TWO young butchers are proving that Dorset can more than match continental producers in the charcuterie stakes.
Over the last two years, The Dorset Charcuterie Company has established itself is a leading cured and smoked meat producer, winning praise on a national stage.
The business, run by friends Lee Moreton and Ben Sugden, is part of a thriving local food hub at Bere Farm, near Lytchett Minster.
Lee and Ben both have a passion for meat and love to experiment. They are bursting with ideas, and the result is an ever-developing range of traditional favourites revamped with the lads' own special twist.
Butchery is in Lee's blood; his father and grandfather both worked in the trade, although he was working as a landscaper when he decided to follow in their footsteps. It was during a visit to Wyndham's Fine Foods in Poundbury that the butchery bug first struck him. "I'd only dropped in for a steak but I loved the environment so much that I ended up asking them for a job," he explained.
Lee landed the job and worked at the deli for a year before moving on to Cranborne Stores. It was here that Lee qualified as a butcher - until then he was a self-taught enthusiast, using the River Cottage Meat Book as a guide.
In 2008, Lee moved on to the butchery counter at the former Goldy's Farm Shop on the Bere Farm site, and this is where he crossed paths with Ben, who worked in the kitchen. Goldy's went into liquidation two years ago but the landlord asked the aspiring butchers if they would like to set up their own business. They accepted and, thanks to a four-day business course provided by the Prince's Trust, and guidance from business mentor David Cottrell, they've never looked back.
The Dorset Charcuterie Company is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Muslin-wrapped dry meats hang drying in the curing room and the pair have built their own smoker, incorporating a vintage cast-iron stove, behind the farm building that houses their operation. The selection is vast, including classic lines such as Pancetta, Bresola, Coppa, air-dried hams, green and smoked bacon, hot and cold-smoked fish, gammon ham, handmade pates and terrines, gammon ham and Dorset Saucisson. Dorset Charcuterie has been working closely with From Dorset with Love, and the Blandford-based producers' pickles go very well with many of their speciality meats.
"The main reason I wanted to do what we do was because it just seems madness buying charcuterie in from abroad when we can make it here," Lee said. "We do everything from scratch. We make all our own seasonings and never use packet mixes."
Lee and Ben also have a butchers' counter that is packed with all the fresh meats you could wish for, along with their own sausages. They're big fans of traditional cuts and old-fashioned austerity. Nothing goes to waste because they literally use the whole hog. These two aren't ashamed to make a pig's ear, and you'll also find trotters and cheeks. Their Dorset Smoked Chaps beat stiff competition to win a recent food competition hosted by The Guardian. Other traditional favourites to receive Lee and Ben's twist include black pudding, corned beef, pressed tongue and pork scratchings.
"We hate to see waste. We want to show people that when an animal dies you should use all of it," Lee added. "I think that people who use meat have a duty to know exactly where it comes from and to do their best to use it all."
The Dorset Charcuterie Company is spoilt when it comes to sourcing the finest meat. It's based within the grounds of the Post Green Estate, which has its own herd of Longhorn/Aberdeen Angus-cross cattle and British Lop pigs. These older breeds are slower maturing and lay down more fat so have a much fuller flavour than their modern counterparts. Lee is also very excited about the prospect of using meat from the furry Mangalitsa pig in the near future. This pig is revered for its eating qualities, producing meat that is marbled with creamy fat and perfect for charcuterie.
Tying in with the traditional flavour, game is also used as much as possible when in season. Pheasant, duck and partridge is sourced from nearby Lion's Head Estate, and venison and rabbit are cropped from the fields that surround the shop. Lee is a keen pigeon shooter, and says his customers are developing quite a taste for grey squirrel.
Lee and Ben have joined with Luke Stuart's White Pepper cookery school, also based at Bere Farm, to provide a range of courses for cooks of varying skill levels and covering everything from small private classes to corporate days and hen parties. Free food rates highly on the menu so, as well as sausage making and charcuterie classes, you can also join them for a foraging session in the fields or on the beach before returning to the kitchen to cook up a feast.
During the shooting season, they even offer a Fur and Feather Day. This starts with a hearty breakfast before meeting up with a gamekeeper to learn all about working dogs, beating and the history of game shooting. Then it's back to the kitchen to pluck and dress a pheasant for lunch, which should set you up nicely for a deer butchery demonstration before you get to grips with rabbit and make your own stew to take home.
To find out more about The Dorset Charcuterie Company, its range of meats and cookery courses, either drop in to Bere Farm, catch up with the lads at one of the Dorset Farmers' Markets, call 01202 625688 or visit www.dorsetcharcuterie.co.uk
Mathew Manning firstname.lastname@example.org