Fred'll fix it

Fred A'Court was editor of Meat Trades Journal for more than 15 years. During that time he saw the industry go through a great deal, giving him valuable insight into what makes the sector tick. Here he offers the opportunity for butchers and retail operators to get practical answers to the kind of issues they are facing every day. If you have a trade question that you would like to have answered, and no-one else can help, write to 'Ask Fred' at Meat Trades Journal, William Reed Business Media Ltd, Broadfield Park, Crawley, RH11 9RT or email ask.fred@william-reed.co.uk

What is the best way to suspend a carcase for good eating quality? MO'H

Carcases are traditionally hung from the Achilles tendon, but research carried out in Sweden and the US over the past six years suggests pelvic suspension improves meat tenderness.

There are many factors involved in achieving tenderness, but the research suggests that pelvic suspension stretches muscles 38% more than Achilles tendon hanging, thus improving tenderness. Meat quality also seems to be more consistent for pelvic-hung meat. There was just a 12% variation in the tenderness of carcases hung by the pelvis compared to a 26% variation in carcases suspended from the Achilles tendon. Pelvic suspension also resulted in lower bite resistance, more meaty taste, less visible marbling and quicker ageing.

I've trained as a butcher and want to start my own butcher's shop. I have no ties and a bit of money to invest, so I can move anywhere in the UK. Where would I stand the best chance of making such a shop work? I am undecided whether to stick to fresh meat or go for lots of added-value stuff and giftware. ST

Location is everything, and it applies as much to shops as it does to homes. Being just a few hundred yards off the main shopping area can be fatal, although some quality specialist shops that have built good reputations continue to trade well off the main beat. The nature of the high street is changing, thanks to the rise of shopping on the internet. Shops that provide services not easily available on the internet are the winners.

While certain types of businesses like off-licences and travel agents are in decline, they are slowly being replaced by enterprises such as restaurants, cafs and fast-food outlets. More than 2,600 of these opened in the first six months of 2010 in 500 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales surveyed in research commissioned by the BBC, so you should perhaps look at incorporating a restaurant, caf or fast-food offering into the business you open.

The research, conducted by the Local Data Company, looked at the opening and closure rates of retail premises, the number of empty shops and the number of charity shops, discount stores and supermarkets. If you think you can get the best deal on premises in an area where there is plenty of availability, then the survey suggests the Yorkshire and Humber region, the north east, and the north west all have vacancy rates of 17-18%. Of the larger towns and cities included in the survey, the worst affected are Altrincham, Stockton on Tees, Rotherham and Margate.

Expect competition from supermarkets wherever you go. The survey found that supermarket convenience stores are the fastest-growing sector of new openings, showing a 12% year-on-year growth in all areas of the country except Yorkshire and Humber.

I have obtained a licence and am about to stock some wines in my shop. What are the best reds that go with meat? I want a fun selection: nothing too heavy or expensive. DW

There are literally thousands of wines you could try, but if it is fun you are after then I would recommend just one: a soft and fruity vin de pays called Le Dog de Jean Marc. It is made from the Merlot grape and the front label pictures a dog being led on a lead. The fun and relevance for a butcher's shop can be found on the back label. It features two strings of sausages and the legend 'Jean Marc walks his dog to the butcher's to steal sausages. It's a dog's life in the southern French village of Tuchan.' There is a sister white wine called Le Dog de Charlotte Chardonnay although I doubt she walks her dog to the butcher's.

The wines are produced in the Languedoc region by French co-operative Mont Tauch, in a new state-of-the-art winery. The name is taken from the mountain behind the village, which rises to 900m. The region is famed for its wild boar and its sausages, and the winery has a visitor centre which sounds like a good excuse for a working holiday. Otherwise, you could try for a trade discount at wine wholesalers here in Britain. The wine seems to be freely available.

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