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Chiltern Charcuterie

When I visited Chiltern Charcuterie a few weeks ago in the picturesque village of North Dean, they were hard at work making salami. It was an impressive operation as the team expertly tested flavours. John and Catherine launched their business in 2014, and what started as a small scale curing business in their kitchen has grown into an award winning brand and a leading player in the UK charcuterie market. In Autumn 2015, they moved to a dairy farm in the Hughendon valley. The additional space allowed them to improve consistency and create a more controlled curing process. They focus on using quality ingredients sourced from the local Chiltern area and 2016 saw them win two Great Taste Awards. John was kind enough to answer a few questions about his exciting Chiltern based food business.

Why did you decide to start a Charcuterie business based in the Chilterns? 

We wanted to start a business involving food that we loved to eat. We’re obsessive foodies with a passion for locally sourced meats made to a high quality and in a traditional way. All our meat comes from the Chilterns, so we named it Chiltern Charcuterie to reflect its origins.

Why is it important to you that your meat is sourced from the local area? 

Sourcing it locally means we’re supporting our local community and we can make sure its of a high quality and we know its provenance. We’re also doing our bit to save the food miles!

Do you think UK charcuterie is on the road to competing with charcuterie produced on the continent? How do you think the UK market can encourage supermarkets to stock their produce instead of importing from Europe?

We are definitely competing with our European cousins. Our Charcuterie is as good if not tastier. We as a business like to focus on deep flavours, using marinades as well as cures. We also like to explore new and interesting tastes, for example our Air dried lamb has been a real hit, but rarely seen in Europe. We also focus on beef and Venison, again unusual in Europe where Pork is the main meat used.

Supermarkets focus on price. UK Charcuterie is still more expensive then cheaper imports BUT we are a quality product. Our customer is more likely to shop in smaller retail outlets and specialty food shops.

I spotted some N’duja in the product room! What’s your process for producing this uniquely Calabrian sausage? 

Our N’duja is a mix of pork fat and Pork meat. The ratio of fat to meat is greater than in Salami. In this recipe we have made it hot & Spicy. (Chilli & paprika). It is made in the same way as Salami, minced and stuffed into a skin. Then hung and air-dried. But it is ready when soft.

Do you have a favourite product and how do you like to enjoy it? 

My favourite is the Air Dried Beef. Its rich and full flavoured, with the aroma of red wine & rosemary. I like to eat this with olives, pickles, nice bread and a rocket salad with lemon juice.

What has been the most exciting part of starting a Charcuterie business? 

As well as having fun experimenting, our most exciting part is to actually make a delicious product and have the satisfaction of other people liking it too. And then buying it!

Do you think the Chiltern food scene has changed over the last few years? 

The food scene has definitely changed. People are a lot more interested in knowing where their food has come from and are looking to support local businesses too. As we do. This has changed a lot since the financial crisis in 2008.

What does 2017 hold for Chiltern Charcuterie?

Hopefully 2017 will see us expand and grow our customer base. We would like to cement our place in Buckinghamshire as the leading Charcuterie producer in the region.

One of my particular favourites from Chiltern Charcuterie is the Coppa, which is made from the neck muscle of a pig. Their variety is deliciously flavoured with fennel and juniper berries. It works perfectly on flatbreads with sun-dried tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan.

Chiltern Coppa Flatbreads
(Makes 3 flatbreads)

Ingredients

150g self-raising flour
Baking powder
150g full fat Greek yoghurt
Pinch of salt
Chiltern Charcuterie Coppa
A handful of fresh rocket
A handful of sundried tomatoes
A few shavings of Parmesan
Drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar

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First make the dough. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and spoon in the greek yoghurt. Using the thin end of a wooden spoon mix together, eventually using your hands to bring it together into a ball. Add more yoghurt if it’s too dry and more flour if to wet. Turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until its nice and smooth.

Divide the dough into three, and roll each piece into rounds about half a centimetre in thickness.

Heat a large frying pan, waiting until its very hot before cooking the first flatbread. Cook for a few minutes, and when it starts to form bubbles, flip to the other side. Cook for a further minute then remove from the heat. Repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of dough.

Layer the warm flatbreads with the rocket, Coppa, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

 

Foraging in The Chilterns

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the mesmerising Chiltern Hills. Tomorrow marks the start of the first ever Chiltern Food Festival and to celebrate I’ll be sharing a series of posts showcasing its vibrant food scene. From charcuterie to gin, this bucolic paradise is home to some of the most inspiring producers in the country. I’m kicking off the festivities with a couple of recipes using wild garlic foraged from the Chiltern Woodlands.

The Foraging phenomenon is having something of a renaissance, as the idea of food with provenance becomes the mainstay of the conscientious cook. Throughout the year hedgerows and woodlands offer an abundance of edible plants ready to be transformed into soups, jams, cordials and liqueurs. From old favourites like elderflowers and sloes, to the more unusual sorrel and fat hen, nature’s larder offers up a feast of possibilities. The advent of intrepid cooks, like Gill Meller and Rosie Birkett, has led to an insatiable urban foraging trend. But while hipsters swarm the Hackney marshes, why not venture further afield and sample the bounty of the Chiltern Hills. Barely forty minutes from London, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is rich in rivers and woodland. From Ashridge Estate to Wendover wood, enthusiastic foragers are spoilt for choice. Penn Wood, with its unique variety of fungus, has been ranked as one of the best foraging destinations in Britain. One is certain to emerge bright-eyed with a promising basket of woodland treasure.

While it’s often agreed that autumn, with its blackberries and mushrooms, is the favourite of many a seasoned forager; spring offers its own abundance. At this time of year the Chiltern woodlands come alive with dandelions, nettles and wild garlic. Those looking for a little guidance can accompany foraging aficionado, Fred Gillam (aka Fred the Forager), as he explores the rich pickings of spring. Fred has been foraging for over thirty years and knows exactly what can be safely picked and what to avoid. He also shares tips on how to forage sustainably, so that other creatures get their fair share of the pickings (Book here).

Foraging happily satisfies two of my abiding passions, seasonal eating and free food. Now that I’m officially a country bumpkin, the time is nigh to make my own foray in foraging. As something of a beginner, wild garlic is one of the best places to start. During the months of March to May, you’ll likely find it growing in any deciduous woodland. Armed with the warning that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish from the similar looking, but deadly poisonous, lily of the valley, I proceeded with just a little caution, but I needn’t have worried. When one is in the midst of wild garlic its unlikely you’ll question its authenticity. Its vibrant, almost obnoxious, garlic aroma is unmistakable. The smell is particularly pungent when the garlic flowers are over and the plant has run to seed.

Unlike many things that taste delicious, wild garlic has the benefit of being supremely good for you. Not just your average woodland ‘weed’, it’s particularly effective in reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol. From leaf to flower, every part of wild garlic is edible; but I would suggest avoiding the bulb, as on occasion it can lead to an unforgiving stomach upset. When focusing on the leaves, the possibilities are endless. It’s delicious tossed into salad or wilted in olive oil. Jamie Oliver suggests roasting it with jersey royals and the Chiltern Food Magazine shares a tasty recipe for Arancini. I decided to keep things simple with these two recipes that allow wild garlic to be the star of the show.

Wild Garlic Ravioli

Ingredients:

For the pasta:
150g ’00’ pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
1 egg and 2 yolks
1 tsp olive oil

For the filling:
200g wild garlic leaves, wilted in olive oil
30g parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
30g hazelnut
1tsp olive oil
A pinch of salt

To serve:
40g butter
20g hazelnuts
parmesan shavings
A handful of rocket

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Start by making the pasta. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and olive oil. Using the thing end of a wooden spoon, mix the eggs and flour together, eventually bringing it together with your hands. If it’s a little dry, slowly add a little more egg.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes, until its nice and smooth. Don’t worry if its a little tough, as it will soften. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling. Place the wilted wild garlic, parmesan, hazelnuts and olive oil into a food processor, and blitz until it resembles a pesto. Add the ricotta and pulse the processor for a few seconds, until the ricotta is just combined with the pesto.

Remove the dough from the fridge, flatten it a little with your hands and feed it through the widest setting on the pasta machine.  Then fold the dough in three and feed through the pasta machine again. Continue to pass the dough through the machine, progressively narrowing the rollers each time. Once you get to the narrowest setting, pass the dough through twice.

Put the sheet of pasta onto a lightly floured surface, and using a large cookie cutter or jar top, cut the pasta into round disks, and place on a floured surface. You should have enough dough to make roughly 24 disks. Dollop a spoonful of filling onto the centre of 12 disks. Use your finger to tap water around each blob of filling. Cover with the remaining disks, carefully squeezing around the filling, making sure there are no air pockets. Pinch around the edges of each ravioli, making sure they are well sealed.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a medium heat, simmering until brown and nutty (about 3 minutes). Remove from the heat and put to one side. Cook the ravioli in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. When it’s ready remove with a slotted spoon and add to the melted butter.

Scatter over the shaved parmesan pieces, hazelnuts and rocket and serve immediately.

Wild Garlic Soup

Ingredients:

80g butter
1 white onion, chopped
1 large potato, approximately 400g
1 leak
600ml chicken stock
50 wild garlic leaves, washed
salt and pepper

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Heat 50g of the butter in a large Le Creuset style pot. Add the chopped onion and sweat for a few minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the leek and potato. Cook for a minute or so, then add the stock. Bring to a simmer, pop the lid on and leave to cook for 5-10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

 Meanwhile in a separate frying pan, heat the remaining butter and wilt the wild garlic until just softened. Place the wilted leaves in a food processor and pulse until it resembles a pesto.

Just as the potatoes are finished cooking, add the wild garlic to the stock mixture and remove from the heat. Let it cool slightly before pouring into a food processor and blending until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot, add the cream and heat through. If you feel the soup is a little thick, add more chicken stock until its the consistency you prefer. Season with salt and pepper

Serve hot with a drizzle of cream or a dollop of creme fraiche.