Out recently with a fellow food enthusiast and old University friend, we visited a Farmer’s Market in Leicestershire where we met Suzanne Clarke of Stud Farm. Fourth generation farmers of the 550 acre farm they have been supplying the local area with well reared meats for over 100 years. But it’s only recently that Suzanne has ventured into the artisan charcuterie trade.
I’m always a bit wary of the term ‘artisan’. It’s one of those terms that has lost its original meaning, especially when enemies of good food like McDonald’s and Domino’s have their own ‘Artisan’ massed produced burgers and pizzas. The etymology is connected to the Latin meaning ‘to instruct in the arts’, however the contemporary definition of an artisanal food producer encompasses a slightly wider meaning. Someone who has learned their craft from existing masters, chooses the best possible ingredients and uses more traditional methods where the aim is to produce the best product – not the best profit. Very often these methods require more time, more personal involvement from the producer and can’t be reproduced on a large scale.
Thankfully, we still have producers like Suzanne who truly fit the real definition of ‘artisan’ and should be supported as such.
Suzanne learned her craft from Italian masters in Tuscany and has brought those skills back to England and applied them to her own meat, reared right on her farm. Interestingly, she says she is not trying to copy the European charcuterie exactly, but produce her own local version. This makes sense as a Leicestershire cow or pig is going to taste different to a Tuscan one!
Her range of Prosciutto, Salami and Bresaola are all produced from meat raised, butchered and hung on her farm. This gives them total control over the quality of the product and 100% traceability. When you buy from Suzanne she can show you the field the animal grazed on. Try getting the same when you buy Tesco’s Salami!
The history of charcuterie is unsurprisingly linked to our need to preserve meat. Coming from two French words ‘Chair’ meaning flesh and ‘Cuit’ meaning cooked (the same root as ‘biscuit’ meaning twice cooked) it encompasses a wide variety of meats, pates, terrines and galantines.
The basic principle of air dried charcuterie such as Salami is that salt is used to draw water from the meat which prevents bad bacteria from putrefying it and then a mixture of spices and good bacteria ferment the meat which both flavours and preserves it. The skill lies in how the salami is kept, the humidity and temperature all playing important roles in the quality of the finished product.
This is where the Clarke’s skill as artisans comes to the fore.
The next time you are in their area make sure you support them and try what they have to offer. England’s food soul needs people like the Clarke family.