In 2006, when a farmer from Nottinghamshire dropped 20kg of costly free range bacon on my doorstep, I felt like I had made a big mistake. Firstly, our piddly domestic fridge was not big enough to fit hardly any of the bacon in - I had no idea how much 20kg actually was when I said "yes lets do it". We ( you will notice "I" has turned to "we" - Leah, my wife and Trick, our flatmate at the time, were dragged in to the whole debacle pretty quickly) set about filling cool boxes with bags of ice - visiting every corner shop in a 2 mile radius in the process. I was monitoring the temperature of the bacon every two hours as the ice slowly returned to water, before one of us went running out to get more ice from the next shop:
"you must be having a big party at home tonight, Sir"
"urrmm, not quite".
The next day I had to get up super early, pick up a huge commercial fridge, load in all the bacon, find a decent bakery, buy some 'tommy k' and 'hp sauce', get up again super early on the Friday morning, pick up some fresh rolls, lift an impossibly large gas cooker on to the station forecourt, light the cooker in the dark and finally start cooking the bacon that had been causing me so much hardship (phew). All this - not knowing if anyone wanted the rather more expensive [than your average] free range bacon rolls I had almost inadvertently started selling.
Originally I had not planned on any of this. My concept was selling freshly squeezed juice and oaty breakfasts, which were popular in sunny California, Sydney and the likes. Although people loved the concept, in slightly grey, damp and cold Wandsworth - in the middle of November - a Birchers muesli was just not cutting the mustard. Our grilled free range breakfast buns grew in popularity as we helped clean up pre-weekend hangovers in the local offices and hand out tasty treats to all braving the winter cold. It turned out people loved the idea of a simple bacon or sausage bun, made with fabulous free range pork - and the extra cost was fine as long as the quality stayed high.
A few years later, a change in petrol prices meant our original farm were no longer delivering to London, so we went on the hunt for a new pig farmer (as you do). The last time I was not even looking for bacon and 20kg ended up in my front room - so how hard could it be to find a new supplier?
Quite hard as it turned out. The reason being free range pork only accounted for around 1%-2% of British Pigs at the time - and not much more now we guess. The methods of looking after free range pigs are much more costly to a farmer, which means the meat is far more costly to buy. On top of this, the message about free range pork has not taken off in the same way it has for free range chicken meaning the demand is not as high as it could/should be.
There are many ways of labelling pork in terms of welfare, which makes it all quite confusing. Simply, 'free range' means the pigs have constant access to outdoor space while they are being reared and this just feels right to us. I have added some interesting links about this below.
After lots of bacon and sausage tasting (it's hard but someone has to do it) we finally found a family run farm in Devon producing free range meats ... and they delivered to London!! The applewood smoked bacon was incredible and the sausages were coarse and actually tasted of pork - this sounds a little silly but it turns out not many sausages do. Have a flick through their web site for a little more about their farm - Devon Rose.
Free range is not a stamp of quality - its just about how the pigs are reared but when the farm has spent so much effort looking after animals properly you nearly always find they continue the effort into production. By buying free range pork we don't just get an ethical benefit but we ensure we get the quality our cwtchers (see previous post for details) demand.
Next month, Richard, the owner of Devon Rose will be at our kiosk to chat to everyone about his farm, the weather or anything else on your mind and we will be cooking some sausage samples to munch on while you chat. We will send out more details nearer the time so look out for this in March.
Enjoy your weekend.
Pete from CWTCH
Some further reading about pigs as promised: