Deli-ciously inspired Deli Farm Charcuterie, who supply Fifteen Cornwall among many other restaurants and shops throughout the region, have continued to go from strength to strength since I interviewed them for this article last year. A ‘flavour weekly’ about them will follow soon.
I’d like to tell you a very tasty tale infused with sun-drenched scenes of pastoral people. Truthfully, however, it rains here in Cornwall (don’t we know it!) but, though it can pour, it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of everybody. This story involves a bit of science and a journey of experimentation, a joyful discovery, and a wedding at the end of it. It might make you sit up with wonder, but believe me; I’ve seen this with my own eyes, so I know it to be true!
I bet you know your onions, eh? From shallots; of that I’m definitely sure! Should you also consider yourself a well-journeyed sophisticate of discerning palette you’re sure to distinguish a good Rioja or Chianti from one another? Nevertheless, do you think you can tell an Italian air-cured prosciutto di Parma from a Cornish Coppa Ham? You might be laughing derisively just now, but read on.
Jean Cole met Martin Edwards only about 6 years ago and I’m not surprised she fell in love with him. Remember the first wind farm in Cornwall near Delabole? That was on the Edwards’ farm. Having returned from agricultural college he persuaded his father to give up dairy farming and turn their attention to renewable energy. Perhaps the farmer turned ‘windy-miller’ is a man with his feet firmly rooted to the earth and his eyes set on the sky? It’s a base combination of vision and practicality which enabled Deli Farm Charcuterie to get off the ground.
It started with a shared desire to make a quality food product and to that end they considered a business making pâtés and terrines. However, an off-the-cuff comment made by Graham Woolcock from Business Link set them on an altogether different path. “I told them that no one was making salamis in Cornwall,” said Graham, “and since people are much better travelled nowadays their food tastes are also much more cosmopolitan. It was a product niche standing vacant. To be honest I hadn’t really expected them to take me up on it.”
Take him up they did. But rather than make a ‘romantic’ excursion to the continent to find out how air-cured meats were made by the traditional artisans, they resorted to long hours of research via the internet instead. “In actual fact,” Jean says, “it was much more productive that way. I doubt we’d have learnt very much from a trip to Italy or Spain as we wouldn’t have known what questions to ask.”
After around 6 months of “our initial playing”, the moment of truth eventually came with tasting the first sample. “It was an exciting moment and we were totally blown away by how good it actually was.” Martin and Jean then waited 48 hours, a cautious interlude to check they hadn’t poisoned themselves, before feeding it to the family. It was a triumph having proved – and not because nobody had died – that making fine hams and salamis wasn’t limited by geography, climate or cultural heritage.
The process of air-curing meats is really very scientific, “It is absolutely essential to get the balance between the added nitrates right,” explains Martin. “Nitrates stop the bugs and keep a rich red-pinky colour to the meat which would otherwise go grey.” The quantities of nitrate are minute but the accuracy is crucial. Jean careful works out the very precise and tiny amount required for every gram of raw ingredients. Lactobacillus is added to start a fermenting process as in cheese and PH levels are checked regularly throughout the process.
“Everything we did,” Jean tells me, “We recorded meticulously.” The experience she gained from a job as Quality Control for animal feeds taught her about HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points). Everything is recorded in such detail that she has total product traceability both ways. With separate batch numbers for every product it is possible to trace which ingredients were used and where they were purchased, right down to a particular bag of salt, and then through to the point where the final product is sold.
At the end of February 2006 they made their very first sale and since then they have never looked back. Jean describes how an Italian once sampled her ham at a food show. “Where do you get this from?” he asked. “I make it,” said she. “No, no, where do you get it?” the incredulous Italian insisted. “He went away, shaking his head, and probably muttering that I was a liar.” A comic story, isn’t it?
Jean makes a range of different flavoured salamis each which is effectively handcrafted and dried within natural casings, so that no two are exactly the same size. The pork is local from the Cornish Farmhouse Bacon Company near Bude. In the first 6 months Jean traded at Truro Farmer’s Market every week. “It was absolutely the best way to get immediate feedback from customers and from that I could develop new flavours and ranges.” Jean added, “The British don’t like to see fat on their meat, yet on the Continent they know that meat with fat is much softer and tastier.” Consequently, Jean pioneered the idea of supplementing olives for the fat which is normally added to keep the meat moist. The result has been two new delicious salamis, one with green olives the other with black.
“I hadn’t even realised, in the beginning,” Jean admitted, “that the meat is not cooked. It is incubated, fermented and dried in the air that is all.” In the spirit of Heath-Robinson, Martin cobbled together their first air dryer from an old domestic fridge and an incubator from a ‘smoker’. The air-drying process later was moved into an old shipping container and processing into a redundant ‘burger van’. However, at the beginning of July they have been able to move into their new purpose built unit and instantly doubled production. “It has also enabled us to experiment with some new flavours. Ones to watch are our Bresaola, made with best beef sirloin, and Orange & Ginger Salami. We have also been experimenting with lamb, turkey, whole legs of pork and pheasant salami is planned for the winter.”
“At the 2008 Taste of the West awards,” Jean recounts, “we only entered products that hadn’t been entered before. We won 2 golds, for the Poker’s and Devil’s Pokers – thin finely ground sticks of Salami targeted at the instant snack or bar nibbles trade”. The year before, they entered 9 products and came away with 3 golds, 4 silvers and 1 bronze award, and if that wasn’t enough their Coppa Ham also won Champion Product! “We also got a one star gold award for the black olive salami at this year’s great taste awards”. Angie Coombs of Cornwall Taste of the West explained, “Deli Farm is a fantastic example of taking locally produced ingredients and adding skill and innovation to create an astoundingly good product.”
In May 2009 they got married. The proposal came via a Christmas crossword clue Jean was trying to do: ‘Invitation to a nuptial (4,3,4,2)’ it read. “Will you marry me?” suggested Martin. Jean said the answer didn’t fit the clue. However he asked her again. “I thought we were due for a party and it seemed like good excuse!”
For further information: www.delifarmcharcuterie.co.uk Tel: 01840 214106