I pitched this article a while back and was commissioned to write it. In the end my piece was not used, so it is seeing the light of day here.
Charcuterie, the production of preserved meats, was an essential chefs’ skill in the days prior to refrigeration. Preserving the meat, by drying, smoking, salting or pickling creates an environment hostile to bacteria, the main cause of food spoilage.
Probably the best know cured meat is salami, which was thought to have originated over 2000 years ago in the Mediterranean area. The words salami and salary derive from the Latin word for salt, salrium. In the ancient world salt was scarce and highly prized for its usefulness in preserving foodstuffs. Roman soldiers were also paid in salt.
Most meats can be preserved, but the pig is the most commonly used meat. Pigs have been popular food for millenia; they can eat almost anything and every part of them can be eaten.
In these modern times, with a fridge in every household, we do not need to rely on techniques to preserve our meat and foods, but the process concentrates and enriches flavours making eating cured meats a pleasure.
Long assumed to be the preserve of Continental Europe there is a rising wave of fantastic British charcuteriers making excellent products. Among the producers who have entered the market are:
Deli Farm, based in North Cornwall, near Tintagel, have focussed since 2006 on producing salamis and other Italian inspired charcuterie using top quality local meats. Their thirteen different varieties of salami range from straightforward pork and beef to more esoteric flavours such as olive and ginger, or black olive. Award winning with several Great Taste Awards and Taste of the West Awards, including Champion Product with their Coppa Ham
Mitchel Troy of Trealy Farm near Monmouth is a real pioneer or British charcuterie, having started his business in 2004. The care he puts into his products is shown by the wide range of awards he has won, including BBC Food Producer of the Year, a Waitrose Made In Britain Awards winner and the Local Food Hero winner for Wales in 2009, and last year with the accolade of Observer U.K. Food Producer Of The Year award. Charcuterie is just one aspect of the full range of pork products sold from the farm.
Tim French and Matthew ‘Mash’ Chiles, the founders of the Bath Pig, are obviously serious fans of chorizo. The company started production in January 2009 and now produce three different types – original, spicy and garlic and herb. They have been particularly successful with their distribution, and are now widely available across the country.
Serious Pig, a charcuterie company from London, was founded on a need for a high quality snacking salami – a quality replacement for “Pepperami” branded products. They have two varieties – classic, and chilli and paprika, both made from free range pork. As George Rice, the founder, points out, one advantage that British charcuterie companies have is that with little charcuterie heritage in this country, the companies are not constrained by tradition or held back by out of date practices. So with greater knowledge of microbiology, it’s now possible to produce charcuterie with less salt than was used traditionally.
Forest Pig are a chacuterie company based in the Wyre forest in Worcestershire, where they rear their pigs in the traditional way, letting them root around the forest floor. The company cures meat as well as producing salamis using traditional Tuscan methods and other cured sausages.