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Premium 4.5kg Bumper Meat Box now £50 - Shop now

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A brief history of butchery

Millions of years in the making

Butchery is an ancient art that has been practised longer than you might imagine. The earliest evidence of butchery as we understand it comes from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of animals that were butchered by our ancestors as long as 2.9 million years ago. These early butchers used sharpened stones to break bones and chop meat and even used the bones themselves as other tools.

With no supermarkets or online Butchers, our ancient ancestors had to rely on their hunting and butchering skills. They would have required more skill, precision, and knowledge than we often give credit for.

Butchery in the ancient world

As human societies evolved and developed more advanced tools, butchery became a sophisticated industry in ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In fact, the Romans had specialist butcher shops called macella to provide the quality meat to the citizens. Butchery became a more highly regulated trade in the Middle Ages, with Butchers forming guilds to control the quality of meat and set prices between themselves. 

In the modern era, it was common for people to keep and raise their own livestock, such as cows, pigs, and chickens, especially in rural areas. When the time came for an animal to be slaughtered, it would usually be done by the owner themselves, without the expertise of a professional Butcher. This practice definitely allowed for a more direct and intimate relationship with the food, but it also meant that the quality would vary widely, depending on the skills, knowledge and experience of the individual carrying out the work. 

The changing face of butchery

As industrialisation took hold in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the meat industry began to undergo major changes. Large-scale processing plants replaced smaller, local Butcher shops, and new technologies such as refrigeration and more advanced cutting tools made meat production more efficient and standardised. These innovations allowed for meat to be produced on a much bigger scale and shipped across greater distances, leading to a more uniform and widespread meat industry. While this change brought greater accessibility, it also raised concerns about the quality and safety of the meat being produced.

A revival of traditional butchery

Today, awareness of sustainable and ethical farming practices is growing and there has been a renewed interest in small-scale operations selling meat from local sources. Butchers are once again becoming an important part of the food industry, with a focus on providing high-quality, responsibly sourced meats and traditional, artisanal techniques. This has led to a resurgence of interest in craft butchery skills, with many people seeking out the knowledge and expertise of professional Butchers to learn the art of meat preparation.

At Donald Russell, we are proud to continue this tradition by providing our customers with the highest quality meat that has been sourced responsibly and prepared with care. Our skilled Butchers use their expertise to create delicious cuts of meat that are perfect for any occasion. Some of our Butchers have decades of individual experience and have seen many changes since they started – though, we’re fairly sure none of them were in Tanzania 1.8 million years ago!

We are committed to providing our customers with a wide range of great-tasting food, including Scotch beef, free-range pork, and even locally sourced fish and seafood. We believe that good food should be available to everyone.

So, whether you're cooking up a storm in the kitchen or simply looking for a tasty and nutritious meal, come and explore the world of butchery with Donald Russell. We're passionate about what we do, and we can't wait to share our expertise and enthusiasm with you.

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