RJ Hirst High Class Family Butchers are a traditional multi award winning Butchers shop situated near to the Dambusters Memorials in the beautiful village of Woodhall Spa.
Tell us about your background, how you came to the role you are in, describe your passion.
I am a born and bred Yellowbelly and grew up in the village of Woodhall Spa.
Baking is really in my blood, going back through my family history, there are mill owners and Bakers in Alford, a long line of Caterers including for the Masonic Hall in Spilsby. I think I was destined to end up making food. I collect antique and vintage cookery books and I recently inherited some old family cook books, which are really precious to me.
My Working life started in catering and I have ended up going full circle, both in terms of working in the village and also working with food. My first job in the late 80’s was as a General Assistant for The Dower House Hotel in Woodhall Spa, this was a fantastic grounding in all aspects of the catering and hospitality industry. I then moved down to the Southwest and on to work for several hotels and a Casino in Torquay. A complete change of direction came about when I joined the daily newspaper down in Devon. I enjoyed over 15 happy years working first in press and then on into radio in the English Riviera, then up to Exeter. I took a year out to go backpacking around the world in the late 90’s until my old boss eventually tracked me down somewhere in Melbourne and lured me back to the Uk with a great job at Orchard FM in Somerset. So I returned to the Uk and worked there for several years before eventually returning to Lincolnshire, working initially at Viking FM in Hull and then for Mortons and finally Johnston Press based in Horncastle.
My life took an unexpected turn back in September 2003, when I decided to go into this new Butchers shop I heard had opened in Woodhall Spa. I had a friend with me who was down visiting from Cheltenham for the weekend. She came into the shop with me and was very puzzled at this odd exchange that took place between me and Russell. When we got outside, she asked me “what that was all about?” To which I replied “I have no idea, but I’ll end up marrying him!” Russell had run across the road to ask someone who I was too. A few months later we were engaged, then we got married and then we had our Son Oliver. So you just never know what asking for a couple of chicken breasts will lead to. I had never lost my interest in food and it was a natural progression for us that we should work together in the shop.
We are lucky that we work well together as a team, with clearly defined roles within the business. From the outset we both had a clear vision of wanting to support fellow Lincolnshire Producers and revive and preserve traditional local dishes. Joining Tastes of Lincolnshire (now Select Lincolnshire) in those early days really consolidated our aims. It was terrific recognition for us when we won their award of Best Shop and Producer in 2005 and again in 2009.
In 2009 I made the decision to attend Lincoln College, as a mature student and trained as a chef. This gave me the skills and confidence to have our kitchen at home licenced and for me to produce my Hand Raised Pies and baked goods for the shop and Farmer’s Market in Horncastle.
My passion for preserving local recipes and recreating them, has led to me writing a monthly food column for the East Lindsey Target. I try and focus on Festivals, seasonal produce and our local baking heritage. I am also a member of the British Society of Baking, which upholds the values of sharing knowledge.
What does Lincolnshire Mean to you?
Home! I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else now. Looking back I was so lucky to grow up in the village, with Jubilee Park, the Pool and the Kinema all on our doorstep. As a kid you don’t appreciate these things and you are eager to explore the world. Coming back as an adult makes you realise just what a special county this is.
I’m immensely proud of our county, there is so much to love about it. I think that Lincoln is one of the most beautiful cities in the country and with all of the excitement surrounding the Magna Carta and Lincoln Castle we are so lucky to have all of this wonderful history on our doorstep.
Who are your food champions?
At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy, Russell is my Food Champion. It takes an enormous amount of energy, passion and commitment to get up at 5am most days, in sometimes sub-zero temperature in the shop and consistently make amazing food, doing so with a smile and always making time for our wonderful customers.
My other real food champions are people who love cooking and making good wholesome food, with the best ingredients in their own homes. People who shop locally and appreciate what a fantastic food producing county we live in and they want themselves and their families to benefit from that.
I also really admire Rachel Green, it is great the spotlight she has shone on Lincolnshire producers.
Tell us about your team
We are a micro team of only 4! Russell is the Butcher, I’m the Baker. Sharon is our Full Time Sales Assistant and has been with us almost from the beginning. She is part of the family and is completely in tune with how we run the shop. Simon joined us in November last year as our part time Sales Assistant. He has become an invaluable member of the team very quickly and coped with the madness that is Christmas admirably.
We all share a passion for what we do, we work closely as a unit and pride ourselves on pleasing our customers, both with the produce that they love and for how we look after them when they come.
That’s what makes winning the Select Lincolnshire Awards so precious, it is recognition for all of us that we are getting it right and we really appreciate that.
Tell us which local producers do you use and why.
We work with Scamens eggs in Louth, Bells eggs in Horncastle, Sweet Heat Chill in Horncastle, Saints and Sinners Jams and Preserves, Ownsworth Rapeseed Oil, Curtis’s, Pattesons Chutneys and Sauces, Pocklingtons Bakery, Lincolnshire Honey. The reason we deal with all of these producers is that they have the same commitment to quality and are local artisan producers.
What would you say to other Select Lincolnshire members?
Welcome to a very special group of businesses. Being a Select Lincolnshire member offers you the opportunity to be part of such a powerful food brand. I believe it is stronger now than it has ever been.
With the buzz surrounding the Magna Carta and Lincoln Castle, there is a massive spotlight on the county and it really is an exciting time to be in business here. It is up to us to maximise the opportunities it gives us.
Rachel Green touched on this at the recent awards, that we are making food history now, we are creating the culinary heritage that will be looked back on in future generations.
In years to come people will look back on this time as a hugely important and creative time for making good local food.
There is such a resurgence of interest, appreciation and hunger that people have for good, wholesome food. Select Lincolnshire gives a compass to those customers who want to find us.
For more information visit the RJ Hirst Family Butchers