Charcuterie is a generic term for products traditionally sold by charcutiers (pork butchers), and includes cured and cooked meats, fresh and smoked sausages, pâtés, black puddings and salamis.
Although traditionally associated with Italy, Spain or France, an increasing number of British producers and pub caterers are turning their hand to salting, smoking and curing air-dried meats.
Ideal for sharing platters and bar snacks, charcuterie products offer pubs the opportunity to bridge a gap between lunch and dinner, creating additional food sales.
BPEX Foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger says: "A number of pig farmers have diversified their businesses to offer added-value products such as charcuterie of late, and there is real demand for it.
"Customers are often delighted to learn that charcuterie products they would normally associate with suppliers on the Continent have been sourced from emerging artisan producers in the UK."
At Brains pub, the Kings Arms in Pentyrch, on the western fringes of Cardiff, licensee and sous chef Padrig Jones is using bought-in charcuterie from a Welsh supplier to help drive food sales.
He says: "Most business is between Thursday and Sunday, so it's all weekend business really and food like this is ideal.
"On holiday, people often get a little plate of salamis with their beer and may think, 'I wish we did that at home'. We've done it at the pub for a while now and I think charcuterie will get even more popular during the summer."
He adds: "I always use the Trealy Farm name on the dish I'm using its meat with, because it always seems to be a good sales point for a dish.
"At the moment, I'm using the Monmouthshire air-dried ham with a celeriac and apple salad, which is quite a good seller.
"I also do the Trealy Farm charcuterie, which is a platter of different salamis and cured meats — I've found this to be really popular."
Finding a cure
Many operators are trying their hand at curing and smoking their own meats and fish to add a point of interest to their menu.
At Minnis Bar & Restaurant, in Birchington, Kent, chef-patron Jason Freedman cures, smokes and pickles items for the pub's menu.
Constantly setting themselves new challenges, Freedman and his team of chefs decided they would follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and learn the art of home curing, smoking, brining and pickling their own foods in-house for the spring and summer menus.
The bar serves its creations in a variety of dishes, such as chorizo with grilled oysters; platters of home-produced meats with home-pickled seafood; home-pickled vegetables and home-made chutneys; corned beef hash with spring greens; home-cured bacon, cockle & mussel pie; and an open sandwich of home-made pastrami, home-pickled gherkins, English mustard & home-made piccalilli.
"We are using traditional methods with a few modern technological twists, to create a whole range of produce," adds Freedman. "This year we'll have salt beef, corned beef with dripping, smoked pancetta, home-cured streaky bacon, sweet-cured air-dried pork loin, and pastrami, including smoked pastrami," he adds.
But, when there is already so much to do to run a pub, isn't it all a bit time-consuming?
Jackie Hayward, licensee of Greene King tenancy the Crown in Burchetts Green, Berkshire, decided to stop serving home-cured charcuterie because demand grew too quickly for the pub to maintain.
"Doing your own curing is very time-consuming," says Hayward, admitting that the only reason the curing stopped was because the demand was so high it left no time for her small team to do much else.
"I think when we started, we didn't realise how the business would take off. We began to have more and more customers and, therefore, we didn't physically have the time to do it all," she laments.
"It was a good idea, but I would think it probably needs a bigger outfit — a larger pub with a kitchen of, say four, five or six chefs where someone has time to devote to it."
For pub caterers who find themselves short of time, there is a wealth of quality produce available from suppliers, such as the Bath Pig and Woodall's (see box).
"Sometimes we just do fillet of duck breast or gravlax ourselves, as and when time allows," says Phil Bennett, owner of the Brace Of Pheasants in Plush, Dorset, suggesting it's not something that needs to be kept up consistently and can be factored in around quieter times of the year.
"People go mad over it," agrees Karl Mainey, owner of the Crown Inn, a freehouse in Roecliffe, North Yorkshire. He has his own on-site smokehouse at the pub and champions the technique.
Mainey says the pub, which has a 70:30 split in favour of food and four guest ales on the bar, making it both a destination venue as well as a friendly watering hole for locals, is simply taking note of what people want. "People want natural products that don't contain preservatives or agents," says Mainey, describing how, these days, the nation is much more conscientious about fresh, seasonal local produce with no nasties included.
"People want to see chefs getting down to basics and doing things themselves too," he adds.
"That's why we smoke all our own salmon, duck breasts and venison. We also make our own black pudding, bread and even goats' cheese now. At the Crown Inn, it's all about cooking, with 97% of the ingredients being our own."
Mainey insists that creating charcuterie and smokeries on-site at a pub is something anyone can do.
"I just went into a charity shop one day and saw an old book in there that I liked: Home Smoking and Curing by Keith Erlandson. It was all about smoking your own foods. Being a fisherman, catching my own salmon and trout, I was quite interested in it. The book showed how to build your own smoke-room. I started off with a little smoker — a small shed —and things just got bigger and bigger."
Having his own smoked items on Mainey's menu has gone down well with customers too — and it's a badge of honour among the locals.
"We've had an amazing response and people are incredulous that we do it all ourselves," says Mainey, hinting that having a story to tell customers about a dish is a plus point. It gives the menu provenance, offers transparency and reassures.
"Everything is home-made, using the best-quality ingredients. Nothing is hidden".
Wadworth pub the Longs Arms in Upper South Wraxall, Somerset, has re-opened with a smokehouse.
Licensees Rob and Liz Allcock are re-locating their smokery business to the site, smoking meat and fish to use on the menu and sell at the bar.
Rob uses Wadworth's 6X with molasses and salt to cure his salmon before smoking it. This highly unusual cure produces a delicious smoked salmon which the Allcocks find is much in demand in local hotels as well as in the pub.
• Grasmere Grunta: traditional locally-made salami from Grasmere Farm
• Cumbria Air-dried Ham: Richard Woodall produces a prosciutto-style ham that is traditionally dry-cured. The curing mixture is rubbed into the meat by hand. The meat is then laid on a bed of salt to cure for up to one month and matured for up to 12 months.
• Allendale Black Ham: butcher George Payne, of Brunton Park, Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne, recently teamed up with Allendale Brewery, near Hexham, Northumberland, to make a special black ham with a slightly sweet flavour using Tar Bar'l stout as part of the cure.
• Trealy Farm Charcuterie: an outstanding selection including salami and pancetta, plus air-dried and beech-smoked meats from Trealy Farm.
• The Bath Pig: an award-winning British chorizo, containing British pork, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, ginger and garlic.
• Serious Pig: British salami — www.seriouspig.co.uk.
• Do things in small batches first and experiment.
• Take a good base recipe and make that first, then start adding your own twists.
• When smoking