Meat of the moment

Categories: News and previews

Ed Smith gives us the lowdown on the inaugural British Cured Meat awards

Though Borough Market itself was closed on the Sunday of the recent May bank holiday weekend, there were very interesting things going on in Jubilee Place, where Market traders Cannon & Cannon hosted the inaugural British Cured Meat Festival. The day felt like an important moment for this nascent industry, and saw producers from around the country showcasing and selling their products.

Ask most people whether they know and like British cured meat, and the chances are you’ll receive a raised eyebrow and question mark in response. For curing meats is not a tradition or artisanal skill that people associate with these shores—we are all more used to eating French charcuterie, Italian salumi, German wurst, and Italian jamon and chorizo than cured venison from Scotland, ‘nduja-style spreadable sausage from London, and air-dried pork collar from Wales.

In fact, a culture of curing meat runs far deeper than most people realise, with brined hams, bacon, and potted meats all actually falling under the genre of ‘curing’, plus the existence of some uniquely British cured products like macon (mutton bacon), corned beef, Bath chaps and Lincolnshire stuffed chine. But it is still true to say that British air-dried and smoked muscle meats and sausages are less established and known.

Curing, air-drying, smoking
During the last decade, however, there has been a huge upsurge of interest in curing, air-drying and smoking meats in the continental style. By way of example, when Cannon & Cannon first traded at Borough Market in 2011, they stocked about eight different, small salamis from the handful of known producers based in the east, south east and west of England. They now offer upwards of 35 products on the stall (at different times), and many more as wholesale distributers, representing nearly 20 different producers.

A number of them, such as Moons Green from Sussex, Trealy Farm from Monmouthshire, Cobble Lane Cured from Islington, London, and Capreolus from Dorset had their own stalls at the festival on Sunday, as well as others Cannon & Cannon don’t represent such as Cwm Farm in South Wales, Peelham Farm in the Scottish Borders, and the West Country’s Somerset Charcuterie. Which meant that the range of cured, air-dried and smoked meats—all made from free range and often organically farmed British heritage breeds—available at Borough Market on Sunday was even wider and greater than normal.

Attendees were able to sample and buy from the producers, as well as eat special festival-only hot food, like London salami, halloumi and heritage tomato wraps from Market regulars Gourmet Goat. There was a demo tent, too, where the audience was shown how to butcher a big for the purpose of curing every last bit; how to cook with cured meats like ’nduja and lardo; how to make pork pies; and how to match cured meats with fine wines.

Heritage breeds
Topics of discussion ranged from what will come to define British cured meat (the quality of British heritage meat breeds and the husbandry of it), to whether we’ll ever have a jamon like jamon Iberico de bellota (probably not—it’s an entirely different type of pig to those we have here). And integral to it all was the final round of judging and award ceremony for the first ever British Cured Meat Awards.

The awards process was run by the Guild of Fine Foods (GFF) and had begun months before, when more than 240 products from more than 80 producers were submitted for four awards: best cured sausage, best muscle meat, best soft or spreadable meat, and best cooked or smoked meat. Those were whittled down to a shortlist of 10 in each category, and then judged on the day by the likes of chefs Dan Doherty of Duck and Waffle, Richard Turner of Hawksmoor, food writer and author Sabrina Ghayour, Sunday Times food editor Lisa Markwell and Telegraph food writer Xanthe Clay, as well as representatives of the GFF.

A number of products performed exceptionally well in early judging rounds, such as Gloucestershire’s Native Breeds’ brisket and Cornish Charcuterie’s Lucanian lamb salami, which both received full marks. On the day, Simon Rimmer of Sunday Brunch announced the following as winners:

—Best Cured Sausage: Islington saucisson sec, Cobble Lane Cured, London (available at Borough Market via Cannon & Cannon)

—Best Muscle Meat: air-dried pork collar, Trealy Farm Charcuterie, Wales (available at Borough Market via Cannon & Cannon)

—Best Soft or Spreadable Meat: venison pate with elderberries and Islay whisky, Highland Charcuterie and Smokehouse, Scotland

—Best Cooked or Smoked Meat: Yorkshire Frankfurter, Lishman’s of Ilkley, Yorkshire

They further awarded Lishman's of Ilkley producer of the year for having the cumulatively highest scoring products in the final round of judging, and named Mick Whitworth, the editorial director of the Fine Food Digest, Guild of Fine Foods, as 2018’s ‘cured meat hero’.

It remains early days for the British Cured Meat industry, but things are moving impressively quickly. Who’s to say that in another 10 years the winners of the inaugural awards, and indeed other products available on the day, won’t be as well known nationally and internationally, as specific British farmhouse cheeses?