Salami a ‘cure’ for diversity challenge

Article by Sam Butler in News Letter on 4 October on Ispini Charcuterie, Aughnacloy

A book on pork from his wife led Tyrone pig farmer Jonny Cuddy to become Northern Ireland’s first producer of spicy salami sausages. He’s now creating fabulous flavours from France, Spain, Italy and Poland on a 120-acre family farm near Aughnacloy.

European delicacies such as Saucisson Sec, red hot Chorizo Picante, Finnochina, Coppa, Bresaola, Nduja, Lomo and Kielbasa sausages are now being produced by the enterprising farmer, the driving force in Ispini Charcuterie, a small food business he established in August. He’s also using other local ingredients including spent grain from Pokertree craft brewery in nearby Carrickmore in curing meat from his pigs.

“I was looking around for ways to increase the return from our pigs,”he says.” Turning any sort of reasonable profit in farming has become very challenging. I was keen to find something other than bacon. There are just too many people here already producing great bacon and gammon and I didn’t see much room for growth. What I needed were niche products that would be capable of commanding a premium,” he adds.

“The idea to make salami sausages came from a book given to me by Sarah, my wife, who’s a nurse in Belfast,” he continues. “I liked the look of the salamis and was also influenced by the fact that that no-one else is producing the spicy sausages here. While I really didn’t know much about salami production I was determined to find as much as possible. I started buying the sausages to taste and see the ingredients used to make them.”

Jonny has been farming with father Raymond and brother Robert since leaving university and now looks after 300 sows on the family farm. He is the latest example of the enterprise and smart thinking in local farming industry. Ispini Charcuterie, the jonnyname he has chosen for the enterprise and the products, is taken from the Irish for sausage.

“There was a time in Ireland when many family farms cured their own meat to preserve it using ancient, mostly family, recipes. Sadly, this isn’t common today. While many people will have experienced varieties of cured meats on holidays in Europe, these have tended not to feature on local dinner tables. But times are changing, and I hope that my work will help to revive this near extinct tradition. Local restaurants are also helping to raise the level of awareness here of the delicious flavours the different sausages offer.”

He’s also found an enthusiastic supporter in the shape of Sean Owens, one of Northern Ireland’s most respected chefs and the managing director of Aughnacloy-based Montgomery Food Consulting. Together they began sampling and developing recipes for salami and chorizo sausages in Montgomery’s state-of-the-art kitchen facilities in the Tyrone border town.

“It’s been quite a sharp learning curve,” Jonny continues. “Sean, of course, has a wealth of knowledge in cooking with salami and chorizo meats and knew a great deal about how they are produced on the continent. I was fortunate enough to gain an innovation voucher from Invest NI which enabled me to tap into the expertise at Loughry College in Cookstown especially in key areas such as nutritional information and shelf-life.

But making salami and other products also requires great butchery skills. Jonny and Sean turned to the School of Artisan Foods at Welbeck in Nottinghamshire to extend their charcuterie knowledge and skills. “Working with Chris Moorby, the charcuterie expert and master butcher at the school, was a marvellous experience. We learned a massive amount about fermenting sausages, how best to create new recipes, and other important issues such as food safety and hygiene,” he says.

The trip to Nottingham also enabled Jonny to see the growing popularity of charcuterie in Britain and the revival there of ancient curing techniques for a wide range of delicious meats. It’s a revival being driven by influential organisations such as the UK Guild of Fine Food, the company behind the hugely successful Great Taste Awards.

Jonny has invested in essential equipment such as fermentation cabinet for the new products being developed in Aughnacloy and has set his sights on sales to high-end restaurants and delis here, in the Republic and Britain. The cabinet allows him to ferment sausages in a tightly controlled and hygienic environment. In addition to the various cured sausages, the innovative farmer is developing an original charcuterie board with the products for delis and chefs to sample.
“Northern Ireland has everything we need, especially an abundance of great meat, to create a successful charcuterie business,” he says. “Our meat is produced using the highest animal welfare standards to ensure outstanding flavours and premium quality. Ispini Charcuterie is now also developing the curing and preserving skills that can be combined with our superb meat to produce wonderfully tasty and deliciously different products.”