acclaimed for their pork. Swillington do offer a full money back guarantee or exchange to all customers who are unhappy with any goods, which we have not taken them up on.
Their beef was good. The topside was tender, full flavoured and well marbled. However, this is probably the most expensive topside I’ve ever bought at £13.50/kg and I feel, that if I’m paying that kind of money, I don’t want it “vac-packed”.
I’m aware that Swillington is a working farm but I think that the “Sales” side is just as important as rearing the meat itself (I’m aware that people would argue against that) and it would’ve been nice to have had some communication with the person selling. We were served by a rather shy young man who only spoke to us to respond to a question that we asked and to tell me the amount that I needed to pay. The butcher at Copley’s was extremely friendly, impeccably dressed, professional and they always offer advice on the best way to cook the meat. Perhaps Swillington would be better concentrating on being a producer rather than a retailer and allow a local butcher to sell the meat for them (to continue to minimise food miles).
Our overall impression was that this is a premium luxury product, therefore we had certain expectations of how the meat would be packaged and sold. The whole experience did not reflect the perception of the product. It seemed amateur in comparison to Copley’s. This was compounded as we visited on an open day when lots of new customers would be expected. We’ll not be rushing back!