In a world where the supermarket and the multinational is king it is undoubtedly more important than ever that there are niche suppliers with a focus on quality, welfare and provenance. When a supermarket can offer three chickens for £10 surely somebody has to question what kind of life those animals have had and their effect on the health of the food chain. When an ‘organic’ apple can appear on your shelves with 12,000 food miles behind it then its effect on the organic chemistry of the planet has to be questioned.
Niche is not just about ethics however, and small doesn’t necessarily mean ethical. But in the midst of us all are people and companies whose focus is on quality, flavour, provenance and sustainability. Whose guide is passion and commitment to these values. These people, who are a throwback to the past in many ways, are the future for everyone who cares about the route their food or drinks have taken on the way from farm to table. Whether that be relatively large companies like Matthew Algie, the Glasgow coffee producers who are engaged on a local scale with farmers to maximise yields, further education and look at sustainable means of turning a coffee cherry into a perfect espresso, or much smaller producers, such as St.Brides Poultry or Brock Hall Farm Cheese. Both of these producers supply quality produce which is based on an understanding of their product, a concern for the welfare of their livestock and a commitment to quality being the key values.
It is a bit of a myth that niche means expensive or doesn’t represent value for money. If there was more of an understanding of waste, frugality and stretching that which we have bought then maybe it would seem less so. Of course some niche products are considered luxury, we all deserve a treat occasionally. But if a free range chicken means roast dinner followed by leftover curry or patties and the bones have been made into soup then who says niche can’t be value for money. Speak to your local niche supplier, the ones I know are desperate to impart their knowledge to ensure you get the best from their product, they may even stock off cuts which can make fantastic value meals and throw some free bones your way.
Another point to remember is that the vegetables you buy from say your local farmers market may well be direct from the grower, the bacon potentially home cured or the fudge made in a home kitchen. There are no shareholders, no middle man, no centralised transport costs and you will probably be pleasantly surprised to discover how many niche products from small suppliers are actually cheaper than you could get elsewhere. Craft beers, wine if you are lucky enough to stay around a vineyard or pick your own soft fruits or heritage autumn fruits are all examples of niche foods where going to the producer will probably mean better value and give you a chance to sample before you buy. Engage with your niche suppliers the same way our parents and grandparents engaged with their milkman, butcher, baker and greengrocer. It’s well worth the effort. It’s a question of flavour and provenance.
First published in Food Niche Collective, November 2012