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Charcuterie has long been a pillar of the fine food industry. With quality options showcasing artisanal methods, time-honoured skills, fantastic ingredients – likely demonstrating provenance – and lest we forget, delicious flavours, how could it not? Our European neighbours have long been masters of cured meats, and products like pancetta, Prosciutto di Parma and chorizo are now well and truly established in the culinary repertoires of cooks across the country, but what of the British charcuterie market?
Thankfully, the UK has many of its own charcuterie makers to be proud of. Whether they’re creating Continental-inspired products or their very own inventions, one thing is for certain: there are plenty of options for discerning fine food retailers to choose from… and the best is yet to come.
An expanding market
“What I find most exciting about the charcuterie industry in the UK is the opportunity to create something really meaningful in the long term, in the same way that the British cheese and wine industries have done,” begins Dhruv Baker, co-founder of Tempus Foods. “As we don’t have a huge amount of heritage when it comes to charcuterie (and I mean that in the sense of air-dried, ‘continental’ meats as opposed to cooked or hot smoked products) there is almost a blank canvas upon which to create the definition of ‘what is British Charcuterie’ going forward.”
The Tempus product range is impressive, including King Peter Ham (a speck style air-dried ham cured with juniper, bay and peppercorns), Spiced Coppa / Collar, Smoked Coppa / Collar (smoked over chestnut wood), Spiced Loin, House Salami (black peppercorns), Achari Salami (fennel seed, black peppercorns, nigella, mace and fenugreek), Ex Dairy Bresaola, Smoked Jowl (guanciale) and Tempus Number 8 (a spreadable salami flavoured with Mexican chillies, fennel, mace, orange zest, garlic and chives). “The technical style is undeniably from Italy as that is where Tom Whitaker (co-founder) did all his training, but the flavour profiles are uniquely Tempus, drawing heavily on my background and love of spices,” Dhruv explains. “We feel that this blend of tradition and innovation encapsulates what we do.”
For Tara Smyth, co-founder at Sunday Charcuterie – a new player in the sector – the British charcuterie sector is an exciting place to be. “We were incredibly excited to join an industry that still held so many opportunities,” she begins. “We also felt that there was a real gap in the market for charcuterie that went further than ‘made using British pork’.” The business’s base in Suffolk, an area famed for its pork production, certainly helps. “Across East Anglia there are some amazing smallholders/farmers rearing Britain’s rare and native pig breeds, working with impeccable welfare standards on a sustainable scale (the largest farm we work with has only 15 sows) and we were more than excited to showcase how delicious charcuterie made using this pork could be.”
While setting up shop in any sector comes with its challenges, Tara has found the UK’s charcuterie scene to be welcoming and supportive. “As a small industry we have found it to be incredibly supportive,” she says, “not only through our interactions with other similarly sized charcuterie businesses, but the response from our customers has been fantastic. This is an inexcusable pun, but there is clearly such an appetite for provenance-led, small-batch salami and cured meats.”
The Sunday Charcuterie range is a celebration of great quality pork. “We like to keep things simple, creating variations on traditional recipes that allow the incredible flavour of our high welfare, slow grown, rare breed pork to take centre stage,” she explains. “We exclusively practice whole-animal butchery, so we really are able to work with a nose-to-tail ethos, producing a charcuterie range that extends from Guanciale to Ham Hock Terrines.”
The role of retailers
As with a lot of fine, artisanally-produced foods, education is paramount when it comes to selling British-made charcuterie. “I think the main misconception is that charcuterie is a commoditised or homogenous product type (ie all salamis are created equal – which is 100% not the case!) and therefore purely down to price point,” says Dhruv. “I would urge people who are interested in charcuterie to look at the source of animals and the associated welfare standards, look at the air miles, look at the ingredients (if there are a myriad of ingredients you don’t understand that’s probably not a good sign). And taste lots – don’t be afraid of trying different things to discover the ones you love.”
For Tara, the length of time it takes to produce charcuterie is the main point needing to be explained to customers in order for them to fully appreciate the products. “Charcuterie is definitely not an endeavour for the impatient. From our interactions with customers, they can often be genuinely quite shocked that a salami can take two plus months to make, a Coppa could be upwards of three months and then Prosciutto is a minimum of 12 months.”
What does the future hold for the sector? In Dhruv’s eyes, this is an exciting but as-yet-unknowable question. “Currently the market is made up of a large number of relatively small, artisan producers of varying levels of quality. I would imagine that a few of those producers will grow to a level which is large by British standards but nowhere near the scale of our Continental counterparts but after that it’s anyone’s guess – but that’s the exiting part.” Speciality Food retailers have a part to play: “As long as the quality and consistency continues to increase and people’s understanding continues to grow then we are on the right track,” he says.
In the more-than-capable hands of Britain’s independent fine food retailers, the burgeoning homegrown charcuterie market can be assured that intrigued consumers will be expertly guided through the exciting options on offer. But how will domestic options compare with those made on the other side of the Channel, using Continental techniques passed down through generations? Tara is confident. “In the same way that Fen Farm Dairy’s Baron Bigod has become the first choice for many over a more traditional French brie, I hope that British charcuterie will prove itself to be not only equal to but often better than a lot of the imported options.”