Meet the marvellous meat men

Meet the marvellous meat men

Scotland’s local butchers – such as Mathieson in Edinburgh – are in the frontline in selling premium cuts of beef, lamb and pork to customers in the Year of Food and Drink. Kenny Kemp crossed the sawdust floor to meet the team

You always get a friendly welcome along with your steak, pork chops or sausages when you step into Mathieson, a traditional Scottish butcher shop on the southside of Edinburgh.

Tucked in under the sandstone tenements on Ratcliffe Terrace, the team of butchers have a wealth of experience and knowledge about their produce – and even a bit of banter about how the Jambos performed at the weekend.

Mathieson’s – with a sprinkling of sawdust on the floor – are typical of the Scottish butchers that can still be found right across Scotland. But times have become tough as supermarkets squeeze profit margins and parking outside High Street shops becomes increasingly difficult.

Tommy Dickson, Duggie Glass, Alistair Morrison and Murray Allan in their aprons and neckties are local legends, veterans of the business, with Murray the ‘youngster’ having only worked in the shop for 24 years since leaving school. All have a line in patter that is as sharp as the knife skills required to carve a carcase of lamb.

“When the photographer came in to take our pictures we told our customers that the photo shoot was for a glamour magazine,” jokes Tommy.

Butcher02Robert Wilson, the owner of Mathieson, is proud of his butchery team and the fact that they sell high quality beef, pork and lamb to customers, ranging from the local pub who love the shop-made meat pies or the more well-to-do in the city’s Grange district who snap up their haggis, sirloins and roasts.

When Robert Wilson left school in 1972 he worked in the livestock auction market in Edinburgh. Then later moved into the abattoirs where he learned his trade. In 1990 he started buying and selling livestock, travelling all over Scotland buying sheep, pigs and beef.

When the last Mr Mathieson, who ran the shop that was in the family for four generations, decided to retire in 2007, Mr Wilson stepped in to buy the business.  “I’ve been in the livestock meat wholesaling business for a number of years. I purchase all the animals for the shop. We stick to the same system and it is all sourced in Scotland. It’s the very best and it is processed properly by our guys. They start at 7am every day, so we can have the best fresh produce for our customers,” he explains.

The beef and pigs come from a farm near Coldingham in Berwickshire, sold through the auction mart in St Boswells, while Mr Wilson sources the lambs through his own connections. “Everything I buy is Scottish. Scottish pigs, beef and lambs. I’m one of the few who still goes to the auction and physically buys the produce. A lot of places get it bought for them. Obviously, a lot of butchers don’t have time to go and buy at the auctions.”

Will the Year of Food and Drink 2015 help raise the profile of Scotland’s great produce. “I think it will raise awareness about Scotland’s high quality produce. Unfortunately, there are now fewer and fewer independent Scottish butcher shops. We’re fortunate in that we have a discerning local clientele who support us. We’re part of the local community and that makes a difference to us,” he says.

According to Quality Meat Scotland, Scotland’s beef, lamb and pork producers make a significant contribution to the country’s rural economy, contributing over £2.1bn to the annual GDP of Scotland and supporting around 50,000 jobs in the farming, agricultural supply and processing sectors. The local butcher is still an essential part of Scottish life.

The Scottish Meat Trade Fair will be held at the Dewars Centre, Perth, on Sunday, 10 May 2015, when the Scottish Haggis and Pork Sausage Competition will be held.