As part of British Food Fortnight (17 September – 2 October) Live Mendips is featuring local food & producers around the Mendips.
Andy Venn and James Simpson, based in the Mendips both had a food background before founding Somerset Charcuterie in 2014.
Andy, now living in Langford, grew up on a pig farm. Andy is a trained butcher and worked at Alvis’s, the home of Lye Cross Cheddar as well as running his own food business. James’s family, based near Axbridge was part of a small co-operative and he had an interest in charcuterie. Both were curing meat and making salamis with the animals they reared.
After a chat over a pint of cider at the Mendip Mower Festival a business partnership was born. They started experimenting with chorizo and salami with mixed results. Andy said: “We knew we had to try to be inventive with the charcuterie, to make it different.”
People’s perceptions of famous cured meats and sausages such as parma ham, chorizo and pancetta is naturally all about the Med. Andy and James are part of a new generation of charcutiers, and take the quintessentially Somerset flavours of pork, cider, and cheese but employ time-honoured methods to make a product that relies on the quality of local ingredients. The pair did their research, visiting the region to learn more about the production and culture around the products.
Andy is proud of the provenance of the ingredients he chooses: “The raw material, the pigs, are the most important thing. We don’t do much to it, perhaps roll our meats in seasalt and add juniper before curing.”
Their pigs are reared for over a year in woodland or outdoors on two Somerset farms, speciality breeds Saddleback, Oxford Sandy and Tamworth well known for the quality of their meat. They have also chosen to use rare breed Hungarian Mangalitzas, well known for their woolly coats and good fat marbling through the meat which is crucial for flavour.
The meat for the sausages is mixed with fresh herbs and garlic grown on the farm and local products such as Lye Cross Cheddar, Draycott Blue and cider. Shaped into natural casings to make chorizos and salamis they are then cured, fermented, hung and air-dried from seven days for their thin ‘pokers’ to over a year for their whole meat joints.
Now Somerset Charcuterie employ five people at their base on a farm in Wrington Vale, and the pair have built up quite a following. They sell wholesale to top restaurants around the country.
The duo stick to their Somerset roots with their ingredients, and they also keep it local by selling to the public through farmers’ markets at Wells, Bath, Frome and Axbridge.
Andy is proud of what they have achieved so far, as well as awards, their products are used by well-known chefs such as Marco Pierre-White. He is enthusiastic about the high standard of the flavours he adds and believes this is what makes the difference. “We stick to what we set out to do. It would be easy to cut corners, but the quality of the product would not be the same.”
Although they are committed to quality and traditional methods the pair are not afraid of innovation. Andy installed a wall of Himalayan Salt Bricks in the drying room to assist drying the meat, as far as he knows the only Himalayan Salt Wall used with charcuterie.
And what are their plans for the future? They have plans to expand on the farm and extend their air-drying room so they can increase their production and the amount of meat they can hang. The pair will be talking at the Wells Food Festival about home cured meat. They have also run charcuterie courses.
For more on local food and Mendip pizza recipes using Somerset Charcuterie see our Food & Drink section.