Host Marked & Kulinarisk Rosenfeldt

Day two, and I’m quickly clocking up some serious miles. The landscape is pretty much the same so far, wide stretches of arable land, a few small wooded areas, lakes, rivers, sea and lots of windmills. I’m impressed by the amount of arable land that I’ve seen, the only other crop of note is the odd pocket of maize, grazing land is kept to a minimum. With so much cereal, there’s no wonder the Danish produce so many pigs!IMG_0022First stop was Krogagergard, an Organic Farm close to Ringsted in central Zealand. I’d chosen to visit them for a few reasons… we’re not Organic Farmers ourselves, I would love to be. We try our hardest to make the best quality produce available, but we also want to be reasonably priced. We’re competitive on supermarket prices on our fresh meat, sausage and bacons and I’m often told that we’re too cheap. Were we to make the leap to Organic we’d have to pass that cost of production onto the customer, which would ultimately narrow our market.

While researching for this trip, it was quite obvious that Danish pork producers fell into two categories – intensive or niche, and that niche often meant that producers are both extensive and organic. In the UK, it’s a far more complicated mix of production methods but what was apparent from my conversations today, is that the Danish are far more in touch with their methods of production. Ask most small pig farmers or smallholders what they feed their animals and they’d probably answer that it was bought from a mill or feed merchant ready mixed. They might know the percentage of protein but that’s probably it. Most sources of protein in animal feeds in the UK today derives from genetically modified soya from North and South America. The majority of pork on our supermarket shelves, on our butchers counters and in our farmers markets has been fed GM soya. Not so the Farmers Markets in Denmark.

IMG_9944There was a reason why I was visiting Krogagergard today, the first weekend in September is the ‘Organic Harvest Market‘. It’s an annual event where organic farms throw their doors gates open and welcome in visitors to see their farms. I parked up in a freshly cut barley field, and wandered into the farm courtyard, hand drawn signs noted the times of the hourly ‘Tractor Visits’, talks that were taking place and events that were happening through the day. An ad hoc playground from barley straw bales had been built nearby for the kids and local food producers were busy setting up their stalls for the day.IMG_9981I headed to see Kirsten one of the owners at the on-farm shop and butchery first before taking a wider farm tour. It was an extensive shop, with a range of organic produce, with dry goods, frozen meat and vegetables from the farm. The processing unit sat directly behind the retail counter, and was a similar size to Mineslund with a piston stuffer, bowl chopper, mincers, vacuum packer and small smokehouse. The choice of produce was similar to what I’d seen yesterday, it was extensive once more, and I was truly impressed with the work that had gone into all the products. I had a taste of their salami, and a rolled cured and cooked belly (which was the standout product for me).

IMG_9966Everything I’ve seen so far has been dearer than UK prices, but I hadn’t realised that everything in Denmark was liable to VAT of 25%. With that taken into account, the +VAT price is pretty close to the UK norm, cheaper if anything considering it’s Organic produce.

IMG_9988The whole farm was open for you to wander, I don’t think this would ever happen in the UK. One shed was filled with machinery, tools, grain mills and assorted bits of equipment. I was in absolute heaven, but it was a ‘health and safety nightmare’. That said, it was obvious that things had been tidied, brushed down and made presentable for the day, but there was no doubt that this was a working farm. This wasn’t a smallholding, or a hobby farm for a pair of Good Lifers, this place saw a lot of hard work.

IMG_0011As the tractor tour was full (the google translation from their website reads ‘pulled torture’) and I didn’t want to deny one of the kids a ride, so a group of us stragglers wandered after the tractor to the outlying areas of the farm. I finally saw my first pigs of the trip! Yay!

IMG_0021Their pigs are kept outdoors throughout the year unless the weather is atrocious and are fed a mixed ration of cereals grown on the farm with peas as their protein source. Breed doesn’t seem that important, as there was diversity of genes in the pigs. They were Danish Landrace but either they’d been crossed sometime in the past or had a modern cross as their ears weren’t to breed standard. Cattle are kept both indoors and outdoors, though their pens were empty today for the visit.

After a full morning of wandering, chatting and nosing in all the sheds I made a move south. I had plenty of time to ponder what I’d seen that morning. Another meat business set in the midst of nowhere that was seemingly doing very well. It crossed my mind for a brief minute, should we have a farm shop of our own?

IMG_0026My afternoon was spent at Culinary Rosenfeldt a food festival being held in the grand setting of the grounds of the Rosenfeldt Estate. It was by accident that I ended up here – I’d contacted Jette of Kaersgaard and was hoping to visit their farm. However, my timing didn’t work so she suggested that I visit them at the festival. In the end it worked out extremely well as I managed to meet some other producers I’d been emailing too.

IMG_0070Before I tracked down Jette and her partner Lars, the first thing I spotted was a deer carcass hanging. The pic above was taken towards the end of the day, I couldn’t get near at the beginning, such was the interest. Avert your eyes if you’re a little squeamish, there’s more gore to come. Other than the hot dog stand the longest queue of the day was for the free tasters of haunch that were cooking on the open fire (utterly delicious though a little tough). The stand and demo was being organised by Danmarks Jaegerforbund (The Danish Hunters Assocciation). I’d missed the cull, but the hunter from the organisation was doing an excellent job of cutting the loins when I arrived. As I ventured back to the stand through the afternoon, there was less and less to be seen, and there were just a few bones hanging towards the end. I’m not a big fan of guns, they scare me (as do chainsaws), I was always much more in favour of hunting with my grandfather with wire traps, but I’m sure even they are outlawed nowadays. We have ‘Game Fairs’ in the UK, but hunting isn’t seen as a mainstream pastime with us. For my grandfather and my great uncles, hunting was a way of putting food on the table. If I look at old family diarys, amongst the notes on the weather, the state of the harvest and market prices are notes referring to their tallies at hunting. IMG_0046

Too much? Well, the throngs of people at the festival didn’t think so. I’m pretty sure few (if any) vegans and vegetarians read this blog, but I do think it’s utterly important for people to know where their food comes from.

IMG_0074And so, to Kaersgard, I had an incredible welcome by Jette and Lars on their stall. I know how distracting it can be when someone wants to talk to you on a stall while you’re trying to market and sell your products. Luckily for me, there was an almighty downpour which moved most people into one of the ancient barns (built 1777) while the clouds passed. IMG_0125They run a mixed farm – cattle, pigs, goats and poultry. I tried some of their delicious duck rillette, I wished I had known that my room for the night had a kitchenette as I would have bought some duck confit to bring with me too for supper. Like all the other meat producers that I spoke with at the festival they didn’t produce their own products – they reared the animals but the production was done by the slaughterhouse or by a local butcher. It’s much the same in the UK, most producers at markets and festivals make a small portion of their products and have the majority done for them by others. We’re slightly different in that we have our feet set firmly in both camps. We rear our own, buy meat from trusted suppliers and produce all our products that we sell (we also make sausages and cure bacons and hams for smallholders who have their own pigs).IMG_0081

The beauty of being a punter at a food market is watching how others sell their products – not necessarily the sales technique but how products are displayed. One big difference from the UK was the predominance of frozen product, I bought a frozen smoked chicken breast from Dalbakkegaard (no photo, as it’s in my belly), as were the products from Kirkenhojens Limousine who served me up an outstanding emulsified beef sausage. Although frozen, products were simply packaged, cleanly labelled and easy to see in display freezer and it didn’t seem to be a problem for customers. We sell our gluten and preservative free sausages frozen and it’s never really been an issue, it’s the marketing of them that’s always been a problem as they melt as soon as we put them out on display.

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We recently bought ourselves a new display fridge after our small table-top fridge died. It’s much cleaner and more well presented than what we had before, but it’s a bugger to move about. I loved the trailer that Kaersgard had – it was like a burger van but without sides – they even had additional freezer storage, handwash facilites and cooking space. A completely self contained unit. I’d love to have something like that, but markets and events discourage the use of trailers, or they cost a huge amount more for a pitch. IMG_0039I missed out on the hot dogs, by the time I got to queue they’d sold out. A real pity, as the ‘pit master’ for the day was a right character. Second choice was a salami sandwich topped with a spicy mustard coleslaw. Like any market that I’m at trading, I spent a fair amount of cash at the festival – apples, pears, sweets, coffee, juice, smoked chicken and I have to mention an awesome smoked lamb chorizo I bought from Thorlin. I’m not generally a big fan of air dried lamb due to the rancidity of the fats, but this hit the spot. It was also in a natural casing, only the second product that I’d seen, the other being a beer stick by another producer at the festival.

IMG_0141When I finally made it back to the hire car, I was parked in a near empty field. I know I can talk, but I’d outdone myself today.

 

Breathing a Sigh of Relief

Sometime today a lever arched file wrapped in brown paper will be delivered to our local Welsh Government Office. It marks the culmination of months of hard work, of arguing, stressing, sleepless nights, emails, phone calls and research trips. Today our grant application for our processing facility will be submitted. It’s taken me from November 2010 to get to this point – full product development, planning permission, environmental permits, equipment research and then the mammoth task of collating quotations for everything down to the last screw. I think it’s fair to say that we’re lucky in Wales to have so many grant streams open to businesses and I can well understand the criticism that we have a grant culture. However, I can honestly say that the 40 page application, 40+ page marketing plan, the 87 quotes and the full lever arch file of appendices, financials and backing documentation is by far the biggest piece of work I’ve ever completed. As I drove away from my last meeting before the documents were sent to quality control I felt pretty emotional. I felt weak, sick even, as a wave of adrenaline and a great sense of relief washed over me.

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This is just the appendices…

At the beginning of my journey a very wise consultant took a tour of our proposed building and said, straight-out “it’s going to cost you £250,000 to set this up as a charcuterie business”. At the time, with eyes full of wonder and naivety I thought to myself, ‘£120,000 maybe, £150,000 tops’, how wrong was I. Our total project cost came in at £238,000 and if I take into consideration the costs already incurred, he’s pretty much on the button. There’s a reason why there aren’t lots of charcuterie businesses about the place, it’s a costly, tough old game and you need a driving passion to get onto your feet. Admittedly I could have started smaller, but my mother always says “prynwch rad, prynwch eilwaith” which roughly translates to “buy cheap, buy twice” and I wanted to take my time, lay the groundwork and future proof the building so that I could grow as a business without having  to waste the little capital that I have on the wrong thing.

I’d like to give thanks to our customers, for supporting us, for signing our petitions at markets, adding their names online to our ipetition, for writing letters of support for the business and generally for providing great honest feedback on products. I’m really lucky to have customers from all walks of life who’ve been able to contribute whether through contacts, suggestions or recommendations that have helped us to grow our networks.

I’m by no means at the end of the journey, I’m £20,000 short of my total, and I’ll be begging for cash via Kickstarter quite soon to bridge that gap. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be successful with my grant application either, but I know I’ve given it a damn good shot.

A French Jaunt

Amidst the intensity of paperwork I managed to escape to France for a few days for yet another meaty jaunt. I always think that if people invite you to something that you can turn them down once, but if you do it twice, you’ve probably lost that opportunity forever. So when Kate Hill invited me on a Charcuterie Road Trip last year (which I couldn’t attend) I was worried that I might not get another chance. When the second invite came, my bags were pretty much packed instantly. I’d met Kate Hill at the School of Artisan Food a while back when she hosted the Charcuter-ish event. She runs a culinary retreat in Gascony called Camont. It’s a stunning traditional limestone towered farmhouse set in a hectare of land along the side of the Garonne canal. Viewers of the Rick Stein ‘French Odyssey’ program will be more than familiar with her as she featured in the series and her kitchen provided a welcome home for Rick to cook in on more than one occasion.

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Kate’s kitchen, and yes, it does look like this.

Kate’s courses are renowned, and many of the people I met on my travels across North America had learnt their craft while passing through her kitchen. I’d heard near legendary stories about the Chapolards, a local farming family who provide whole supplychain pork and pork products – “from seed to sausage”. Although in modern farming terms they’re a relatively small farm the Chapolard brothers manage to support their families by growing their own crops (using co-op owned machinery), rearing their own animals (XL cochon!), slaughtering them at a co-op owned abattoir (which they part own), processing on-farm and then selling all their products directly to the public. Put simply, they’re an inspiration.

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Sadly, I wasn’t visiting to join in with the other charcuterie students at ‘Pig School’. However, we were heading off on a charcuterie road trip of the Basque Country. I joined Kiwi Kirsty Brown (check out her plog = pig-log), Adam Smith (of Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont), rockstar Chef John Blevins (of Lalime’s in Berkeley), his partner; butcher Analiesa Gosnell and London based Chef Ben MacAndrews. Like most trips I take a notepad with me, this time I filled the book and had to move onto the ipad, to save you on tomes of writing I’ll concentrate on a few choice nuggets from the trip…

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My favourite producer of the trip was Eric Ospital, he runs his family business Louis Ospital and in addition to own labelled products produces a speciality ham under the iBaiona label. These hams are sourced from animals from three family farms, fed a specific non-GM diet, reared to 180kg at a minimum of 11months. The hams are salted, equalised and put through a series of drying stages and aged for between 15 and 20 months. The production method differed slightly from the Italian methods that I’d seen. Drying temperatures were different, and the application of panne or pannage (the equivalent of Italian sugna) was very different and resulted in quite a different product. We were very fortunate to get to see Eric’s ‘ham house’ his ‘theatre of hams’ where they mature the last few months. It’s here that he entertains the cream of Michelin starred Chefs, diplomats, celebrities and those looking to invest in ‘ham futures’. Eric was sent by his father at a young age to work in Paris – his contemporaries from that time are now his customers. Eric’s parting words to me were ones of good luck for the 6 Nations decider between Wales and England, I have an inkling that it went some way towards the victory.

Sticking with the ham theme, we visited a stunning co-operative drying house. Similar to ham facilities in Italy that I’d seen they used much the same equipment to massage and salt the hams before leaving them to cure, equalise, ferment and dry. I started my business from a family history of ham production (which are essentially barn hams). The mode of production in Italy and France don’t differ all that much, it’s just that they mimmic what we used to do on a small scale seasonally so that the hams can be produced year-round. However, there is much more science to it than that, and these hams have a refinement that’s lacking in home-produced barn hams. I know of plenty of people who produce an occasional home-prosciutto, it’s a relatively simple process, but there’s no refinement or consistency to that product, it’s wholly down to natural environment – whether it’s the quality of the meat, the animals diet, the kill weight, fat composition or environmental effects such as humidity, temperature and natural moulds. The real skill is to understand how these hams are influenced by those differing elements and to choose a mode of production that produces the type of ham that you want to make.

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The other obvious realisation when you see a facility producing hams is that it’s a big operation. During my Italian trip last year to a machinery supplier I asked for basic costings for a ham system. €1m for an entry level facility, which puts ham production for me in the fairytail/aspiration business category. There are UK companies producing whole air dried hams but these are cottage businesses who often derive the mainstay of their turnover from other products. If you trawl the internet for modes of producing air dried hams it’s easy to find guidance on drying in single temperature and humidity chambers – it’s a mode of production, but to be truthful you’ll get a pretty bland and basic product if you do. You really need these more complicated systems that derive seasonality in the drying conditions both from temperature, humidity and also crucially airflow.

I’m sorry if I’m going ‘off on one’ on the subject of ham, but having travelled extensively now and tasted so many different products, you start to realise the complexity of flavours that can be produced based on regional variation. It’s not just the balance of salt and pork and whether it’s a punchy salty ham, or a meaty taste or something with delicate notes, but there’s subtitles in the inclusion of aromatics in the cure mixture, whether there’s pepper in the lard mixture that’s rubbed on, the nuttiness through the natural occurring moulds and even the effect of temperature on the fats. Creating the perfect ham will be a life long project for me. I’ve set myself a timeline of 10 yrs to get going. But considering it’s taken me two years to get to the point that I’m at now, that may be a foolhardy figure. After all, I don’t even have a decent sized facility yet for the production of all the other bits of lovely charcuterie that I want to produce. A case of cart before the horse? Perhaps, but everyone needs a dream.

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After visiting the ham house we headed to Pierre Orteiza, one of the five producers who owned the drying house. We were met by his extremely welcoming wife and had a stunning lunch in their restaurant/shop/processing space. Pierre was one of the leading producers instrumental in protecting the future of the local Basque pig. It’s an Iberian type pig, very different from the more developed ‘Celtic’ pigs that we have here in the UK and that are used for Italian commercial production. At one time the breed was down to 30 sows and 5 boars, but they’ve managed to turn the tide and have 200 breeding sows now and produce in excess of 2000 meat animals per year. In keeping with other Iberian pigs (such as the famed acorn fed Spanish and Portugese varieties) they’re undeveloped, slow growing animals, they have flatter hams, larger hooves, a slight saddleback and have a higher level of fat covering. Much the same as the Mangalitsa that we’ve reared they have a chemical composition to their fats that lends itself to longer ageing times than ‘Celtic’ breed pigs.

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Rearing systems differ greatly to more commercial production, animals farrow indoors or out, wean at 6-8weeks and are moved into groups of around 30-40 animals in individual ‘parks’ of hillside grass and woodland at 3 months. They’re moved every 3 months to new parks and the previous park is allowed to rest. Animals spend a minimum 12 months outdoors and are slaughtered between 15-18 months at high weights of 160kg. Traditionally pigs would have been finished seasonally in small groups outdoors in woodland feeding largely on chestnuts but the nature of continual modern production doesn’t allow for this.

Looking at modes of rearing abroad has really made me question our methods here in the UK. Whether it be a smallholder producing rare breed pork or an intensively reared producer rearing commodity pork, often composite feeds for both are identical, and animals invariably are reared to pork weight at around 60kg at a maximum age of 6-7 months. The ethos on the continent is much the same as what my grandfather would have done pre-war and pre-intensification (and what we still do) as we rear animals to 100kg for pork and 150kg for charcuterie. Pig breeders in the UK are always shocked when I mention these weights, I’ve yet to come across other producers who still rear to these traditional standards unless their old farming families raising two or three pigs for a seasonal kill. Modern pork weights of 60kg may produce fast pork, but it doesn’t provide flavour, well, not flavour like an 18month old animal where the meat is rich, dark red and developed. There’s a whole blog post to come on this subject I expect as I’ve already drafted a ‘pork credo’ for myself.

So, there’s a taste of my trip to France, and some ranting thrown in for good measure. Our grant application is drawing to a close so I expect I’ll have some more time to contribute to the blog and some other neglected aspects of the business from now on.

Llyr a Dai Womble

As some of you know, I worked for over eight years in the film and television industry before pursuing a career as a charcutier. Although I’ve been interviewed many times on television for various film projects that I’ve worked on, this will be my debut as ‘the talent’! This Wedneday, 21st of November at 9pm, Llyr a Dai Womble will be on S4C (Sky Ch134, Freesat Ch120 and online), and for those not versed in the language of heaven, there’s always the option of subtitles.

Earlier in the year, a group of film makers from the television production company Boomerang started a documentary about my little company – Charcutier Ltd. They’ve followed my product development at Food Centre Wales, the tribulations of salami production and the growth and production of our ‘womble pigs’. It’s been an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to have been able to participate in this kind of project.

If I ever do a radio or television interview I rarely listen or watch the item, I always have that thought – is that what I actually sound like? It doesn’t sound like that in my head! So, thankfully, this Wednesday I’ll be driving home from the pop-up market at Chapter Arts Centre while the program is being televised. I’m sure it’ll be recorded for me, and at some point I’ll be sat there watching through my fingers like a scared child watching the Daleks from Doctor Who.

Ventreche, salt beef and some lomo.

Two weeks since I returned from holiday and it’s been manic. What have I actually done? Well, to be honest I’m not sure. Suffice to say that when I sat in the armchair in front of tv last night that my eyes were drooping to a close within about ten minutes.

I’ve done some processing, the usual bacons and sausages but I’ve also had a chance to play with a couple of new tests – that’s the beauty of the job, all I do is wake up and think, what shall I make today? I’ve been tweaking some cures, and I’ve got a bunch of hocks in as my test cases. I’ve also got Ventreche on the go, with a French named company it’s about time that I have a French bacon on the product list.

I’ve also diverted from the usual pork this month – I have some duck prosciutto on the go, and a couple of duck legs in salt ready to be made into confit. I also managed to pick up some beautifully marbled brisket from a 40 month old Dexter from Cig Lodor in Pembrokeshire earlier in the week. It’s been sat in cure for three days in an aromatic mix of cure, sugar, peppercorns, juniper berries and bay leaves. As usual, the brisket was barely out of the pan before I started picking away at it. I attacked a packet of Native Breeds pastrami last night too, I’d picked it up at the Spring Festival at the Royal Welsh Showground. If you see their products about, BUY THEM! Honestly, it’s companies like Native Breeds that make me so proud to be part of a growing British charcuterie industry. I was at the festival to man the stall for the Wales and Border Counties Pig Breeder Association – an excellent day, speaking with breeders, producers and prospective pig keepers. I even met some charcuterie devotees, it’s always good talking shop with like minded people.

Last, but by no means least is a smoked Polish sausage. We’re heading off to a Eurovision party next week. Each person is allocated an European country, and you’re expected to bring one food stuff from that country. I’ve got Poland, and rather than go out and buy something, I thought I’d produce some sausages. Hot smoking really is pretty new to me – I’ve used thermal processing ovens in the States (and can’t wait to get my own) but more basic rudimentary techniques using a Bradley Smoker don’t always provide such uniform results. However, that’s the beauty of playing around with things and experimenting.

One last thing, and a quite important thing at that. After 14 months of product development, umpteen trials, cure tests and recipe tweaks I finally have some whole muscle cured products that I’m happy with. It’s been an immense leap going from home production, curing the way my forefathers have been doing for centuries, to the sterile environment of a professional production facility. As we’ve always produced seasonal products that have been largely defined by natural environmental conditions, it’s been an immense challenge replicating those in a controlled environment. But, we’re finally there. All I need now is a shiny new production facility.

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.

Where’ve I been?

My first December post and it’s damn near to the end of the month. I’ve been slacking when it comes to blogging, tweeting and the like. However, there’s a good reason for that. As soon as I returned from my big North American trip I sat down and tried to rationalise what I’d learnt and how I should take the next step with the business. My planning application for our on-farm processing plant was in utter disarray. I’d expected to have had an answer to my application in October, but somehow the planning department had managed to ‘loose’ my application for nine weeks. Thankfully, I’ve had a lovely Christmas present and the approved application is sat here next to the laptop. However, getting the plant up and running is still a fair few months away, as with any application, there are a list of conditions and other than preparatory clearing work no tools will be lifted for another four months.

One day soon, this will be a butchery.

So, in the meantime I had to find myself somewhere to actually ‘make’ some stuff. This is where my ever suffering partner Liesel comes in. She suggested we turn the kitchen into a processing plant. She’s an absolute Saint. I’m filled with crack-pot ideas and she’s always there supporting me every step of the way. So our lovely traditional country kitchen is no more, scrubbed pine has been replaced with stainless steel. Environmental Health have been round for their inspection, my Food Safety Policy has been written and HACCP plans slaved over avoided for weeks and weeks. I’ve started small, a carcass arrived a few weeks ago and the animal was quickly turned into sausages, back bacon, streaky bacon and cured hams. They’re all in their little packages ready to be sent for microtesting.

Getting to this point, weeks away from sales has been the most incredible experience for me. Twelve months ago, I made the decision to start the business, and though I’d been curing for the past seven years on-farm (and watching and helping my uncle do so for many years more) it wasn’t until this year that I actually started understanding some of the most basic aspects of meat science. I’ve barely slept this last twelve months, largely due to the ideas and knowledge coursing through my brain when it comes time for lights out. And I’m still learning, whether it’s from books, stories, advice or from actually making something. I’ve made lots of mistakes over the past year, but they’ve been brilliant, I’ve learnt so much from them.

The next step is the exciting part, I’m awaiting delivery of a new drying chamber and once I’ve had my test batch processed and microtested, if all goes well my first sales of snack salami will be hitting the Farmers Markets of South Wales from late February. Curing and air drying is projected as some kind of dark art, but it doesn’t have to be. Having come from a home curing background myself I’ve made some pretty good salami and chorizo in a cold draughty outbuilding. There’s plenty of people out there doing the same, check out  http://chipsandbeans.com/ and http://adventureswiththepig.wordpress.com/.

However, the challenge these past six months has been to create a consistent product. Following that whole supplychain, from the type of pig, the way it’s kept, the size, age, the feed, the way it’s slaughtered and through to every aspect of processing to ensure that I can make the best quality product with the best ingredients and that it’ll taste pretty close at each batch. Let’s hope there’s plenty of people out there wanting to eat my produce!

I’m continuing with my product development at the Food Centre Wales and another batch of Coppa, Lomo and Culatello will be salted in January. Again, if all goes well, my development work will be completed when the on-farm plant is built and I’ll be able to transfer production straight over.

Mini coppa tech tests.

If you’re in Cardiff, Swansea or anywhere in between I’ll soon be doing a monthly delivery route. If you’re looking to buy some fully traceable Pedigree Welsh pork, bacon, sausages, cured hams and salami, drop me an e-mail – info@charcutier.co.uk.


A belated Merry Christmas to you all, and a Prosperous New Year!


Obsessive Compulsive

I’ve mentioned my Mangalitza pigs a fair few times on the blog and on twitter. There’s only three of them but I’m really quite obsessed. I’m becoming some kind of uber-geek on pig raising. My bedtime reading of late tends to be papers on protein conversion in feed and optimum diets for hard fats.

As a family we’ve raised pigs for generations, we can trace our ancestry on the farm back centuries so I’m guessing I can lay claim to coming from generations of curers, albeit home curers.

This past year has been one of the most incredible ever. I’ve travelled Europe and North America looking at various stock, breeding, diets and methods of production. At times I’ve found it hard getting to sleep at night with all these new bits of knowledge brewing in my head. I’m now at the point where I can disseminate and set a plan of what’s to come.

One thing my forefathers didn’t have was an understanding of meat science, they understood farming but they didn’t always have the benefit of understanding how the methods they used in raising their animals affected the end cured product. However, more often than not they were on the right track, as my current feed regime isn’t hugely different from what my grandfather used in the 1950’s.

I’m already evangelical about the Mangalitza and that’s months before we even tuck into our first test pigs. I’ve taken the slow route to test these, buying them young and keeping them for a minimum of 18 months before slaughter. Plenty of people have suggested that I should just jump in and invest in a herd, but I’ve stuck to the original plan. I could have gone out and bought an 18 month animal to test with, but had I done that I’d have had no guarantee of how the animal had been raised, no understanding of the nature of the breed, their characteristics and the way that they grow and build muscle and fat. However, it’s a pretty cautious route buying just three animals, as it pretty much means that I won’t have my own pigs ready for production for another two years. There’s a great little article by Revival Meats about the importance of diet. I just hope that my ‘old world’ methods will produce pork similar to this.

There will be other pigs, the Mangalitza after all is a lard pig, so I’ll be marrying the product with another breed. I currently use pork from the Burry Herd of pedigree Welsh Pigs, it’s proved to be a consistently good product but ultimately I’d like to have my own stock to produce from. Whether it’ll be a commercial or rare breed I’m not quite sure yet, that’s a decision to be made over Christmas.

However, with regards to the Mangalitza, there is a degree of trepidation – the Mangalitza products that I’ve tasted have been vastly different, some poor, some good and some were just incredible. Similarly, having spoken to charcutiers from across the globe, they’ve all had mixed opinions on the quality of the pork and of the cured product. From personal experiences with the product I do wonder whether these discrepancies are all largely down to the way that the pigs were fed and raised. As a nation of ‘super lean’ pork eaters I  doubt whether there is a market in the UK for fresh Mangalitza pork other than in high end restaurants?

I’m investing my time in Mangalitza to make the best quality charcuterie possible, I just hope that the public will see that same value. At Borough Market recently I heard someone balk at the cost of Iberico Ham, it cost in the region of £175/kg. It’s expensive, yes, but it was a 32 month dried ham – from craddle to plate you’re looking at a minimum of 44 months – how many other food products are there with that level of investment?

I’m heartened to see that the Mangalitza market in the UK is about to get a kick start. Lardo, a new restaurant set to open in the New Year has enlisted the help of Graham Waddington (formerly of Trealy Farm) to produce some of their charcuterie. As far as I’m concerned, the more of us producing quality pork, and quality charcuterie the better. I’ll be keeping an eye on their development, and I can’t wait to try their products!!!