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.

A visit to IBERS

Another month goes by, and I’m hugely aware that I haven’t managed to blog. I’ve got a stack of things to write about at the moment, but little time to actually do so. There’s plenty going on, but I wanted to mention a visit I made a couple of weeks back to IBERS – the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University. I was there as part of a Ruminant Innovation Network Event that had been organised by the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network. Now I know pigs aren’t ruminant animals, but my interest lies more in the information that they had on both feed and grassland and it’s effect on meat quality. It was a fascinating day, I was really out of my depth scientifically for a large part of it but I did learn a lot. I won’t try and explain everything I saw, I’ll just concentrate on some of the bits that I found interesting. I’m getting on my soap box now, so if you want to avert a rant, stop reading. For those willing to carry on I’ll try and keep it short and simple.

Global population is rising, therefore we need more efficient ways of farming in order to produce more food. We also need more efficient modes of processing raw ingredients into food to lessen waste. There’s a general snobbery that supermarket food is poor quality – I wouldn’t always say so. We have friends who breed some of the best lamb I’ve ever tasted, and all their animals are sold to supermarkets – they’re amongst the most progressive farmers that I know when it comes to the type and quality of grasslands that their flock grazes on. They don’t have the skills to process their own animals, but have a ready outlet a few miles away with a supermarket contracted slaughterhouse.

At IBERS they’ve got extensive ‘test beds’ of different grasses, ryegrasses, clovers and chicory. The testing that they undertake (which is often part funded by the supermarkets) looks at plant breeds, it’s productivity, it’s composition and the effect on soil. They also test the effect the feed has on the animals, both in terms of daily weight gains, and methane production. This doesn’t necessarily involve a whole load of ‘nasty chemicals’ or lab type animal testing scenarios, it’s basic plant development vs the effect on animals – it’s ultimately a very natural way of production.

During the visit, they’d set up a basic methane test tent for us to see, two willing sheep volunteers were happily producing methane for us within this controlled environment. We also got to see the cattle sheds where radio id tags on the ears of every animal would record the daily feed intake which could then be used to calculate daily weight gains. During a presentation we got to see how GPS tags were used to calculate grazing patterns, and how, through a combination of GPS mapping and soil testing – specific parts of fields could get the right level of fertiliser or manure to create a balanced crop.

Where productivity often falls short is when it comes to taste. It doesn’t matter what breed an animal is, what the welfare standards are, whether it’s free range or intensively raised, the main, key ingredient when it comes to taste is the feed that we give that animal. What goes in = the quality of what we get from the animal. When I started my journey of rearing animals, I looked back to the past to the ways that my grandfather kept his pigs. His feeding regime of straights, foraging and vegetables are the centrepiece of my feeding regime. However, I’m not doing it to emulate some ‘old-fashioned’ way of life – it’s based on science. Composite feeds from the large feed producers are the most efficient way of producing super lean pork. However, that isn’t what I’m trying to produce. That said, I’m not averse to using new technology, new feeds and developed crops if there’s a positive effect on the animal. I’ve recently submitted a DEFRA grant application into the effects of vitamin E as a natural antioxidant in pork. A huge amount of research is readily available for ruminants, not so much for the beloved pig. Who knows if I’ll get anywhere, but it’s worth trying.

I’m not advocating that supermarket produce is perfect. Far from it, if we’re realistic, the cheapest supermarket food is functional – it’s there to provide food to this growing population. As a small scale traditional producer, the products that I make take a long time to produce, and are probably hugely inefficient – I have to charge a premium for the product because of this. When we look at functional food, it can be pretty scary what large processing companies have to do in order to produce a product that can be sold cheaply. I’m not saying that processed food is bad, I have a huge respect for processed food, and even though we try and be as self sufficient as possible I often find myself trawling the aisles of the local supermarket looking for a cheap and tasty solution for the evenings meal.