Bodnant Welsh Food Centre’s new butcher Jason Fraser knows the turkeys he’s selling for Christmas are top quality – he raised them himself.
The former Food Standards Agency meat hygiene technician has hand-reared the free-range birds since June – from when they were month-old poults – and this week will start getting them ready for sale.
They will be available to order at Bodnant’s butchery counter, plus the birds will be used by the centre’s executive chef Dai Davies for Christmas menus in the Hayloft restaurant and tea rooms.
Jason, who has been involved in the meat trade since he was a schoolboy and also rears rare breed pigs and chickens, is Bodnant’s new butchery manager.
Bodnant Welsh Food centre managing director Chris Morton said: “Jason brings a wealth of knowledge to this role and, just importantly, an in-depth understanding of meat production from the supplier’s point of view.
“We are extremely keen that our products travel the fewest miles possible, so I was delighted when I learnt that Jason was raising turkeys that our customers can order, plus we are able to use in-house in our Hayloft restaurant and tea room. We also have birds raised in Anglesey, and elsewhere in Wales, available to order.
“Here at Bodnant we constantly aim to showcase Welsh food and drink. Overall, 45% of all products sold in the shop are produced at Bodnant Welsh Food centre, and three-quarters comes from North Wales, including specialist foods from over 100 artisan producers.”
Jason, who is also qualified to slaughter livestock, has been caring for his turkeys since June at his smallholding on the Sychnant Pass, where he also keeps his pigs and chickens, and is proud that all the meats for his own Christmas table are home-grown.
“I make my own sausages, sweet cured bacon and prosciutto – I’m hoping that in the New Year this will also be on sale at Bodnant,” said Jason, a dad-of-three from Llandudno Junction.
“I was delighted to be offered the job and to have my own butchery counter: Bodnant’s approach to food is very similar to mine, being able to trace it from the farm to the table, and to ensure it travels the fewest amount of miles possible.
“I like being able to meet the suppliers and to be able to go and see the animals on the farms nearby before they are selected. In fact because of my previous jobs as a butcher and a meat hygiene technician, I know many of the suppliers already, and that really helps.”
His first taste of life in a butcher’s shop began as a Saturday assistant at a Tal y Bont store while he was still at Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Llanrwst. He was offered a full-time job and went on to win Young Butcher of the Year awards while training at Coleg Llandrillo. He later worked at other family butchers in Llanrwst and Llandudno.
“I then joined the Food Standards Agency as a meat hygiene technician – it was not long after the BSE scare and we were inspecting the carcasses to ensure that the risk material was removed (such as the spinal cord). I was based at an abattoir in St Asaph and covered abattoirs across North Wales.
“There were then some changes in the system and I was facing redundancy or moving sideways – so I transferred to work for Department of Work and pensions for five years, in the Jobcentre, advising on benefits.
“But I’ve always kept my hand in as a butcher: I’d take holidays at Christmas to work at a friend’s butcher’s shop to help out with preparing the meat, plus I’d cover Saturdays and holidays for them.
“About three years ago I started to get more interested in the farming side and started with rare breed pigs. I raise about three a year for my table, family and friends. I usually go for Oxford Sandy Black or the Lop crossed with Gloucester Old Spot, as these are a rare breed for flavour and the meat quality is far better than commercial pork.
“I’ve also been raising rare breed chickens for eggs and the meat. Then eight years ago I started with turkeys, just four in the first year and this year I have raised 35. I get them as month old poults in June and raise them slowly – that’s what gives the meat such a lovely rich flavour. Some commercial enterprises raise them much more quickly and you can tell in the meat.
“They will make 17-20lbs, so they are big birds: for Bodnant customers who want smaller birds we will be using birds that were hatched in Denbigh and raised in Anglesey by a farmer who has been rearing turkeys for 40 years, so really knows about turkeys!
“I opt for whites rather than bronze turkeys because I dry pluck them by hand – that way I can see that I’ve removed every pin feather.”
Christmas will see Jason and his wife Jaynes celebrating at their Llandudno Junction home with their family.
“My grandson has already chosen which bird he wants – I had to mark it so we get the right one. I think it’s very important that children understand where meat comes from – it’s not something in a box that you pick up off a shelf in a shop,” said Jason.
“For me, it’s important that everything on the table is home grown: the turkey the ham, bacon and sausages. Not the veg, though – I’m no good in the garden!”
Bodnant Welsh Food centre at Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, in the Conwy valley, has its own dairy making cheese and ice cream, plus an on-site bakery and butchery, with award-winning pies. There’s also a wine store and tea rooms plus the Hayloft restaurant and farmhouse accommodation.
More details at www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk or call 01492 651100
Photo caption: Bodnant Welsh Food Centre’s new butchery manager Jason Fraser, with one of the turkeys that he has raised for Christmas