Paddock to plate. Farm to fork. John Mauger and his Maugers Meats lived this farming philosophy long before it became ethically fashionable. Escape SH goes along to one of the Burrawang butcher’s on-farm tours to learn more.
If you are old enough to remember when meat was bought from a butcher’s shop, you may also recall butchers were genial, smiley men in striped aprons with a twinkle in their eyes and a volley of chatter on their tongues. John Mauger, like many of his old-school shop-floor contemporaries, has the gift of the gab. A third generation Robertson beef farmer who buys his weaners at the local saleyards and fattens them up for his butcheries, John has been keeping his customers happy with service and a smile for 40 years. And come retirement a few years ago, John decided he had no intention of letting all that knowledge, and oratory charm float off into the ether. Golf was never an option.
Which is why for the past two years, John and wife Vicky have been running Maugers Paddock to Plate Tours on Laurel View, the red soil property where John spent his childhood, and where he runs and rotates his 300 plus head of cattle.
It’s also where eight of us, a Sydney barrister and teacher and their two children, a marketing professional and a retired butcher and his wife, presumably meat eaters, find ourselves one bright and breezy Saturday. “Welcome to John and Vicky Maugers Paddock to Plate tour,” John starts after we have all been fed and watered thanks to Vicky’s exceptional baking skills. Well known to locals after 30 years of cooking 20kg beef butts for functions and weddings alongside John, Vicky has culinary talents that are so good Maugers has now bottled them. (See recipe below).
Says John: “My Dad started off as a bush butcher and in 1972 he opened his first butcher shop in Burrawang and starting buying and fattening weaners, which are young cattle. We have been grass feeding our cattle, which we sell in our shops, since then and now (others) are all trying to do what we have been doing all along. We know how to grow it, cut it up and cook it and what I’ve always wanted people to say about me is ‘he sells bloody good meat’.” John went into his Dad’s business as part time wash-up boy when he was eight. At 16, on the afternoon he finished the Leaving Certificate at Moss Vale High, he joined the firm fulltime.
“When I was 18, Dad had a heart attack and the only medication back then was blood thinners so he couldn’t be in the cool room anymore because he couldn’t stand the cold, so I took over. My father taught me to be a butcher and I taught my son Mat.”
Today Mat runs the family’s shops in Burrawang and Moss Vale, and is now gearing up for the festive season rush on Maugers prized Christmas hams. This leaves John free to concentrate on his grass-fed cattle on his 300 acres. Due to the drought, he is in caretaker mode but is chuffed that recent tour participants have included chefs, TAFE students, former butchers, families and fellow farmers, who all seem interested in what he has to say.
“Eighty per cent of meat sold in supermarkets today is from grain-fed, intensive farming. It requires a lot less land, the cattle fatten quicker and the meat will be tender because they are not moving but the cattle have no quality of life,” he says. “There is a lack of shade, greater chance of disease due to close confinement and the animals are not free to move around at all. It’s an unhappy lifestyle. Here we have troughs and trees and creeks and 10 acre paddocks and to me that is the way nature intended. Our goal with these paddock-to-plate tours is to educate meat-eaters on the choices they make with their buying power, and to explain why pasture-fed meat is better tasting and more ethical than grain fed.”
The tour includes a presentation and recollections of John’s life growing up on the farm, including the time a Massey Ferguson tractor fell on him when he was just four. “ ‘He’s a goner’ my Dad said.” We take a trip down the farm’s stockyards where a herd of cattle bound for the abattoir tomorrow, are penned. To the untrained eye they look fat and relaxed.
Afterwards, John’s boning-out butchery demonstration and lunch (see below) Are highlights. Butchery is a dying art, and ambidextrous with his knife, it is fascinating to watch John begin work on the hindquarter of a carcass. “In these modern days, people generally only eat the very best cuts like the sirloin and the eye filet,’’ he says.
“But these cuts are not the most flavoursome and a whole generation have lost the knowledge of other cuts and how to use the whole beast.
“We are being desensitised to flavour and to how animals are raised these days. I want people to see how we do it here, and how we believe grass-fed is better for our cattle and our customers.”
Major on taste, smaller on price
John says that Bolar of blade is a cut of meat not used today as it once was “and it’s a crying shame”.
“Found on the shoulder, it can be used as a roast and has more flavour than a round or topside round, and is not as dry. It’s also much better value for money than a more costly sirloin or scotch fillet, which is very useful when you are feeding a lot of people this festive season.”
This recipe for slow-cooked Bolar of blade is cooked for six to eight hours and once cooked will shred as it is sliced. “It makes wonderful pulled beef burgers.”
- 2kg bolar roast beef
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ cups red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp black pepper, crushed
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 2 large carrots diced
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
Method Pat the meat dry, then brown in the oil in a heavy fry pan. Combine the browned beef, wine, onion, carrots, mushrooms, bay leaf, pepper and garlic in a slow cooker or crockpot. Cover and cook on low for six to eight hours. Test with a fork to see if the meat pulls apart and remove from slow cooker, crockpot, oven. Shred the meat and place on large crusty buns with homemade coleslaw, horseradish, caramelised onions and a relish of your choice.
“We like our own Maugers Beetroot Relish, made by Vicky and available at our Moss Vale and Burrawang stores,” says John. Bon Appetite, Maugers.