Pigs, pigs, glorious pigs.

Two blog posts in three days, I feel as if I’m spamming! However, I thought I better mention that we have some new arrivals. This morning three Pedigree Berkshire gilts came to Felin y Glyn. We’ve never reared Berkshire’s before, so it’s a bit of a new one for us. So, why Berkshire? Well, during our HCC Scholarship tour last year, it seemed that everyone we spoke to in Vancouver swore by them. We found Berkshire meat products everywhere, from high end restaurants to street corner food vendors. In Japan they’re known as Kurobuta and are highly sought after for their marbled meat. So, we thought we’d give them a go – ones destined for our own bellies, the other two for bacon and charcuterie products.

Earlier in the year while scrabbling to find local producers to supply animals I came across the details of Mandy and Derek Colbourne in a BPA magazine. They have a beautiful smallholding on the Carmarthenshire/Pembrokeshire border called Glyn Elwyn where they keep herds of Berkshire, Gloucester Old Spot and Middle White pigs as well as flocks of Ryeland and Greyface Dartmoor Sheep.

Having had lie-ins till 7am for the past few weeks, it was time to relish the very last one today, as it’ll be a case of getting up early from now on to feed the new arrivals. As it’s turned cold this last week and the little ones have only just weaned, they’ll be kept in for the next few months on deep straw beds. I’ll post some decent pictures soon, and we’ll probably have another of our naming competitions (bacon for the winner!).

Ribs? No. Belly pork?

I didn’t start this blog as a ranting platform, it’s just that sometimes I have a need to vent and this is as easy a place as any. I know that I’m old before my time, and that I’m fast becoming a grumpy old man. The reason? Well a visit to a local butchers shop today left me having a mini 10 minute rant (with myself) as I drove off to a meeting. I’d stopped to do some banking, pop to the post office and grab a sandwich for lunch. I’d spotted a new butchers shop a few weeks back and although curiosity had drawn me in previously (ok, I was snooping), I hadn’t actually bought anything. As they had a hot counter I thought to myself; why not, let’s grab a sandwich. As I waited patiently for the luke warm offering I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, it went something like this…

Customer: Do you have any ribs?

Butcher (though I use this in its loosest form possible): We have belly pork.

Customer: Are those ribs?

Butcher: Ummm… I could slice them for you to make belly pork slices.

Customer: But are they ribs?

Butcher: [As he picks up a skin-on, unboned belly joint] Ummmm… erh… yeah.

Customer: I’ve got a recipe for ribs. How do I cook it?

Butcher: Roast it, and you’ll have nice crackling.

Customer: Is there usually crackling with ribs?

Butcher: I can cut the skin off for you?

She went on to ask for duck, by that point I was headed out the door, if I’d have stayed any longer I’d have slipped her my card and told her where to go for a selection of properly cut ribs, or worse, I’d have climbed the counter and taught him to sheet bone.

What’s happened to the butchers shops of my youth? We had three in our village (only one remains). They were beautiful white tiled palaces, always a little damp and cold, but clean with sawdust covered floors. They’d have green plastic fake grass (?) filled display cases and the butchers would be jolly, rosy cheeked fellas who called every woman ‘luv’ regardless of their age. On the subject of meat, they’d have encyclopaedic knowledge of every carcass that had passed through their door – they might have tried the odd ‘upselling’ tactic but they knew their clod from their brisket and their ribs from their loins.

Then again, back then, it was just fields around here. Kids played tidy in the street and you could get a good night out, a belly full of beer and a fish supper and still have change from a shilling.

 

How do you solve a problem like salami?

Back in November 2011 I placed an order for an Italian made air drying cabinet to produce salami. Through many months of tests, breakdowns, tears and swearing, said cabinet made its way back to the distributor on Tuesday morning. Like many relationships, the cabinet and I have had our highs and lows, but now there’s a sense of utter relief now that the divorce is final. So where does this leave me? Well, I’m planning to move salami production to the Food Centre Wales (subject to approval) and hopefully I can start actual production this side of Christmas. It’s a starting measure as I’m desperately seeking a bigger production space. If anyone knows of a food processing space or a commercial kitchen for hire in South West Wales, please do get in touch.

It does feel a little as if I’ve been committing technical infidelity on the poor cabinet as I made a whistle-stop tour of Italy to visit another equipment manufacturer last week. I’m sure I could chuck in some cheesy comparisons here about choosing younger models, with sleeker lines, but I won’t. All I need to say is that the trip was effing awesome. The new machinery is just what I need. The company obviously had immense pride in their machinery, and had been producing equipment for the salumi industry for over 30yrs. We had a full factory tour, perfect explanations of the technical specifications, production turnaround, supervisory technology and we managed a visit to a local salumi factory who use the same machinery.

When I mention ‘we’, an old college friend of mine came with me for the trip. My better half was tied up with a presentation and couldn’t get the time off work. So, as the saying goes “what happens in Norcia, stays in Norica”. I will however mention a few titbits. We had an afternoon free on Wednesday, pretty much our only free time, so ever the ‘meat head’ I decided we should make a pilgrimage to the mountain town of Norcia.

En route, and hungry from our early start we stopped at a roadside van to buy a panini con porchetta, at €2.50 it was an absolute bargain, it beat any roadside burger van here in the UK. The equipment company that we visited also make ovens to cook porchetta, and showed us an incredible little video of one of the staff in a local company de-boning a whole 100kg pig in one piece. Once de-boned the inner cavity was rubbed with garlic and filled with trim, liver and a dusting of salt, pepper, fennel and rosemary. The whole pig would be sewn, tied to a cooking bar and slow cooked for around 8hrs.

And so, to Norcia. Why visit such an unassuming little mountain town? Well, firstly it’s the birthplace of St Benedict, and an obvious stopping place for pilgrims. I had my own vested interest in Benedict, but I’m by no means religious. Our farm, Felin y Glyn is part of the old Glyn Estate, some hundred years ago a group of monks from the Benedictine order populated the main country house (which strangely had already been renamed as Glyn Abbey prior to their arrival). Although they were only here a few years, their legacy remains. Pig Aderyn (Birds Beak), is a rare variety of cider apple that can be found in our orchard thanks to them – they’re found in only one other place – the gardens in St Dogmaels on the Pembrokeshire/Cardiganshire border close to St Dogmaels Abbey.

But the main reason to visit Norica was its links with salumi. The town is renowned for its pork butchery, and boasts a number of speciality regional pork products using local ingredients especially cinghiale (wild board), tartufo (truffle) and a variety of wild funghi. Norcia even lends its name to Norcineria, used in Umbria and Tuscany in relation to pork butcheries and processing places but also used in a wider context across Italy as an alternative to delicatessen.

Sadly in amongst its ageing charm, the many norcineria of the town were tourist traps. Out of season they felt a little sad, with pushy owners trying their best to get us to purchase. Each store seemed to be in competition with one another for the award for the most garish taxidermy display, not that I’m complaining about that. Where else can you go to see a stuffed hare complete with a little hunting hat and a miniature shotgun?

The standard of cured products varied greatly, prices for the whole were extremely reasonable, with prosciutto starting at around €13.50/kg – from a personal production perspective, there’s no way I could possibly produce an ethical product at that price. I can’t see many UK producers making whole dried muscles for much less than a minimum of £35/kg. But I suspect in Italy, the quantities sold and the competition between producers calls for more competitive pricing. From a regional perspective, it likes its salt and abundantly adds seasoning. We found the truffle salami a little overpowering. The Prosciutto di Norcia was salty (much like Toscano), with a robust flavour reminiscent of Welsh hams for me, aged for 18 months it had a nutty taste which was quite different to the delicate taste of Parma and San Danielle.

Please don’t be discouraged to visit Norcia from my criticisms of its tourist nature. It’s a great little town, and the stuffed animals and shop displays are well worth a look. If you venture into them all you’ll be stuffed on the free samples of salumi, and there’s plenty of pavement cafes selling the most incredible coffee.

Taste the Wild

August saw us heading west to Wales and the beautiful Gower peninsula to do some filming for the soon to be released Taste the Wild DVD.  The photographs taken by our partners in the project Red90 and PJN Photography have just arrived and we love them!!

Gower August 2012

At the start of out brief trip we spent an amazing, though wet morning with Illtud Llyr Dunsford of Charcutier Ltd and his wonderful Mangalitsa pigs and I was very excited to be given some of his rare breed pork to take away and marry with our foraged salt marsh vegetables.

After a days foraging in the area we headed for the beach and set up in the dunes to cook up a few dishes to showcase our stunning welsh produce both farmed and foraged.

Warm salad of Mangalitsa bacon, Fat hen, Sea Buckthorn and Haloumi cheese.

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Slow cooked pork…

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Calling all Mangalitsa breeders.

Are you a Mangalitsa breeder? Are you willing to share your feed regime with me and have some spare back and flare fat tucked away in the freezer? Then please get in touch. Thanks to the Welsh Institute for Sustainable Environments at Swansea University I’ll be sending a batch of fats to be analysed on the 12th of October. If you can supply me with the information and the fat samples I’ll happily share the research with you. GET IN TOUCH ASAP, I’ve got room for twenty samples!

Media whore…

I haven’t really mentioned a huge amount on here about my wider marketing plan. Put simply, when someone asks if I want to do something, I pretty much, enthusiastically say yes. I’m like the Duracell bunny, if you want me to talk about food, wind me up and I’ll go for hours. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had a crew filming me in dribs and drabs over the past six months as I’ve been developing product and building the business. The show will be aired in the autumn on S4C. For all those who don’t speak the language of heaven (Welsh of course), there’s always subtitles! I’ll be plugging the show some more before it airs, I hate hearing or seeing myself, so I hope I come across ok, I’ll have to wait for your feedback.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a double dose of additional filming. The first was a very exciting project – I had a visit from Chris Bax, a Chef, Forager and like myself, a bit of a food geek. Chris runs Taste of the Wild, and provides a range of wild foraging, cooking and craft courses. The Great British Summer played its part on the morning that Chris called, and we were absolutely drenched when we went to see our pigs. I’m glad to say that the day brightened up a bit for the remainder of the filming, and Paul James Newton who was shooting stills on the day took some great shots of some of the bits and pieces Chris took with him to cook. Thanks to Paul for the use of these shots, there’s more on a lovely blog post he wrote about the day too. It’s great to see shots of our produce cooked, it’s a rare thing to be honest as the last we see of it is when it leaves our hands in its packaging.

The second bought of filming is for my crowd funding bid. For those who don’t know what crowd funding is; put simply, through a short film I explain what I’m about and ask for cash to build my production space. People can then offer small amounts of money to support the venture. In return they’re supporting a small rural business get on its feet, and they also get a little incentive based on the level of support – it could be anything from a hand written thank you, a platter of charcuterie or a lifetimes supply of bacon. I’ll be publicising this as well a little more once it ‘goes live’, and even if you don’t have a pound, euro or dollar to spare I’d be grateful of any publicity about the project.

Lastly, we’ll be at a new market this week. Wednesday we’ll be at the Institute in Pontarddulais from 9:30am. Come on down for some porky treats!

 

Another milestone.

I keep on saying it, but I don’t get a chance to post half as much as I want to. It’s not laziness, it’s a lack of time. If you have a friend that runs their own business, who’s bad at keeping in touch, slow to answer emails or rubbish at leaving birthday wishes on Facebook, spare a thought, they’re probably very very busy. Over the past few weeks I’ve had more than one person say to me “I’ve got a huge amount of respect for what you do”, the immediate response, is a shy “oh shucks guys, thanks”. But when I start thinking about it, I turned my back on a very comfortable, safe, well-paid desk job, working an exact 37.5 hours per week for a job that’s 24/7 with little or no pay. My personal reaction is more akin to “this guys effin crazy”. I’ve also had a couple of people ask me over the past few weeks “would you do it all over again, if you’d have known how many ups and downs the last year has thrown you?”, and every time, I’ve responded with an instant, direct “yes”.

For those of you with a couple of pigs thinking of going into the ‘charcuterie game’, please take note. It’s not a get rich quick scheme, it doesn’t offer masses of money for your raw product, it isn’t simple and easy, but neither is it a dark art. It’s a scientific process, one that needs to be fully understood. Just because you can make a half decent salami in an outbuilding doesn’t mean that that product is safe to sell to the general public. My ‘experience’ of producing hams comes from generations of family tradition. When I took over the reigns in producing our own home cured products in 2004, I took on the processes and lessons that had been learnt from one generation to the next. However, that experience was all about tradition – transfer the process into a contemporary food production environment and you start understanding the science underpinning that. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, charcuterie is all about meat science, whether it’s to do with cure, bacteria, mould, water activity, pH levels. Once you know the science behind producing a product, you can then make a signature range of flavours to your product by tweaking salt and cure levels, changing the acidity or by adding a little smoke. I guess in some ways it’s like comparing your Mam’s cooking with Heston Blumenthal, my mother knows how to cook a decent roast, and loves experimenting with flavours, but Heston (and his team of scientist) understand a little more about how both flavour and the science of cooking can create the end product. During my trip to the States last year, I always found that Chefs who were producing charcuterie were making the most flavoursome product, but they weren’t always technically perfect, whereas more commercial producers were technically superb but left a lot to be desired on the quality and flavour front. I hope that I’m somewhere in-between the two. At the Charcuter-ish meat-up earlier this year, one producer made a comment that’s stuck with me, it went along the lines of “all it takes is for one person to produce a deadly salami, and that could be the death of the British Charcuterie industry”. Having done the leg work, I know exactly what he means, and without naming names, I could list a handful of producers that I’d never ever buy from again.

This week saw yet another major milestone for me. My latest ‘test’ batch of air dried whole muscle cured products were ready, and for the most part I’m extremely chuffed with them. They’ll be sliced and sent for microbiological testing this week, just so that all the research can be rubber stamped. I’m at that point now that everything from my initial air dried range can go into production. I’ve been in a slight daze this weekend, and still am, as I’ve felt an immense sense of relief, and a sizeable level of trepidation at what’s ahead. I’ve invested heavily in this ‘little project of mine’, I shudder to think of the total cost, but between grant aid and my savings in the region of £30,000 has been invested in research and development in order to have a market ready product.

It’s time to roll up the sleeves and get working properly, my main problem now is finding a space to produce from. Although I have a space put aside here on the farm, the cost of converting the building without even purchasing a piece of equipment is over £50,000 ($75,000). To get the very best equipment it’d be a further £100,000 ($150,000) and in the end it’d be a very modest sized unit. This week I took a look at a food processing unit that’s just come available. It’s not absolutely perfect, it’s 26 miles away from home, it’s a little on the small size but it’s already set up with food grade walls, chillers, change areas etc. Sadly, I’m not the only person interested in it, and it looks like it’ll be a case of business plan and interview to compete for the space. I’m frantically searching online for cheap second hand equipment to see whether there’s any way of atleast starting with the barebones of what I need. Watch this space, I’m currently writing my ‘kickstarter’ script and there’ll be a call for contributions this autumn. If you’re a meat devotee, please find it in your heart to offer just a few pounds or dollars to the cause!

The Joy of Grants

I’m onto my third grant application in just over a month. You’d think that they’d be getting easier but that definitely isn’t the case.

Grant number one was 100% funded for an innovation in the food industry, as it was a joint application it took me a couple of meetings and a day shooting and editing a short film to put everything together. Good feedback, but ultimately; I didn’t get it.

Grant number two was an application for part funding for some equipment. It was only a relatively short expression of interest form that I had to complete. However, there was some complicated financial data that I had to put together which took some time to collate. I didn’t even get to the full application stage before there was a very polite letter to say that the pot of money had run dry. Bugger.

Onto grant number three, for those in the food industry in Wales, any form of ‘free money’ has been thin on the ground these past few years. There’s currently an open call for the Processing and Marketing Grant, a pot of £2m, which in the whole scheme of things is miniscule. It’s a competitive bidding round, so I’m sure businesses the breadth of Wales are extolling their many virtues onto the application form as I type. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I have two further grants that I’m looking at over the next month or so. If they’re dead ends too, I may well turn to the wonder of Kickstarter. For those who read the blog and who are happy to spend a weekend as a brickie or labourer(think Amish barn raising) in exchange for some salami please get in touch!

Black Pudding and Chicharrones

For most people Saturday is a day of relaxation, perhaps a spot of shopping, a day out, some socialising or even a trip to support a local sports team. My Saturdays usually involve some meat alchemy. For the past few months Saturdays have been my dedicated production development days. As the business is only registered to make ‘raw produce’ such as bacon sausage and gammon, I tend to save a few scraps from my usual production for my weekends. I’m slowly amassing a folder of tried and tested recipes and processes that I can put into production one day. I hope you’re all ready for our salt beef, it’s frickin amazing, even if I say so myself.

Last weekend saw me playing once more with a bag of dried blood to make the perfect black pudding (iteration number 18 I think). We’ve been making black pudding from the blood of our own animals for many years but we tend to make a softer pudding than what is commercially available. The closest on the market that I’ve tasted to what we traditionally make is the pudding made by Trealy Farm. Their pud also reminds me a lot of the recipe that Lindy Wildsmith has in her book Cured, it’s a recipe from the famed Walnut Tree restaurant, near Abergavenny. I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of black pudding, but I have tried pretty much everything I’ve been able to get my hands on over the past two or three years from ox blood puddings from Ireland, to Polish headcheese blood puddings, Yorkshire tray baked puddings and Caribbean spiced variations.

A softer pudding is great for a sweet French boudin noir flavoured with apples and calvados but there’s room in the repertoire for a more British pudding. Last weekend I tried an old Lancashire recipe, rich with cereals, large chunks of fat and a variety of herbs. It was pretty good, excellent consistency, though there’s definitely room to improve on the spicing. One of my absolute favourites is the Irish Clonakilty pudding, it’s heavy on the pearl barley but it gives the pudding a quality of its own. While searching for new recipes I came across a great little video of Ade Edmondson on YouTube at the Real Lancashire Black Pudding Company. If you’re interested in seeing the pudding made, it’s a great little film.

 

So, to this weekend. Well, last night I started on the preparation work to make chicharrones. I first came across them at a beautiful charcuterie store called Fatted Calf in the Napa Valley, California. On their counter was a basket of big bags of what looked to me like a cross between a Quaver and a pork scratching. They turned out to be little intense airy melt on the tongue porky crisps made from deep fried rinds. There are many traditional methods of making them, and a few resemble our own pork scratchings, but for me this variation made by 4505 Meats was an absolute winner. So, with a handful of spare rinds I got to work last night on prepping my very first batch, the rinds are currently drying, and hopefully tonight they’ll be ready for the fryer. You’ll just have to wait and see if they make the cut onto the list of Charcutier Ltd products!

Ham, ham, lovely ham.

Following on from my last post, I’ve been thinking more an more recently about what constitutes an artisan product. I started thinking about it after taking part in a Radio Cymru discussion recently on sausage production. There’s a generalised view that products sold from a farm shop or high street butchers are going to be hand-made in small batches. Sadly, it’s not true, many small retailers buy in sausages, bacons and cooked meats from larger producers.

As I’m looking at potential grant streams, I’ve been drawing up budgets for the type of machinery I’d like to get for my new processing unit. Essentially they’re all slightly bigger versions of what I already use. What’s caused me the biggest quandary is the sausage stuffer. I currently hand crank every single sausage I produce, batches are small, recipes traditional, ingredients are of the highest quality, casings are natural, any twisting or tying is done by hand. I’m not willing to change any of my ingredients, but if I started to further mechanise any of that process, would it stop being an artisan product?

 

Sticking with the processing theme, I noticed a new tv advert for the ‘only ham made with 100% natural ingredients’. As soon as I saw it, and their claim, I was onto their website to see their ingredients list. The key ingredient (along with pork and salt) in bacon or ham is either sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate (or a combination of the three). It lowers the risk of clostridium botulinum (that causes botulism) and it generates that delightful pink colour in cured meats. Nitrite/nitrate is usually synthetically produced, and should be listed on an ingredient list as a preservative with its own E-number. So, what makes Richmond Ham so natural? Well, they use a mixture of sea salt (which contains natural trace elements of sodium nitrate) and celery extract (which also contains sodium nitrate) instead of synthetically produced cure. It provides them with a ‘clean-labelled’ product, as they don’t have to list it as a preservative. It’s fascinating stuff (well, for me anyway). While on my study tour of the US last year I came across a huge amount of nitrite/nitrate free clean-labelled produce. It seems to be a major consumer choice there. I have mixed feelings over clean-labelling.

There’s legislation already in place limiting the levels of nitrite/nitrate in cured products from synthetically derived nitrite/nitrate. However, there’s little to govern the levels derived from natural produce such as celery. Many people buy nitrite/nitrate free products as they don’t believe in ingesting nitrite/nitrates, however, the likelihood is that they’re ingesting even higher doses. There’s also the moral question – is a synthetically produced compound any worse than a compound derived through heavy processing? And are we fooling customers labelling something as natural, when from a chemical perspective it’s the very same product?

The other item on the ingredient list of interest is pork protein. I’m taking a guess here, but I assume it’s an emulsified mix of pork and cure that’s being re-injected back into the muscle. Still sound natural to you? It doesn’t put me off one bit, it’s how emulsified products are made, it doesn’t make this one any worse or better. If there’s an introductory offer on for it, I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying a packet to try it out. But spare a thought when you’re reading a label that says 100% natural.