A look behind the scenes of the Yorkshire charcuterie industry

PUBLISHED: 16:25 06 May 2013 | UPDATED: 16:25 06 May 2013

Home-cured York Ham

Home-cured York Ham

©Antonio Olmos www.antonioolmos.com

Delve into the world of Yorkshire charcuterie with our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk

If you want a salami for your supper or bresola for your breakfast, there’s no need to hop across the water to Spain or Italy these days because smoked, salted and spiced charcuterie is being made right here in Yorkshire. ‘Charcuterie produced in the UK is on a real up,’ says Chris Moorby, head of butchery at Leeds City College and a 35-year industry veteran. ‘I’ve not witnessed such an interest in my time in the trade.’

While the art of charcuterie is thought to date back to beyond the ancient Egyptians, it’s been slow to come to our shores. However, today, it’s proved the perfect cure for the recession, with chefs turning to these artisan skills and techniques to produce as much food in house as possible, and shoppers discovering that our own charcuterie is as good and as full of flavour as its foreign counterparts.

‘Celebrity chefs have played a big part in this rise in popularity,’ says Chris. ‘And when people try these products abroad, they want to eat them when they get back – after all, British meat is the finest in the world.’

But with new research linking consumption of large amounts of processed meat to an increased risk of early death, heart disease and cancer, can British charcuterie weather the latest health storm?

‘It’s all about taking everything in moderation, be it processed meats or alcohol – or even the latest scare from the health critics,’ says Chris. ‘I firmly believe British charcuterie will continue to boom.’

In fact, such has been the growing interest in charcuterie in Yorkshire that Chris has joined forces with Yorkshire Food Finder – a guided gourmet tour company – to offer passionate foodies, among them many chefs, the chance to have a go themselves.

In March, Andrew Pern, chef-patron of the Star Inn at Harome, and chefs from the Butchers Arms at Hepworth and Ye Old Sun Inn at Colton, met for ‘The Perfect Cure’ to try their hand at making air-dried duck breast, pancetta, coppa ham, biltong and smoked sausage.

The skills-based course, held in the kitchens of the Star Inn, saw Chris and his assistant Richard Summers, a master butcher from Leicestershire, cover everything from preserving and brining to tips for home preserving.

For Chris, who has been training young butchers at Leeds City College since 1998 and has been in the meat industry since the age of 18, it’s the perfect opportunity to pass on his knowledge.

‘I jumped at the chance to promote good local produce that can be made quite easily at home,’ he says. ‘And it seems like I’ve been making charcuterie forever! I’m a proper foodie and I love developing new tastes and textures from good quality natural ingredients.’

For the chefs involved in the course, it seems it has been something of a revelation too. ‘I knew absolutely nothing about curing meat before I went, but when we turned up there was half a pig on the table and we were shown which were the best cuts, how to butcher it down, how to make proper hams, as well as hints on the different brines that can be used to cure them,’ says Danny Saker, chef at the Butchers Arms. ‘It was very inspiring.’

Like many of the chefs on the course, Danny has also been keen to take these skills back and put them into practice – in an unusual location. ‘We started hanging duck breasts to dry, first two then, when they tasted good, up to 10,’ says Danny. ‘We salted them, wrapped them in muslin and hung them from meat hooks in the beer cellar. We discovered that the cellar has exactly the right temperature for curing – 12 degrees – and in a couple of weeks we’re going to be serving them up in the restaurant with confit duck leg.

‘Charcuterie is something traditional – but different – that we can add to the menu,’ adds Danny. ‘It shows off what we can do here and that we make a lot of our own food in house.’

Duck ham and smoked middle white sausage is also appearing on the menu at the Star Inn. ‘Charcuterie is surprisingly easy for a good kitchen to make once you’ve been shown how, and it looks fresh and exciting on the menu as well as being good value,’ says Andrew Pern.

Courses like those organised by Yorkshire Food Finder are also about dispelling the myths around meat curing. ‘It’s not full of artificial additives and chemicals,’ says Chris. ‘And you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear – good quality charcuterie uses fresh and locally sourced ingredients.’

Sue Nelson, owner of Yorkshire Food Finder, says British charcuterie also has a very different character. ‘Our charcuterie is much more than a clone of continental meats, it reflects our climate and approach to farming,’ she says.

Chris agrees. ‘While warmer, drier, southern Europe can produce more air dried products such as salamis and hams, northern regions tend to be cooked or heavily spiced, and that’s what we get here,’ he says.

So should studies that connect ham, bacon and sausages with a greater risk of premature death be taken with, well, a pinch of salt? ‘We’re not advising people to have a sausage sandwich every day – it’s about getting that balance right,’ says Danny. ‘Above all, by choosing local, good quality charcuterie, you will know what’s gone into it, how’s it’s made and the people who made it, and that can only be a good thing.’

For Sue, charcuterie encapsulates all that’s great about Yorkshire food. ‘It’s an expression of the great meat we produce here in Yorkshire and we shouldn’t shy away from it and leave it to the French and Italians just because our climate is cooler and damper,’ she says. ‘We have the best livestock so we can make the best-tasting charcuterie.’

Chris believes it’s a food trend that’s here to stay, despite alarm calls from the health police. ‘I firmly believe British charcuterie will continue,’ he says. ‘To make something that tastes great, from scratch, using only a few local ingredients and then letting nature take its course – that’s very satisfying.’

The curing collective

Yorkshire Food Finder Trail: The Perfect Cure

01904 448439

yorkshirefoodfinder.org

Paganum online butcher offering Yorkshire guanciale (unsmoked Italian-style bacon), pancetta, pickled beef, bresaola (air-dried, salted beef) and Yorkshire chorizo

Church End Farm, Kirkby Malham

paganum.co.uk

The Greedy Little Pig prepare a huge range of charcuterie from dry cured bacon to air-dried products such as chorizo, salami, coppa ham (rather like prosciutto) – all from their own pigs.

Willows Business Park, Shelley, Huddersfield

greedylittlepig.co.uk

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