When I visited Chiltern Charcuterie a few weeks ago in the picturesque village of North Dean, they were hard at work making salami. It was an impressive operation as the team expertly tested flavours. John and Catherine launched their business in 2014, and what started as a small scale curing business in their kitchen has grown into an award winning brand and a leading player in the UK charcuterie market. In Autumn 2015, they moved to a dairy farm in the Hughendon valley. The additional space allowed them to improve consistency and create a more controlled curing process. They focus on using quality ingredients sourced from the local Chiltern area and 2016 saw them win two Great Taste Awards. John was kind enough to answer a few questions about his exciting Chiltern based food business.
Why did you decide to start a Charcuterie business based in the Chilterns?
We wanted to start a business involving food that we loved to eat. We’re obsessive foodies with a passion for locally sourced meats made to a high quality and in a traditional way. All our meat comes from the Chilterns, so we named it Chiltern Charcuterie to reflect its origins.
Why is it important to you that your meat is sourced from the local area?
Sourcing it locally means we’re supporting our local community and we can make sure its of a high quality and we know its provenance. We’re also doing our bit to save the food miles!
Do you think UK charcuterie is on the road to competing with charcuterie produced on the continent? How do you think the UK market can encourage supermarkets to stock their produce instead of importing from Europe?
We are definitely competing with our European cousins. Our Charcuterie is as good if not tastier. We as a business like to focus on deep flavours, using marinades as well as cures. We also like to explore new and interesting tastes, for example our Air dried lamb has been a real hit, but rarely seen in Europe. We also focus on beef and Venison, again unusual in Europe where Pork is the main meat used.
Supermarkets focus on price. UK Charcuterie is still more expensive then cheaper imports BUT we are a quality product. Our customer is more likely to shop in smaller retail outlets and specialty food shops.
I spotted some N'duja in the product room! What's your process for producing this uniquely Calabrian sausage?
Our N'duja is a mix of pork fat and Pork meat. The ratio of fat to meat is greater than in Salami. In this recipe we have made it hot & Spicy. (Chilli & paprika). It is made in the same way as Salami, minced and stuffed into a skin. Then hung and air-dried. But it is ready when soft.
Do you have a favourite product and how do you like to enjoy it?
My favourite is the Air Dried Beef. Its rich and full flavoured, with the aroma of red wine & rosemary. I like to eat this with olives, pickles, nice bread and a rocket salad with lemon juice.
What has been the most exciting part of starting a Charcuterie business?
As well as having fun experimenting, our most exciting part is to actually make a delicious product and have the satisfaction of other people liking it too. And then buying it!
Do you think the Chiltern food scene has changed over the last few years?
The food scene has definitely changed. People are a lot more interested in knowing where their food has come from and are looking to support local businesses too. As we do. This has changed a lot since the financial crisis in 2008.
What does 2017 hold for Chiltern Charcuterie?
Hopefully 2017 will see us expand and grow our customer base. We would like to cement our place in Buckinghamshire as the leading Charcuterie producer in the region.
One of my particular favourites from Chiltern Charcuterie is the Coppa, which is made from the neck muscle of a pig. Their variety is deliciously flavoured with fennel and juniper berries. It works perfectly on flatbreads with sun-dried tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan.
Chiltern Coppa Flatbreads (Makes 3 flatbreads)
150g self-raising flour Baking powder 150g full fat Greek yoghurt Pinch of salt Chiltern Charcuterie Coppa A handful of fresh rocket A handful of sundried tomatoes A few shavings of Parmesan Drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
First make the dough. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and spoon in the greek yoghurt. Using the thin end of a wooden spoon mix together, eventually using your hands to bring it together into a ball. Add more yoghurt if it's too dry and more flour if to wet. Turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until its nice and smooth.
Divide the dough into three, and roll each piece into rounds about half a centimetre in thickness.
Heat a large frying pan, waiting until its very hot before cooking the first flatbread. Cook for a few minutes, and when it starts to form bubbles, flip to the other side. Cook for a further minute then remove from the heat. Repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of dough.
Layer the warm flatbreads with the rocket, Coppa, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.