Mount Pleasant Meat Specialists' Craig Stewart with Mal Burston at his Kuttabul property.
Mount Pleasant Meat Specialists' Craig Stewart with Mal Burston at his Kuttabul property. Stuart Quinn

Butcher and grazier team up for a slice of the action

THE relationship between a farmer and his butcher is one of a kind; it requires commitment, hard work, faith in the produce and most of all - trust in each other.

For third generation Kuttabul farmer Mal Burston and Mount Pleasant Meat Specialists' Craig Stewart, it's a partnership that's earned them the Australian Meat Industry Council's title of Best Butchers Beef Burger two years running.

The two started working together in 2011 after Mal walked into Craig's butcher shop at Mount Pleasant, hungry for a fresh wagyu cut, not expecting to find a man as passionate about that particular brand of beef as he was. After a long conversation and, later, a tour of the Burston family farm, Craig and Mal decided to begin working together.

The partnership compares Craig's feedback after cutting a carcass with Brookston farm data and kill codes to maintain a prime stock of full carcass wagyu cattle for the butcher.

The data enables Mal (pictured with wife Sue, inset) to know the lifestyle and feed of every wagyu beast he has ever raised, so he can optimise feed and is alerted to strains and family lineages of tough or poor tasting meat, which he promptly removes.

The results of their endeavours speak for themselves. Craig and Mal picked up awards when Mount Pleasant Meat Specialists won the Australian Meat Industry Council's 2018 Best Butchers Beef Burger title for the Capricorn region earlier this month.

The same gourmet burger, made from marbled wagyu off cuts, won the Capricorn and Queensland titles for Best Butchers Beef Burger in 2017.

Their partnership represents two links in the chain of prime beef production coming together to ensure their end product is a slice of artistry.

The pair claim they have gained a lot of unprecedented insight from one another into the problems and best practices that graziers and butchers face respectively.

However, the crux of the relationship is about ensuring both Mal and Craig can reap the rewards of two links in the chain of beef production working together to do their utmost best, and that one man's efforts in producing prime wagyu is followed up at the other end.

It's a difficult and daunting task to maintain trust in such a working partnership, and even more difficult to maintain the trust of a loyal customer base.

Craig claims the 'prime wagyu brand' is particularly difficult to maintain, given that some in the fast food industry misrepresent the portion of wagyu in their product.

"There's a lot of bad-blood about what (the fast food chains) are doing," Mal said.

"There's no (labelling restriction) for wagyu, if it's got a smell of wagyu or if Craig dragged the wagyu fat across the box he could sell it as wagyu, it's really bad for the wagyu brand."

Craig says for the relationship to be profitable he and Mal must ensure they maintain quality, and use all the meat from every carcass they cut, meaning the cattle Mal stocks must be possess full body marbling.

"Wagyu marble all the way from the nose to the tail and down to the hooves," he said.

The benefit of raising these cattle, Craig said, was that the cuts, which are normally discarded or seen as unfavourable, become delicious and highly marketable when cut from perfectly marbled cattle.

"It just allows us to do the job properly because you get the wow factor and you can get complete 'fitness of purpose' for your customer," he said.

"With the eye appeal and the proven tenderness of the (cuts) it also allows you to be able to market that product for what it's worth because a lot of product goes into market and it's sold under value because you just have to clear it because it's fresh product."

Unlike many of the competitors in the Best Butchers Beef Burger contest, who take the best cuts from a selection of hundreds of cattle after being slaughtered, Mal says only two wagyu cattle were selected for use in the contest by Craig.

What's more, the beasts were selected even before being slaughtered. Just looking at the cattle was enough to tell the pair they would result in prime full bodied and marbled wagyu carcasses.

The butcher and farmer paring will take their gourmet burger to Bowen in August where they will come up against other regional winners from 10 districts in the Best Butchers Beef Burger 2018 state finals.

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