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“In Britain, we’ve always cured,” says Henrietta Green, founder of the British Charcuterie Awards. “Historically, we survived the winter famine by preserving or salting the summer’s feast. Think ham, bacon, Bath Chaps, Lincolnshire Chine, black pudding, salt beef, spiced beef, potted meats and so on; they are our traditional charcuterie.” So, if the UK has its own curing heritage, why for so long has the majority of charcuterie products on its shelves been sourced from Europe? Whatever the reason, the good news is that British charcuterie makers are melding their country’s heritage with Continental influences to produce a winning range of products the nation can be proud of – and use to indulge their desire for local. “There is a growing interest in buying British – and locally sourced if possible is even better – and stocking British charcuterie satisfies this need,” says Henrietta. As sometimes the smaller makers can be hard to track down, Henrietta has produced an online directory to help charcuterie lovers and stockists find what they’re looking for.
“I am a lover of all charcuterie first and foremost, but I do strongly believe in eating locally produced products,” says Sean Cannon, co-founder of charcuterie icons Cannon & Canon. “For me, much of the added value in buying British is in the knowledge that your food isn’t being mass-produced and flown around the world before it gets to your plate.” This philosophy extends beyond the UK; “I believe in growing, raising and eating what is natural to your environment and so if I was in Italy I would eat Italian salumi,” he continues. “I want to eat what is made here and contribute in my small way to a simpler and more efficient food landscape.”
How do the products that come out of Britain’s smaller-scale charcuterie industry measure up to that from the more established Continental makers? “In the UK we have exceptional meat but no infrastructure really for charcuterie so you get very good small batches,” explains Sean. “On the Continent the batches are much larger, sometimes to the detriment of flavour and texture.” Continental classics such as prosciutto are undoubtedly popular in the UK and have been for some time, and ‘new wave’ British makers are now adopting Continental techniques to produce the likes of salamis and air-dried hams using quality UK sourced meat. Henrietta likens the growth of the British charcuterie scene to the evolution of our artisan cheese industry. “Way back over 25 years ago, British cheese was almost exclusively about our hard-pressed territorials,” she explains, “then artisanal cheesemakers sprung up and produced Continental-style products – rind-washed or ripened, oozy creamy cheeses. At first some were a little under-par but now they flourish and match any of their Continental cousins.” Consumer understanding is growing, and independents are well-placed to both boost and cash in on this through tastings, meet the maker events and educational signage.
“The British charcuterie industry is young and needs our support if it is to grow and flourish,” she continues. “What is interesting is that for the most part, it is made up of small craft makers – artisanal and working on small scale, raising their own livestock or sourcing locally from known farmers, often using traditional or rare breeds, creating their own blends of spices and flavourings.” In other words, just the sort of thing independent fine food retailers – and their customers – revel in. When it comes to selling British charcuterie, Sean thinks consumers need help. “It can be confusing and a bit scary to buy charcuterie – especially freshly sliced. I think having clear signage that firstly details why the product is so premium and secondly suggesting that 60g, for example, is about the right amount for a meal for two if sliced thinly can help alleviate people’s fears of over spending or over buying.” Education is key, for staff members too. “Indie retailers have to get confident in the
terminology and that confidence will translate to their customers,” he says. “Information, advice and tasting are the three watch words!”
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