Goose, lamb and mutton: alternative meats get in on the charcuterie boom

Old-school animals meet new-school techniques, as the dominance of Italian prosciutto and salami gives way to local artisans.

14 August 2018
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image credit: lenakorzh via Getty Images

In Britain, we eat several million tonnes of cured meat every single year. How’s that for a stat!

The rise of the gastropub has coincided with the British charcuterie board becoming a firm family favourite, with the sustainability and local nature of many meat producers giving it a relatively stable footing with Brexit looming.

In the last seven years, the number of British charcuterie makers has risen tenfold and it remains an industry on the rise, heading triumphantly into craft territory as demand increases.

As Food Spark has previously noted, obscure ingredients such as seaweed, cider and chocolate are now part of the British charcuterie equation, with the likes of beef and pork getting serious upgrades.

And, considering the rise of the more adventurous consumer, some of the lesser-known charcuterie meats are starting to join the party.

Duck, goose and lamb are age-old British staples when it comes to smoking, drying and curing but have remained in relative obscurity in recent years due to the mainstream popularity of European mainstays such as Italian prosciutto and salami.

So what could soon be appearing on a plank of wood near you?

Duck, duck, goose?

Let’s start with the humble goose, an altogether loveable British bully and a bird very much underused when compared to its more common colleagues, the chicken and the turkey.

Geese are often sold as Christmas eating birds, while their eggs make a solid alternative to the chicken variety. But geese can also be used for dry curing. Take the artisan English charcuterie company Capreolus, who have been known to blend goose meat with pork meat and fat to make a goose salami.

David Richards, one of the Capreolus co-founders, reveals that it was a sustainability ethos that saw the goose salami come about, as a way to utilise ‘cull’ geese – birds that would otherwise be killed and incinerated after becoming too old to produce enough eggs at a commercially viable rate.

“I think it’s a rather good way of making sure things don’t go to waste, or just into dog food,” Richards tells Food Spark.

“Our biggest seller now is actually the smoked mutton. We were the first people to do it and it came about after Tim Maddams (formerly of River Cottage fame) came in and said he’d love to try it.

“We’ve being doing it for eight years now and, to give you a sense of its popularity, I recently took a 340kg order from Twickenham Stadium for the Autumn Internationals! British Airways also have it in their Concorde Room.”

image credit: Capreolus

Capreolus, one of the first artisan charcuterie producers in the country, is benefitting from an industry on the rise – a rise that is coinciding with a decline for the more illustrious European charcuterie renditions.

“We started back in 2009 and we’re now responsible for around 6-7% of the charcuterie produced in this country. When we started, we were below 1%,” explains Richards. “It’s an industry that’s growing at an unbelievable rate, and it’s still in its infancy.

“We supply Harvey & Brockless, who actually sponsor the British Charcuterie Awards, and they’ve experienced a 40% rise over the last five years in the sales of British charcuterie. They’re even starting to drop continental charcuterie because their customers hold provenance in such high regard.”

Other classic British examples such as grouse, pheasant and partridge are finding their way more and more into terrines, while duck is also making a comeback, with Rannoch Smokery’s smoked duck recently appearing in both Asda and Ocado.

As an Asda spokesperson delicately put it, charcuterie is currently “an area of interest” for them.

Duck is also on the agenda at another of the country’s top artisan charcuterie operators, Cannon & Cannon, which blends Trealy Farm duck with Sichuan pepper for a salami. They also do a wild rabbit salami with port and prunes, and lamb is also on offer – a lamb and lemon merguez salami, to be precise.

Brexit and the big suppliers

While continental charcuterie continues to wobble, Brexit may well have a positive effect on the trajectory of the British charcuterie industry.

“We have always been cost competitive with continental artisan products produced in similar quantities and to the same high standard,” says Jean Edwards, a partner at Deli Farm Charcuterie in Cornwall.

“But since the post-Brexit vote, changes in the exchange rate have narrowed this margin, making our home-made products more attractive to the consumer.”

The charcuterie market in Europe is more established, but the quality of imports to Britain has started to come into question – another reason for the attractiveness of home-cured products.

“I recently went to an enormous food market in Valencia and watched a retail sale of £2.06p for a leg of pork. I nearly fell over. I get a whole pig here for around £3. And the leg of pork itself was rubbish!” says Richards.

“The provenance and care taken by British producers is surely the most attractive point of the market here,” he continues. “We’re so serious about where our animals come from in this country, and I can’t say the same for European charcuterie. 

“Many of the larger suppliers have taken over the smaller on the continent, as it’s a much more developed market. I think only two artisan companies have been bought out in this country so far. But just like cheese, beer and chocolate, it’s bound to start happening. And that’s when you have to worry about quality – and price!”

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