Being Vegan: A Student’s Tale by Dan
February 9, 2011, 2:24 pm
Filed under: General, Insider Information | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A few months ago, I spent 21 days as a Vegan. For those who don’t know, vegans don’t eat anything that comes from animals (so no meat, dairy, eggs, or even honey). For a more in-depth description, see the video below:
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Big Chain vs. Independent by Lucy
November 24, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: Food Week | Tags: , , , , ,

Some of my friends think I’m mad to shop independently in St Andrews- “you must spend a fortune”, they say.  Simply not true, and for this article I decided to prove it. I chose a traditional student meal, spaghetti bolognaise, and compared prices and quality of the main ingredients in Tesco, Market Street, with those in independent shops. Here’s what I found. As soon as I entered Tesco I was stressed. Queues going down every aisle, including at the tobacco counter. I battled through to the fruit and vegetable section and compared sourcing and prices with John Birrell Son, a lovely family run shop on South Street. So for my ‘spag bol’ I need one onion: 29p each in Tesco, 7p in Birrell’s- 1 point to the independent shop! Garlic:  only in available in multipacks of three in Tesco which works out at 33p for one bulb, 28p for a truly enormous individual bulb in Birrell’s. Carrots: 69p per kg in Tesco, 55p per kg in Birrell’s- or pay a little extra for some lovely local dirty carrots, dug fresh from the ground, 70p per kg- that’s 1p per kg more than the pre-packaged, chemical sprayed Tesco variety. One red pepper: a shocking 68p each in Tesco, 46p in Birrell’s. I also checked out the prices of some everyday pieces of fruit. Grapes in Tesco were £5.58 per kg compared with £4.40 per kg in Birrell’s; apples varied in price and there was not much difference between the two shops, but I could only find one variety of British grown apples  in Tesco, and Birrell’s had three.  Another top place for apples is, perhaps slightly surprisingly, the cheesemonger on South Street, I.J. Mellis. While apples are in season (which they are now, just about) they have crates outside containing some delicious and unusual local varieties, complete with information cards.

Next, mince. Tesco did have some Scottish mince, which I must say is much more acceptable than the Danish pork chop I spied on the next shelf. The pre-packaged mince worked out at £5.92 per kg. Now given the horror stories one hears about supermarkets and their sourcing of cheap substandard meat (injecting water to increase the weight of chicken breasts etc) I was expecting Bridges Butchers on South Street to be more expensive but for superior quality. However, not only was their mince sourced from a reputable farm and abattoir in Galasheils, contained only 4-6% fat compared to the average 20% found in supermarket varieties, it cost only £7.25/kg, only £1.38 more expensive per kg than the supermarket chain. Minus the 15% discount available with your Fine Food and Dining Society membership (hint hint) and it is only 29p more per kg. So that’s 29p for superior quality, lower fat, locally sourced meat, available from a friendly, independent butcher. I did not have to queue and I was served personally by the head butcher himself. Similar story with the bacon, about £2 more expensive per kg, but the quality is incomparable- sourced from Ayrshire, thick cut, and dry cured to reduce water content, it won’t shrink and shrivel during cooking like the supermarket varieties.

On past occasions I have gone in looking for a joint of meat lamb that would easily serve 12 for a dinner party- the butcher chatted with me about how I wished to cook and present the meat and in the end recommended a rolled leg of lamb, with the bone cut out but put loosely back in so that I could achieve maximum flavour during cooking and remove it just before slicing and serving- now you don’t get that sort of attention at the Tesco self-serve fridge! While I was in Bridges I also made a couple of other observations. Their sirloin steaks may be expensive, working out at just under £5 per steak, but are cut from beef hung for 3-4 weeks, again reducing water content and intensifying the flavour. I also noticed that a pre-packaged, processed steak pie, complete with high sugar, salt and E numbers costs £2.97 in Tesco, while the same sized pie in Bridges, home made by the butcher himself with delicious local beef and homemade gravy and pastry costs only £3.35, minus your discount and that’s cheaper than Tesco- Independent comes out on top once more!

Your butcher is also fantastic when it comes to learning more about different cuts of meat; slow cooking cheaper cuts in stews and casseroles is a fantastic way of enjoying delicious meaty meals on a student budget. Last month I bought cheap venison for stewing from Fletcher’s at the Saturday Farmers Market, £5 for diced meat which made enough stew to serve five people. Bridges is always more than happy to recommend a cheaper cut, depending on what you need, and will even give you unwanted bones for your stock for free. The same goes for Keracher fishmonger who will give away fish bones and off-cuts. Their selection of freshly caught Scottish fish is also unbeatable and although you can spend some pennies in there if you get carried away with monkfish or smoked Scottish salmon, you can also get cheaper fish, such as haddock, cod or mackerel at very competitive prices, as well as knowing when and where it was caught.

So back to the spag bol. I popped into the Little Italian Shop on Bell Street to look for the remainder of my ingredients. Tinned tomatoes in Tesco ranged from 35p for value to 99p per can for branded; the Little Italian shop had some lovely 100% Italian tomatoes for 75p per can, and puree for only 79p. Their stunning 18 month aged Parmigana Reggiano coming from Parma itself worked out as only 75p more expensive per 100g than the much less authentic Tesco ‘Grand Padano’. Authentic Italian spaghetti is also very reasonable, 99p per 500g, although you can get double the amount for that in Tesco if you are prepared to buy the cheapest brand. So when I calculated the total price for my spaghetti bolognaise it came to £1.98 per person with ingredients from Tesco, and £2.77 with ingredients sourced locally. Although fruit and vegetables from Birrell’s came out cheaper every time when compared to Tesco, the meat and cheese made shopping locally ever so slightly more expensive. Considering, however, that in every shop I visited I did not queue once, I was able to chat about the ingredients I was buying with artisan producers, and when I tuck into my spaghetti the combination of stunning quality mince, 18 month aged parmesan and juicy cherry tomatoes will result in a far tastier meal- I say it is worth the 79p! Also the fact that 40% of shopping trips in supermarkets involve impulse buys, means that I believe I save money by simply not entering the big chains.

Finally, fancy something sweet? Compare £1.28 for a small factory-made walnut cake in Tesco with £3 for one double the size in Butler & Co and handmade by Mrs Jeffrey from St Andrews yesterday- is there really a choice ?


Courtesy of the Fine Food and Dining Society


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Delis in the Bubble. by Lucy
November 23, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: Food Week | Tags: , , ,

Blessed as we are with a multitude of independent delicatessens, the task of finding the best prices and the tastiest olives fell to me.

When you enter I. J. Mellis Cheesemonger on South Street you can always expect a warm welcome. Staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Although they have a vast collection of various types of cheese, if they don’t have what you’re looking for they will do their very best to recommend an alternative. Most of their cheese is competitively priced. For example, Keens Cheddar is just £1.66 per 100 grams. But Mellis caters for more than just your cheese needs. They have a range of larder ingredients from Scottish honey to the highest quality Aberfeldy flour. They also have selections of olives, sundried tomatoes and cold meats.

Butler & Company on Church Street is probably the busiest of the delis. Consequently, it is perhaps harder to get the personal attention you receive in Mellis or The Little Italian Shop. But it does have things that the others don’t. Butler’s wraps are the holy grail of the snack world. Ranging from £2.50 to £4.00, and using good quality natural ingredients, the queues are certainly justified. In terms of larder items, Butler’s has the biggest choice. Their Trackleman’s range is cheaper than Mellis and elsewhere in town, and their own range of jars is infinite. Items perhaps more foreign to our British sensibilities, such as Marshmallow Fluff, packet ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’ and Sushi ingredients can also be found on the shelves.

The Little Italian Shop on Bell Street is a treasure-trove of ingredients and inspiration for cooking. If you approach staff with a query, they will talk passionately, and often with stereotypical hand gestures, until you have to politely excuse yourself. Dried pasta is cheaper than Tesco and if you’re feeling adventurous they sell the flour mix so you can make it yourself. You can also buy home-made pasta sauces for 90p, or fresh gnocchi, both made on site. And if you really want to impress people, you can hire the chef for your dinner parties. With a huge range and quite competitive prices, it goes without saying that this is the best place to get your oils and vinegars. There is an oil press in the shop, so once you’ve bought your bottle you can come in and top it up. The Little Italian Shop prides itself on the quality of its ingredients and quite rightly – buffalo mozzarella is shipped in twice a week direct from Naples. You can’t get much fresher without having to go there yourself and at £1.85 per 100 grams, buying it on Bell Street is considerably cheaper.

Why stand in a notorious Tesco line for hours at 5 o’clock to buy your pasta, Dolmio and cheese when you can get better quality and often cheaper ingredients without the stress? Also, if you’re stuck for Christmas gifts, all these delis do beautifully presented hampers. You can choose the items yourself or order a readymade one.


Courtesy of the Fine Food and Dining Society