Heckstall & Smith is located in Ladywell in South East London and is what owner Callum Hecktall-Smith describes as ‘a proper butcher.’  By proper, Callum means that he is a butcher who cares about the provenance of the meat he sells, including the breed and the farm and farming practices it comes from.  This, he believes, is important because: “The butcher’s art is the icing on the cake and 95% of the work is already done before the carcass gets to us.”

Despite having come relatively recently to the butchery trade, Callum has embraced not only its traditional skills but also an ethos lost by many modern retailers.  He started his working life in the field of politics and then spent a year of managing a pub in the Lake District, including working in the kitchen. 

“This was my first real exposure to food ingredients and in the Lake District we had access to some of the best food in the world.  I fell in love with real taste.”  Despite that, he was “tempted by the allure of London” and moved to a “proper job” in public relations:  “I never had a passion for PR though, but I did for food and I continued to learn more about it.  Living in Ladywell, an area which was starting to pick up, I realised that there was nowhere locally to buy meat and saw an opportunity to fill that gap.

Callum Heckstall-Smith

In the autumn of 2014, Callum decided to go for his dream and turn a hobby into a business.  He retrained at the School of Artisan Food, with Andrew “Farmer” Sharpe, took a lease on a disused office, bought some second-hand kit and “some nice set dressing” and Heckstall & Smith was in business.

Early on, Callum contacted RBST and CEO Tom Beeston who suggested a number of people he should get in touch with, including Callum Edge, whose butchery business in the Wirral is based on a supply network of rare and native pedigree producers.  At the time, he was hoping to find suppliers more local to him, but met Callum Edge at a trade show and was offered the opportunity to use the Edge & Son abattoir, hanging facility and network of suppliers.  “This was an absolute stroke of luck,” he says.  “From day one I had a supply of consistent, amazing stock.  It gave me connections which have led to relationships with farmers, not wholesalers, and I must be one of the few butchers in London who can say this.

“I have learned more about meat, feed regimes and the intricacies of the different breeds. I do believe it’s important to understand the whole process because that’s what makes good meat – and that is something I can pass on to my customers.”

One of the biggest challenges that Callum believes native breed producers and retailers must meet is labelling.  He says: “I can offer pedigree Traditional Hereford from Keith Siddorn in Cheshire, which is one of the finest products available.  My customers, however, could go to the local Tesco and buy ‘Hereford’ sirloin for not-that-much-less money, but they are buying meat from a commercial breed that is a totally different product.  Consumers have zero awareness of this labelling issue.”

In terms of labelling and consumer awareness, Callum likens today’s meat trade to the wine trade in the UK some 30 or so years ago.  He says:  “Then there was very little knowledge about the range of wine available, grape varieties, the influence of terroir, but the wine industry has done a great job of educating people.  Now, wine labels mean something for consumers and they use the information on them to make an informed purchasing choice.”

One of the outstanding features of the Callum & Smith shop is the level of information that customers do get, at a glance.  Breeds are labelled on cuts of meat and there is a board showing what breeds are in stock and which farms they come from. 

The latest addition to that board is meat from Mudchute Farm Park, which Callum feels brings a new dimension:

“In the city, people have a distant relationship with food, but now I can send customers to Mudchute and they can learn about farming from Tom and about meat from Heckstall & Smith, all within a couple of stops on the DLR – and all within the RBST network

Callum Heckstall-Smith