Charcuterie at Pool Cottage
At Pool Cottage we take our charcuterie very seriously, wanting to produce the best food from our animals as we can. The term 'charcuterie' may suggest fancy scraps of meat served on the obligatory big white plate but, at Pool Cottage, the focus is on the transformation and preservation of our meat into excellent food. The 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique defines charcuterie as: "The art of preparing various meats, in particular pork, in order to present them in the most diverse ways." This definition best describes what we do on our smallholding and the following descriptions will give some idea of what we have achieved.
We produce a lot of bacon at Pool Cottage (because it tastes so good), using both our own pigs as well as other locally sourced pork. For our back bacon we take a whole loin joint and dry cure it using cures consisting of sea salt and saltpetre, to which we also blend in a mix of various natural sugars and spices to add extra flavour and colour. We have used treacle to produce almost black bacon and we've also been known to add chillies to a batch or two of bacon for a real hot bacon butty! We even experimented with chocolate bacon, which imparted a deep colour and chocolatey smell whilst cooking, but lost the chocolate taste, it still tasted divine. Once cured, all the bacon is hung for the salt to seep deep into the joint in order to complete the curing process. It is then hung in a chiller as a joint and simply sliced to any thickness when required.
We can also smoke our bacon once cured, and have found that using beech wood imparts a lighter smoke to the bacon highlighting the sweet flavours, though we have also used oak, apple, hickory and blackthorn wood in the past. As always, our bacon is quality tested before anyone else gets any, usually on a slab of freshly baked bread still warm from the oven!
Alongside our own bacon we love to make and eat our own sausages. The vast majority are pork based and our current favourites are Old Yorkshire, ginger & spring onion and tomato. The Old Yorkshire is very peppery and perfect on the BBQ; the ginger & spring onion bakes beautifully in the oven to give a delicate light sausage; and, the tomato sausages are the perfect breakfast sausage served with a fried tomato or two and mushrooms.
We also produce venison, beef and lamb sausages. The venison comes to Pool Cottage fresh from brother John who holds a stalking lease with the Forestry Commission. The beef is sourced from neighbouring farms and the lamb is from our own small flock of sheep.We also make our own German Bratwurst, which are unbelieveably good on the BBQ.
Choice cuts of beef are brined for 5-7 days in a special blend of salt, crushed garlic, pepper and molasses sugar. It is air dried then hot smoked over bourbon-soaked oak chips for 3 hours, having been coated in a secret mix of herbs, spices and selected chilli peppers. The pastrami is now gently steamed for another 3 hours to infuse all the spicy goodness. Once cooled it is quality tested by us both, before being thinly sliced and vacuum packed to seal in the flavour. For those who prefer their beef less spicy, we also produce a salt beef which is cured in the same way as the pastrami, but is then wrapped in muslin and simmered until tender.
If you’re going to produce your own meat, what better way is there to enjoy it than wrapped in pastry? We like pie, what can I say and it is genetically programmed into the Williams genome. Ben, our little boy (he’s 6ft 2in and built like the proverbial outhouse) has twice won the Ampthill Pie Competition organised by the Guild of Master Pie Makers... he claims he would have won a third time but was robbed on a technicality! It doesn’t matter if the pie is topped with short crust or puff pastry, filled with infinitely different fillings, we will make them and eat them. We adore hand raised pies using hot water pastry, especially piggy ones lined with bacon with an egg in the middle, but chicken and bacon comes a close second. We use traditional wooden dollies (sourced from Melton Mowbray, the home of the hand raised pie) to raise the pies. Coated with a fresh egg wash, they cook until golden brown and are left to cool overnight. The following day we add the jelly, made from gelatine and our own stock. A lot of work, but the results are well worth the effort. Again, served on a charcuterie platter, such joy is to be had. We like pies so much that we hosted the Poolhead Pie Festival, which was a roaring success, more of which can be seem on the events page.
Whole sides of salmon are dry cured, rinsed and dried, before being drizzled in dark rum and coated in cracked black pepper and fennel. The sides are then allowed to form a light pellicule as they dry for a further 24 hours. The sides are then cold smoked in our purpose build smokehouse using a mix of locally sourced oak and beech chips for some 18 hours. The salmon then rests for yet another 24 hours to balance the wonderful combination of fish oil, herbs and smoke. As with the pastrami, it is quality tested, before being thinly sliced and vacuum packed to seal in the flavour.
In our desire to use as much of our own pig as possible, we just had to make black puddings. It’s a messy job but the results are amazing. Using pigs’ blood and finely diced back fat, we add a blend of herbs and spices, before pouring the warm mixture into large beef casings. These are then simmered for 20 minutes at 80C, any hotter and the pressure builds up in the casings and they will split. Once cool, they are packed either whole or sliced. Add the black pudding to all the other breakfast goodies and that self sufficient breakfast just got a whole lot better.
Pate & Terrines
Our pigs provide the basis for a number of different pate recipes. Using the heart and liver as well as offcuts from the shoulders, we make our course pate, which is flavoured with garlic, pepper and juniper and tastes devine spread across melba toast, accompanied with a blob of plum chutney. This is another addition to our charcuterie board. The pork terrine we produce is perhaps us being a little upmarket, as it's really brawn by any other name, but pork terrine sounds so much more civilised. Made from the head of the pig, which is quartered and then boiled in a vegetable stock until the meat falls from the skull. It is pressed into a terrine and the jelly formed from the stock is added to form a loaf type dish that can be sliced as a very course pate. Sounds a bit gross but is another excellent addition to that charcuterie platter.
If you eat meat, then you must eat ham. Hams can be made by brining (wet curing) or dry curing. At Pool Cottage we do both at the same time! Our favourite cut for ham is the lower rear leg; we make up a dry cure, which can vary just as with the bacon cures. We then rub it into the leg, now rather than just leave the cure to perform its magic, we place the leg and cure into a vacuum bag and seal it tight. As the fluid is drawn from the meat a wet cure is formed producing a fine ham every time with minimal mess. You just have to love modern technology.....sometimes. Once cured it is washed and hung for a few days to complete the curing process and either boiled or roasted with any glaze you fancy. The ham is then used in all sorts of dishes including but not limited to; ham, egg and chips for a simple meal, a filling ingredient for a pie (or two or three), thinly sliced on the charcuterie platter or in a butty with fresh lettuce and tomato straight from the veg plot.
Despite there being so many sausages to make and eat and so little time, we still manage to create most excellent burgers. As with the sausages, we make a range of burgers, from the usual beef burgers, but also extend to producing lamb, pork and venison burgers. These are usually eaten during the BBQ season on a fresh bap with home made relish and accompanied with freshly dug potatoes and salad from the garden. Personally, we add a few extras to our burgers such as onion and rolled oats, which give a wholesome nutty texture to the burger. The addition of pepper and chillies also adds a bit of “bite” to the experience.
Having attended an Italian Salumi course at the Empire Farm School, hosted by Marc Frederick, we have been actively creating our own air dried charcuterie. We started with a Lonza, which is cured using the pigs loin and then air dried until it has lost 30% of its weight. Sliced wafer thin, the flavour far exceeded our hopes and expectations. Since then we have made more Lonza as well as Coppa and panchetta from our own pigs. The Coppa being the main muscle running from the pigs neck, through the shoulder to the loin.