We are huge fans of Pipers Farm meat, having been lucky enough to try a couple of their meat boxes, finding that across the range all the meat was very well flavoured and beautifully tender. We were therefore delighted to take the opportunity to visit the farm, where Peter & Henrietta Grieg have been farming for 20 years, when we were down in the West Country visiting my parents.
The farm is idyllically located, in the Culm Valley in Devon, high enough up to have great views to the north towards Cullompton. The M5 does run across the middle of the view, but decent communications are a prerequisite for online/mail order business, I suppose, so it would be a little churlish to get annoyed about that.
After a short chat and a coffee with Peter in the farmhouse kitchen, it was straight in to the butchery. We visited on a Friday which is normally wash down day so the whole building was running with industrial cleaners for the weekly clean before the weekend closure. The kitchen where the (excellent) ready meals were normally cooked was also not in use, but luckily for us a tasting plate of bacon, sausage, lamb and pork had been left out. Peter fried off each piece using a small gas cooker, and we reacquainted ourselves with the excellent product Pipers sell. I was surprised to hear that the cooker itself is normally with the butchers, and they use it – as Peter encourages them to – to taste the meat as they’re butchering, to keep a close eye on quality.
We then viewed the cold meat stores, which were heaving with sides of beef, or whole pigs, lambs or chickens respectively. Unsurprisingly, the beef is well hung to maximise the flavour, but we were interested to hear that all the other meat is hung as well.
Onwards and upwards, we went for a short tour of the farm. We didn’t realise at all that Pipers Farm are really the hub for a network of farms located all over the West Country, with (for example) animals being raised on Exmoor before coming to Pipers or one of the 30 local farms they work with for finishing prior to slaughter at a local abattoir. And while I fully subscribe to reducing the amount of meat in our diets, there are some areas of the country that really simply aren’t very suitable for arable production, and it does look to me as though the hills of mid-Devon is one of those areas.
Whilst on our lovely walk amongst the very friendly cows and pigs, we had a very interesting discussion with Peter about his farming philosophy. It might be harsh to describe Peter as a bit of a hippy, but that really does tie in with his thinking. Pipers Farm is not registered as an organic farm with the Soil Association (or one of the other registration bodies) because Peter sees registration is a bureaucratic process that puts box ticking ahead of sensible farming decisions. Also, at the time of the start of the organic movement, Peter’s perspicacious view was that the word organic itself would simply become a marketing commodity, and lose its relationship to the way that he actually wanted to farm. So, for example, he doesn’t eschew things like antibiotics, but doesn’t routinely drench his cows; by not drenching he ends up with cows with healthy gut flora, and (being blunt) a cowpat that isn’t completely sterile, and therefore rots down faster.
And so our tour came to an end. I’m not sure that when we arrived, I had any expectations that we would be on our hands and knees examining cowpats, but I’m glad we did. Peter’s views on farming do tie in with ours – particularly about low intensity meat production, eating smaller pieces of the best quality meat you can buy, which really pays dividends in terms of taste, and when meat tastes as good as Pipers Farm meat does, it’s really well worth waiting for.