WITH OVER 50 years in the meat retail trade behind him, Louth-based butcher John Laking will be exercising traditional values on quality and presentation in judging this year‘s National Festival of Meat Beef Ribs final at Smithfield.

His family-owned business set up in 1908 serves a population of 14,000 in the Lincs town, carries a staff of 30 giving some idea of its popularity, and has just won the Lincolnshire Poacher Competition. “We do it all – beef, lamb, pork, poultry, game, deli – the lot,” he says.

His background in butchery appears to be founded on some well-intended advice early on.

“A teacher once told me of two things to remember – people eat with their eyes and you may make mistakes 51 weeks in the year, but never, never make a mistake at Christmas because they‘ll never forget it.”

With the Smithfield Show pre-empting the seasonal peak in meat sales this advice is very timely. So what will influence the judging of Britain’s finest beef?

“We‘re simply looking for quality. Something that presents well and will eat well. Like all butchers, I am looking for something I would be proud to serve in my shop.”

Each of the qualifying regional finalists – and Mr Laking has judged three regional heats this year – will supply via their preferred abattoir four consecutive beef ribs including the ninth on a carcass‘s side for inspection.

“Rib nine is the cutting point between the fore-end where the cheaper cuts are taken and the higher value hind quarters.

“By looking at the composition of the ninth rib joint such as the depth of the eye muscle, marbling, internal and external fat cover it‘s possible to make a judgement on the meat-to-bone ratio and overall quality. It‘s an important skill for the butcher.”

The ability to determine quality is important as consumers become more particular about meat purchases, he suggests.

“Customers are wanting to know about what animal it came from, where it was bought, and it‘s up to us to satisfy their needs.

“More and more are coming back to butchers because of the trust and information we can give. I believe independent butchers are now selling more English beef that any other retail outlet as a result.

“Producers need to bear the consumer in mind and deliver what the market wants,” he says.

“And judging by the ribs presented in the regional qualifying rounds of the Smithfield Club‘s Beef Ribs competition there are some very good farms doing just that.”

Whatever the outcome of this year‘s final, there is a certainty that some primestock exhibited at Smithfield will be landing back in Louth.

“We buy from the show each year. Our customers appreciate it and, in fact, they expect everything to be superb for that one critical week of the year. We must deliver that.”