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Interview with Charcutier Ltd, Slow Food supporter and producer of Pedigree Welsh Pigs

Interview with Charcutier Ltd, Slow Food supporter and producer of Pedigree Welsh Pigs
Interview with Charcutier Ltd, Slow Food supporter and producer of Pedigree Welsh Pigs
Interview with Charcutier Ltd, Slow Food supporter and producer of Pedigree Welsh Pigs

Hailing from a family which has been farming in the Gwendraeth Valley in Carmarthenshire for centuries, for Illtud returning to farming was a natural step. He has fond childhood memories of foraging for nuts and mushrooms, hunting for rabbits with his grandfather at the weekend, and returning to his family home in Cardiff each week with fresh milk and eggs from the farm. His father was also a keen gardener, growing vegetables in his allotment and winning at local shows. Illtud’s first experience of large scale supermarket shopping and highly processed food as a university student was a complete shock to the system.

After an interesting career working in the film industry, he returned to the family farm looking to start a business. They spent two years renovating the semi-derelict cowshed at the back of the farm, while living in a caravan. Although his partner Liesel had been a keen camper as a child, she didn’t take to the whole experience as well as she had expected! They started out keeping ducks and pigs, slowly taking on the responsibilities of running the whole farm.

Illtud and his partner began by making traditional Welsh products such as bacons, hams, brawn, faggots, sausages and black pudding, but curiosity led them to look into southern European curing methods. They modified a refrigerator and started experimenting, although in hindsight, with such little control over which bacteria might have been developing, it perhaps wasn’t such a good idea! But they have since learnt a lot about how the curing process is affected by the space and how the natural bacteria in the environment have a huge impact on the flavour.

Thanks to support from the Welsh Government which invests a lot into the food industry, Charcutier have been provided with a lot of help in terms of research and development. Travels to Iowa State University in the US, the American/Canadian Pacific Northwest, Parma and Umbria in Italy, Gascony and the Basque in France and Denmark gave them a great insight into the food industry, and the science behind meat production and processing. They have taken inspiration from the people they have met, and the passion they have for their produce.

Illtud and his partner keep two breeds of pig – the Pedigree Welsh and the Mangalitsa. The first is a heritage pig which is part of Slow Food UK’s Forgotten Foods programme. Illtud is in the process of applying to get this breed assigned an EU Protected Food Name. There’s so much that goes into the Pedigree Welsh in terms of rearing, feed, transportation, culling and cutting methods, so he thinks it will be great for the breed to get such recognition. Being part of the Pedigree Welsh Pig Society is also a great way for Charcutier Ltd to link up with other producers of the breed. The Mangalitsa is similar to the highly prized Iberian Black pig, known for its delicious meat and also covered in a layer of fur giving it an adorable yet strange sheep-like appearance.

Illtud’s great passion is simply making things. He says that making the fresh sausages each week is a lot of fun, although their new machine has been earned the name “The Madam” due to her temperamental nature. He also loves digging through old recipe books and experimenting with these traditional recipes to breathe new life into them. For example, they make a black ham, which has a black rind on the outside and was traditionally treacle cured. Their method is derived from the Bradenham Cure, a recipe from the late Georgian period which used the most expensive ingredients around at the time – spices brought in from around the world like cloves, mace, peppercorns, allspice and treacle. They have an amount of licence with these recipes because the quantities are all very loose, so it’s great to play around with them.

Illtud’s dream is to make the perfect air dried ham, but he’s still working on it.

Charcutier Ltd was inspired to get involved with the Slow Food movement after Illtud met a man in Oregon. This farmer had originally owned a specialist heritage turkey business, but experienced a life changing event by attending Terra Madre where he tasted prosciutto for the first time in his life. This prompted him to sell up his entire business and start his own charcuterie company. Charcutier Ltd are very excited to attend Terra Madre this upcoming year, and Illtud is looking forward to sharing in his passions with like-minded food enthusiasts from around the world.

Charcutier Ltd have invested a lot of time and energy into really examining the processes behind meat production, down to minute detail such as the impact of diet on the quality and flavour of the meat. They believe that there’s a lot to be learnt from industries of all scales, and Illtud expresses his admiration for some of the large-scale industrial farms which he has visited, such as in Denmark, where he believes the quality control, attention to detail, efficiencies and scientific processes are all very refined. Nevertheless, his own pigs live either outdoors in ancient woodland or in cosy straw barns with plenty of room. In a pen where RSPCA high welfare guidelines state that he could keep fifteen pigs, he keeps around six.

Alongside learning from modern technology and science, Charcutier Ltd also keeps Welsh traditions alive. For example they always take a week off in autumn for the traditional slaughter of the pigs and the slate salting tray they use is a family heirloom. They still use old Welsh curing methods which predate refrigeration. Their sausages always sell out in a few days, as they are extremely popular with the local customers, and larger companies have expressed their interest in stocking Charcutier Ltd products. But Charcutier Ltd are choosing to take things slowly, developing and refining their processes and gradually expanding their production. So you may see Charcutier Ltd’s delicious Welsh rare breed sausages and air dried hams on London shelves but you will have to wait a few years until that moment. If you want to sample their selection in the meantime, you will have to go to Wales and get in the queue!

 

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