We are family

"Supermarkets don't really affect us because we're specialised"

"WE'RE A happy family business and always have a laugh and a joke with our customers," says Jonathan Perlmutter, third generation proprietor of London kosher butcher A Perlmutter & Son. "We're fair-priced, not greedy and our customers know we keep our word. We don't let people down and we've got a good reputation."

Jonathan's grandfather, Angel, established the business in the East End of London in 1927 and the shop moved to Bowes Road, N11 in 1960 before settling in its present location ? Hampden Square, N14 ? 11 years ago.

Enjoying a bit of Jewish humour and banter with their customers is one of the shop's key assets, according to Jonathan, who has taken over the reins from his father Alf. Although retired, Alf still helps out in the shop and full-time manager Christopher Brooks completes the staff trio.

Both Jonathan and Christopher have gained meat manager hygiene and HACCP certification through the Royal Society of Health and Institute of Meat.

Jonathan additionally completed a two-year full-time course at Smithfield College for Distributive Trades, leaving with an Institute of Meat Certificate and associate member status of the Royal Society of Health. All A Perlmutter & Son's stock is strictly kosher, as certified by the London Board of Shechita.

According to the Board this means that, not only are meat products supervised, but the manufacturing ingredients, permitted additives, packaging and even products sealed under other kashrut auspices, are inspected and subjected to the approval of the Rabbinical Authority of the Board. Consumers should only buy pre-packed produce with the hechsher or kashrut seals from outlets not licensed by the Board, it claims, to avoid contamination from non-kosher foods. Use of the same utensils to prepare kosher and non-kosher foods, for example, would damage the integrity of the former.

One advantage of the stringent kosher rules is protection from supermarket competition. "Supermarkets don't really affect us at this stage because we're specialised," says Jonathan.

Daily inspections are conducted by the Board at approved cattle and poultry abattoirs and retail outlets, where kosher practices such as 'porging' ? removing forbidden fats and sinews ? and 'koshering' ? soaking, salting and rinsing ? are monitored. Another advantage of kosher meat, says Jonathan, is the high level of supervision involved during production. In addition to the usual EU or local authority inspectors monitoring slaughter lines, London Board of Shechita inspectors ensure anything which is not 100% kosher is removed.

Animals must be free from any signs of injury or disease to enter the kosher food chain.

The shop carries a wide range of stock, from standard beef, lamb, poultry and offal cuts ? no pork, of course ? to beefburgers and sausages made to Perlmutter family recipes on the premises. "We don't store a lot of meat," says Jonathan. "We like to keep it all coming in fresh." He adds: "We are a modern shop but customers can still see the traditional butchers' block at work behind the counter." Harvey Ashworth (Manchester) of Royton and Kosher Poultry of Manchester are among suppliers to the business.

Ready-to-cook meals include steak, shepherd's and chicken pies, schnitzels, goulash, bolognaise and kosher soup ? a clear chicken soup with vermicelli pasta ? typically eaten on a Friday night. A Perlmutter & Son's deli features specialities such as smoked meats, hotdogs, fish balls, pickled herrings, smoked salmon, pickled cucumbers and salads. Breads, condiments and other kosher dried goods are also stocked. The barbecue season represents good trade for the shop with the usual steaks, lamb chops, chicken fillets, spare ribs, burgers and sausages among popular products, along with the Jewish holidays of Passover in April, New Year in September and Chanukah, the festival of light, in December.

During Passover, which commemorates the exodus of Jewish people from ancient Egypt, no foods containing fermented grain product may be consumed or found in Jewish households. Kosher processors and retail outlets must subscribe to the cleansing of all grain and yeast matter from their premises in the run-up to Passover before inspectors grant approval to sell goods as 'Kosher for Passover'. Kosher butchery trade mirrors the wider retail sector in terms of competition and price wars, continues Jonathan, with the different shops vying for contracts with schools and airlines.

Some may make promises they cannot keep, he adds, but A Perlmutter & Son prides itself on staying true to its word.

Shop Profile:

Shop: A Perlmutter & Son, London N14

Opening hours: 6.30am-1pm, Sunday, Monday and Friday; 6.30am-5.30pm, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

Most popular cuts: Beefburgers and sausages produced on-site

Specialities: Schnitzels, salt beef, kosher soup, fish balls, pickled cucumbers

Staff: Three - Jonathan, his father Alf, and full-time shop manager Christopher Brooks

Busiest times: Passover (April), New Year (September), Chanukah (December), and the barbecue season

Customer Profile:

¦ About 40% of trade is with the general public, predominately London's close-knit Jewish community.

¦ Walk-in custom includes the Greek community, which has an appetite for kosher specialities such as salt beef.

¦ A Perlmutter & Son also supplies kosher meats and other produce to schools, homes for the elderly, airlines, hotels and other caterers. A formerly lucrative contract supplying El Al Israel Airlines with beef ended after the UK BSE outbreak, when health concerns prompted the airline to instead source chicken from Israel, where production is cheaper as all chicken produced there is kosher.

So what is Schechita?

'Shechita' - the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals - requires them to be killed, without pre-stunning, with a properly sharpened, nick-free knife which ensures a quick, clean, pain-free death. Following slaughter, the carcase is hung to drain blood and the lungs are inspected for any signs of disease. If anything is found, it is rejected. Major blood vessels, nerves and forbidden fats are removed and the carcase is divided into primals which are then soaked, salted, and finally, rinsed three times."Supermarkets don't really affect us because we're specialised"