Standard bearers: Cannon and Cannon

Categories: Behind the stalls

The story and philosophy behind Slow Food approved trader Cannon and Cannon

“Charcuterie is really the ultimate Slow Food,” says Sean Cannon. It’s a claim that has been made before in this column, for good reason—the case for charcuterie, especially Cannon and Cannon charcuterie, is a strong one. It takes time. There are no two ways about it. “The way the salt works to preserve the meat is not a process that can happen any quicker than nature intends.”

The reason mass produced salamis are so cheap, Sean continues, is not because their suppliers are speeding up the preservation process (as they can—and often do—with cheese) but because economies of scale bring the prices down, and such large, industrial producers will inevitably be less fastidious about sourcing. You get what you pay for,” he continues, “and the quality of charcuterie is entirely dependent on the quality of meat.”

After all, there are (or should be) just two ingredients: salt, and meat “and you can’t do a lot with salt,” Sean points out. If Cannon and Cannon are to put British charcuterie on the world map like he intends to, they really need to be looking at how his producers care for their cows, deer and pigs. The animals that provide us with charcuterie need to be roaming freely, grazing outside on good, natural food, in order for their fatty deposits to be dense enough for the preserving process.

Intense food and antibiotics
“What happens with commercial animals is that they are encouraged to grow and lay down fat quickly, through high intensity food and antibiotics.” The fat deposits are pasty, and the result needs additives in order to be palatable, says Sean. “You can’t make good charcuterie if you speed up the growth of your pigs.”

Much is made of old traditions, different cure recipes from around the world and new temperature-adjustable drying rooms. In truth, one of the main drivers of charcuterie production in Britain has been farmers looking to secure the survival of traditional rare breeds. “You have the British lop, one of our oldest breeds and amazing for charcuterie. You have the Gloucester old spot, the Welsh black, the Tamworth”—not to mention rare breeds of lamb and cattle. They don’t lend themselves to intensive farming practices, which is why they were starting to disappear from our shores, but their slow, steady growth does make them perfect for charcuterie.

“They are different animals,” Sean enthuses—and he’s not just talking about their fat content. “If you put me in a cage and fed me antibiotics I’d be very different as a person. These animals have fabulous characters. They are proper animals. They’ve had the chance to grow and develop.” An industrially farmed pig headed for the commercial salami line will live for three months; these rare breeds live for a year or more, justifying their price tag and then some.

Work, graft, skills
Talented as the producers behind Cannon and Cannon have to be with regard to making charcuterie, “the majority of the work, graft, skills and investment goes into the animals”. Only then do cure recipes and high-tech ageing rooms come onto the scene.

This too takes time. There are fine cuts and thick cuts—but there are no short cuts in the charcuterie world. “You have to get the balance right for each cure, and that skill isn’t quick to master.” Many of the charcutiers Sean works with have travelled extensively around Europe, seeking inspiration from different recipes and techniques. Each product is original. Part of the skill of the charcutier lies in adapting the recipe to accommodate natural variations in size, age, and fat to muscle ratio. “You have to understand the meat,” says Sean, “and what the meat needs.”

Of course, in order to sell their charcuterie, Cannon and Cannon must pass some of this knowledge to their customers. “We have people coming to one of the best food markets in the world, and they expect the best produce. We’ve been doing this for six or seven years now. It takes lots of education, through blogs, our people in the stall and our meat school to make people feel comfortable with the products.” Their messages—of rare breeds, animal welfare, tradition, quality and craft—“take a while to sink in,” he continues. But Sean has observed “a growing feeling among people that they don’t want cheap, substandard meat.”

Expression of time and place
He cites Cornish Charcuterie’s seaweed and cider salami as an example of charcuterie that takes time to make, and time to appreciate. Made within eyeshot of the coastal town of Bude, it is as pure an expression of their time and place as charcuterie can be. The cider is made on their farm, using their apples. The seaweed comes from the shoreline you can see from their (rare breed) pig field. It couldn’t be more Cornish. It couldn’t be more British. It couldn’t be more Slow Food.