BUTCHER Gareth Doherty, 32, is the manager at Byfords, the traditional Rayleigh butcher’s shop which produces pies so popular it employs four people full time to turn them out.

As with an iceberg, the bit of Byfords the public gets to view, its mouthwatering displays of steaks, joints, chops, sausage and pies, is only a small portion of the business.

Behind the counter are walk-in fridges, a large hanging room, cookers and a smoke-room. All this is Gareth’s domain.

The public sees Gareth behind the counter between 9am and 5pm.

But his day starts at 4.30am, and he is in the shop by 6am every working morning.

He says: “There’s plenty going on. You don’t get bored.”

Deliveries arrive from the local business which provides Byfords with its meat and another that supplies the fresh chickens. Gareth himself collects and brings in the award-winning, secret formula sausages, which are made at Byfords other branch in Needham, Suffolk.

Complete carcasses have to be manhandled into the back, where they are hung on meat hooks, in time-honoured fashion, for periods of up to four weeks.

Gareth says: “It’s a very physical job. Some of those carcasses weigh 74kgs-plus.
“This job keeps you fit all right. There’s no need to go to the gym after work.”

The other butchers arrive, and start work on preparing the cuts for the day. Byfords has five qualified butchers on site.

Gareth adds: “I hate to think how many years experience we’ve got between us.”

The jobs are shared out, although one particular job always seems to fall to Gareth. He says: “First thing on Monday mornings I smoke and cook the gammon joints, which are a very popular line.”

Fashions are constantly changing in meat cuts, and a butcher has to keep abreast of changes.

“TV celebrity chefs are always coming up with new cuts, and we’re at the receiving end,” he says.

“Customers watch a programme, and then they love to bring in pictures to show us. We have to work out how to do the cuts.

“One recent number a TV chef came up with was the butterfly leg of lamb, which suddenly became popular for barbecues. But we’ve never been beaten yet.”

The butchers are also increasingly asked for cookery tips, sometimes quite basic.

“Parents don’t seem to be handing down their knowledge the way they used to,” says Gareth.

This doesn’t bother the Byfords’ butchers. Most of them, including Gareth, are keen cooks.

He says: “I love cooking. I really enjoy working on new recipes when I’m at home.” He also experiments constantly in the shop. His latest invention is a smoked sausage worth killing for.

The shop starts to wind down around 4.30pm. Then the long job of cleaning commences. Most of this falls to the butchers themselves, although a contract cleaner arrives once a week to do deep work on the fridges. The cleaning operation now has to be documented bit by bit. Gareth says: “In fact, everything we do, every batch that comes out of the oven, has to be recorded. The amount of paperwork has really grown since I started.”

Gareth has been a butcher all his working life. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he says.

He started working as a Saturday boy while still at school. “I was warned at the start there was no glamour to the job, that it was hard physical work, and it could be cold.

“But I really took to it, and when an opportunity came up, I grabbed it.”

Gareth did day release studies at a college in Suffolk. “The mixture of practical work at the shop and the background stuff they give you at college worked well for me,” he says. He still attends the occasional course. Most recently he enjoyed cookery sessions held by Sophie Grigson.

Gareth clearly loves his job, from the look on his face to the way he moves around the shop.

“I am passionate about the work,” he says. “You’ve got to be. The money certainly isn’t brilliant. You really need to want to do the work. And you need a good sense of humour.

“Every butcher seems to have that.”