British charcuterie is a booming industry, as Food Spark documented last year. A new wave of local producers are bringing their craft to cured meat – and some are even encouraging chefs to take it off the board and put it into recipes.
One of the companies doing that is Tempus Foods, which started production in January 2018. The team won the producer of the day prize at the inaugural British Charcuterie Awards last year and currently have nine products in their stable.
The business was conceived by Dhruv Baker, the 2010 MasterChef winner, and Tom Whitaker, who was runner-up on the cooking show in 2011.
“Tom trained in Italy in the Po Valley, so he has a traditional approach on the technical side with ageing, curing and how it’s made,” Baker tells Food Spark. “We’ve added our own signature profile to it and specific flavours with mixes of different herbs and spices to give it its own identity.”
The line-up includes a ham product, a smoked and spiced coppa, a loin product, a jowl product, three salami, a bresaola-style product, a lardo and pancetta. The salami takes five weeks to finish, while the ham can stretch out to 14 months of preparation.
“I think charcuterie is one of the most alchemist products in food – it’s magic. You start off with basic ingredients and then end up with charcuterie,” says Baker.
Sustainability and flavour
For the beef products, dairy cows are sourced from Bedfordshire, while a lot of the pigs are sows that have been deemed commercially unviable. The animals used can weigh anything up to 240kg, whereas most pigs in the UK are slaughtered at 180kg. “There is a huge difference in what you can make – the consistency of the back fat changes, the muscle tone changes and the flavour profile changes,” explains Baker.
He says the company goes to great lengths to make sure they are using the best possible animals to enhance the flavours.
“We do not want to obliterate the inherent flavour on the animal. Our ham is King Peter ham that is flavoured with juniper, black pepper, bay leaves and lightly smoked over chestnut wood, so there are savoury notes with a hint of sweetness that you get with pork anyway.”
Spiced coppa, which is one of Tempus’ most popular items, won a gold medal at the British Charcuterie Awards last August. Made with cloves, black pepper, cinnamon and star anise, it is said to remind consumers of Christmas.
“We don’t use any chilli either,” adds Baker. “We don’t like it in high-end charcuterie, as we think chilli confuses things and takes away from flavours.”
A little bit can add a lot
While a variety of the Tempus Foods products are stocked in Selfridges, Bayley & Sage delis and the Cannon & Cannon cured meat shop, Baker has also been working with chefs in food-led pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants to get charcuterie into more meals.
“A charcuterie board is the first thing that springs to mind, but there are so many different ways of using it,” he says. “There is a huge push at the moment for people trying to eat less meat – and I’m all for it. People can eat less meat, but better meat. It’s a great rule of thumb.”
Dish suggestions from Baker include spiced coppa, blue cheese, walnuts and lavender honey as a starter or light lunch, or the spiced loin with fennel, white peaches, burrata, basil and rapeseed oil. Others include using the pancetta or ham to wrap fish or lardo over seared scallops.
“People are always looking for inspiration for different things to do and charcuterie offers so much flavour and richness that you don’t need much of it,” he explains. “You can mix it with fruit, herbs and salad to offer something delicious and accessible.”
Whitaker and Baker are also experimenting with different breeds of animals as well as NPD in their custom-built unit in Surrey.
“We are investigating more of the cooked side, like cooked hams, mortadella. We are looking at an honest bacon,” says Baker. “There are literally thousands of different products – the problem comes with when you get carried away with doing hundreds of different things. We are spending maybe 10 to 15% of time on R&D, but we want establish ourselves with our core range.”
Baker has high hopes for British charcuterie, with a vision that people will come to talk about homemade products much the way they do about Iberico or Palma ham.