Staycation

Firstly, an apology for all those reading this in the UK. If you’re experiencing bad weather, it’s all my fault. Today’s the first day of my ‘staycation’ so I’m pretty sure that I’m to blame. We’re heading to Butlins, Minehead for a few days on one of those Sun £9.50 token deals. For those of you over the pond, I don’t know whether you have holiday camps that are quite the same as ours. Even though I’ve been to a few parks over the years, I still have a nostalgic view of them, akin to what we used to see on our telebox. I’ve been gearing myself up by watching Hi Di Hi on Youtube.

As I would expect, going on holiday is not simple. I thought I’d pre-arranged everything – babysitters for the pigs, plenty of feed, cover for backdoor sales. What I hadn’t thought about was the weather. We’ve got a pair of red kites nesting this year in the woods, I was busy watching them this morning tackling the gale force gusts as I walked up to see the pigs. Somehow I didn’t notice the two trees that were down and straddling the fence of the woodland enclosure. Coupled with the soundtrack of the two loose zinc sheets on the shed clattering away I was more than a little frustrated once I finally spotted them. The shed roof will have to wait, I’m nervous on ladders, so there’s little chance of me scaling any height in high winds. Although the trees aren’t sorted yet, I’ve surveyed, moved the main branches and patched things up. Jobs for next weekend? Repair shed and cut trees. I know it’ll be playing on my mind all week.

I’ve already been asked whether there’s a meat theme to this holiday. Nothing planned, yet. But if we come across something I promise it’ll be in my next posting.

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Charcuter-ish

On Tuesday I made an ambling journey from Charcutier HQ to the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. With the rising cost of diesel I had to make the journey worthwhile so I planned some stops en route. First up was a visit to Amgen Renewables in Crosshands to take a look at their solar systems. I’d encourage anyone who has a suitable site and the means to install a system to do so – we’re considering solar, less for the financial return (thanks to the Feed-In-Tariff) more so as a way of future proofing the farm to the rise in fuel and energy costs.

Second stop was G & T Evans in Newtown. We’ve needed to replace an agricultural shed on the farm for quite some time and the obvious choice for me is a Romney Shed. They’re a design classic, simply engineered and easy to erect – they even come as a flat-pack! These two beauties have stood since the 1940’s and all the sheds produced are based on the original Ministry of Defence designs.

Third stop was the Ludlow Food Centre, a really interesting development – a mix of food production centre and farm shop. In the shop you can take a peep through glass walls into the bakery, butchery, kitchen and dairy to see a raft of products being made. I bought a delicious picnic of goods to take away with me.

Finally I got to Worksop, my home for the night ready for Charcuter-ish, a gathering of British Charcuterie producers the following day. I’m hugely grateful for the invite by Kate Hill from the School of Artisan Food, as I was most definitely the smallest company there. Having worked in small niche industries before, it’s always good meeting with other people from within the wider industry. It’s an opportunity to discuss your problems with others, and generally, you’re not alone, the issues that relate to you as a business are generally the same ones that affect everyone else. A problem shared is a problem halved.

I’ve nabbed this group photo from Kate’s blog post about the meeting.

I think it’s fair to say that every person at the event had his own view on what ‘charcuterie’ encompasses. I think of charcuterie as being a very broad church. However, to the majority charcuterie really concentrates on either cooked or ready to eat air dried meat. In the past I’ve used the definitions from Jane Grigson’s Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery to define the breadths of charcuterie, and, whether that’s correct or not; it encapsulates all pork butchery, and includes raw produce as well as cooked and air dried. Sadly, there isn’t a British term that encapsulates all this produce, and that’s largely why I called my own company Charcutier. The British Isles has such a rich history of pork butchery; we need to retain those methods and recipes in order to secure these traditions for future generations.

In a sense all the producers sat around the table were ‘competitors’, and I use that in the loosest term possible as a man and van enterprise like myself shares very little of the same marketplace. Ultimately each business was selling British Charcuterie. However, each company differed greatly, they each had their own ethos, their own story, history and the produce on show varied greatly. One of the highlights of the day for me was the chance to taste products by the various companies. As I’m not yet licensed to sell my air dried produce I hadn’t brought anything along with me. In hindsight, what I should have done was to bring what I think of as ‘proper Welsh bacon’ and air dried Carmarthenshire Ham – produce that I make every autumn for our own consumption – a product that we’ve made as a family for centuries. I get a nervous twitch whenever I hear anyone say that we don’t have a history or tradition of air drying in the UK – we do, and it’s alive, though only in small pockets in rural communities. The production of our family traditional ham is near identical to a Parma ham – a primary salting, secondary salting, ageing and maturing. The big difference? The way it’s consumed: we slice a thick fatty chunk of three month old belly and fry it, or cut a piece of nine month aged ham and boil it. These were the basic methods of providing fresh meat prior to refrigeration.

This tradition of preservation is still prevalent elsewhere. Joel Wright of Wrights Independent Food Emporium sent me this video recently, it’s far more eloquent than my ramblings.

The purpose of Charcuter-ish was bring to together producers, to look at the possibility of working together, and it’s a very worthwhile goal. I think we had a very successful day, and I’m looking forward to the next meeting. It was hugely valuable for me, it reaffirmed my own ethos of producing modern British charcuterie which has its roots in the traditional, but it also made me realise quite how important it is that I carry on producing regional products so that they too can live on.

Bank Holiday = classic vans, bacon, foie gras and blog awards.

It must be the bank holiday, a little bit of free time and the collection of blogs that I read regularly start posting furiously. So I’m gonna do the same.

Thanks to all who’ve suggested designers for me to contact – this is a lazy thank you – between Tweets, FB messages, E-mails and texts I had nearly twenty suggestions, so sorry if I didn’t say thank you directly. I’m supposed to be doing some work today putting a brief together on branding but I find myself lazily googling things this morning. We’ve tickets to see fencing and boxing at the Olympics this summer, and I’m trying to decide what to do. Based on the price of hotel accommodation, that’s not a viable option – so it’ll either be couch surfing with friends, staying on a campsite a fair distance out of the action or looking for a short let for a few days in the big smoke.

Bank holiday weekends are for lazing about, and in some ways that’s what I’ve done. Friday was a pretty awesome day – I have a love of classic vehicles (my first car was a 1969 VW Beetle, and we currently have a mid restoration 1974 Bedford CF in the shed). I’ve been fancying a sales/market vehicle for the business and didn’t have any idea what to get. I’d noticed that Citroen H and Citroen HY vans were getting pretty popular on ebay so I made an appointment to go and see some on Friday. Oh. My. God. I’ve fallen in love. Here’s the little beaut – she’s a late 50’s H model, starts and runs, chassis in incredible condition but she does need a fair amount of work. I haven’t jumped in and bought her, but now that I’ve seen a couple of examples I’m pretty sure that at some point in the life of Charcutier Ltd there’ll be a Citroen H van in our fleet (yes, that’s right, a fleet – it’s just an excuse to buy classic vans for the business).

We made a rare non-delivery visit to Kairdiff this weekend too. We were staying with some friends and meeting a few others at Bully’s restaurant in Canton. I’d never been there before, but I’d heard good things. 24hrs earlier I was in Mc Donalds (stealing their wifi) – a message popped up on my open Skype window from a friend in Vancouver – our conversation went a little like this…

Yo dude, we’re in Mc D’s in Carmarthen.

You’re too classy! Is there a sign there, reading……”Add bacon to ANYTHING for just 69c!!!”??

I honestly saw that sign in my McD’s the other day. I was blown away.

You had me at Bacon.

So, what does that have to do with Bully’s? Well, excuse the terribly out of focus iphone photo, but they offered ‘pan fried foie gras on anything’ for £6.50. Quite a step up!

Yesterday we called with the in-laws, lamb for lunch from Sainsburys. we’ve got friends who sell around a thousand head a year of lamb to Sainsburys and I’m always impressed with the quality. There was I, tucking in to my plateful, commenting on how good the lamb was, when I was told it was from New Zealand. Having received funding from HCC who run the Welsh Lamb campaign, this is akin to heresy. But, I’ve got to admit, it was bloody lovely.

Lastly, when I got up this morning I had a wonderful surprise. Rose, who I mentioned in the Meat for Art post has nominated the blog as part of the Versatile Blogger Awards. Check out her other nominees!

That means I’ve a duty to:

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
My nominees:
This is a real mixed bag of sites, listed alphabetically:
Adventures with the Pig – does what is says on the tin, though with an occasional foray into other foodstuffs.
A Touch Far Vetched/Spitting Feathers – the blog for Swansea City Football clubs fanzine ‘A Touch Far Vetched’. Not the usual thing you’d see a Cardiff supporter include, but I’m an occasional columnist for the fanzine (so I’m keeping the Editor sweet).
Carmarthenshire Planning Problems – I’m pretty sure we’ve all got complaints about our local authority but it begs belief sometimes what mine – Carmarthenshire Council gets away with up to  .
Le Charcutier Anglais – if you haven’t got the book, you need to buy it! Marc is an excellent bloke, a great help and wise in the way of the pig.
Copy, right? – sadly defunct, but I thought I’d include it as it’s the mp3 blog that really got me into covers.
Cuizine – a community of food bloggers. They’ve got an ace interview with Fergus Henderson, and I love the video ‘Mexican cooking with Timmy Vulgar’.
Cured Meats – an excellent blog about home production of cured meats. So many different products made, and it includes recipes – I’ve had a go myself at some of the products listed with excellent results.
Eggbaconchipsandbeans – an incredible resource for those looking for a greasy spoon. It provided the inspiration for a blog that I co-wrote with some colleagues for a short time: Dining Out With The Boys.
Eurocovers – Love Eurovision? Love covers? Well, here’s the place for you!
A Hamburger Today – I’ve only recently been put onto this blog by a friend, and it’s thrown me into a new batch of recipe testing. Making potato rolls this week thanks to this site!
The Mehallo Blog – a great design blog that I’ve been following for quite some time. I first stumbled onto it when looking for info on typography.
On my desk – now sadly defunct (since Aug 2010) but with a great archive. Self submitted pictures of artists creative spaces. The Guardian used to do a similar feature called Writers’ Rooms, which was always the first thing I’d look at on a Saturday.
The Selby – one of my absolute favourite blogs, and I’m sure familiar to lots of people. One day I just hope that the Selby will be paying our farm/production facility/market stall/retail space a visit.
Wooly Pigs – I’ve re-posted a fair few links from this blog. It’s THE place to go to find out about the Mangalitsa.

7 things about myself:

  • My favourite crisp flavour is cheese and onion.
  • I’m a volunteer film projectionist at Cross Hands Public Hall and Cinema.
  • I have a Basil Brush lamp on my desk.
  • I don’t like courgette or aubergine.
  • My tele-visual guilty pleasures include Nothing to Delcare(Australia) and Auction Hunters.
  • I’m a compulsive hoarder.
  • I’m convinced that one day I WILL win the lottery.

Plans and CO2

I wrote this draft earlier in the week, and didn’t get a chance to post it. I’m being a little lazy – no pics for a change, just boring text:

Since giving up the day job and embarking on this new career as a charcutier it’s been rare that I’ve had time to take a minutes pause and put my feet up. Although things are extremely busy, I’m slowly managing to get into the groove of coping with all the bits and bobs that need doing. This week for instance is one of those rare non-production weeks. We’ve a few days holiday planned for May, so I’ve slowed down a little in order that I can take that time off – when products take so long to mature, you’ve got to calculate the ordering of the raw product weeks in advance. It’s a juggling act, but I’ve got one of those brains that loves organising timings. I get to do it with my delivery rounds too, and it takes me back to my time driving film productions around on recces – though I don’t get to schedule a long leisurely lunch at a favourite eatery anymore.

So, what’s happened in the life of the business recently? Well, a couple weeks back we had a new piece of air drying kit delivered from Italy. Sadly it took a knock in transit and I’m waiting on a replacement – it’s not ideal, it’s pushing timelines further back, but it’s been an interesting experience, me with a screwdriver trying to fix it here, while Skype-ing with a technician in Italy.

Things are progressing, albeit slowly with the planned new facility. I secured a Food Business Development Advisory grant from the Welsh Government recently. The grant was spent on revising my business plan; my original plan, written over a year ago has changed so much, largely due to what I learnt on the HCC Scholarship to the US and Canada last year. Thanks to Landsker Business Consultancy, I’ve now got a shiny new business plan that should see me through the next three years.

From a whole-farm perspective I’ve also been looking more at how we can reduce our CO2 emissions, reduce our water and electricity usage and investigate possible renewable energy projects. A local Farmers Co-operative had secured funding via the Local Energy Assessment Fund to look at possible sites for community renewable energy projects and last week Guto Owen from Ynni Glan came to take a look at some possible sites. We might not have the ‘right type of wind’ or enough flow in the river but it’s a worthwhile exercise to see what we could be potentially doing to make the farm, and the business far more sustainable.

Brand Design

Anyone know of a good design company? A design student or even a friend with aspirations to have a crack at designing? Well, I’m looking for some help with brand and packaging design. I don’t have oodles of cash but there is a little budget available. Feel free to forward this post to anyone you know and I’m not limiting this to the UK, we are a global community after all.

Portfolio images, or web links of portfolio’s would be very much appreciated – emailed to info[at]charcutier.co.uk

Many thanks,

Illtud.