Tag Archive for: pork

These beauties are giving you the hard stare. Stocky they may be, but Dexters punch above their weight in the beef stakes. Cross-bred with Longhorns, not just grass fed but rich pasture-nourished 24 hours a day, they produce meat that is unparalleled.

Expect to find this product from ‘Jane’s Farm’ at Poole Hall, Cheshire – alongside their ultimate free range pork – sizzling off the Josper at the reincarnation of Higher Ground. Repurposed as an ‘agriculturally focused bistro and bar’, it will open to the public in Manchester on Saturday, February 18. Here’s a link to their sample menu. There’s a palpable sense of elation that, three years on, the globe-trotting restaurant team that wowed at a pop-up in the fledgling Kampus development can now really fly. 

The pandemic restrictions clipped their wings. Two years of planning for one potential site ended in deep frustration. But Joseph Otway, Richard Cossins and Daniel Craig Martin battled back. Most visibly at Flawd, their natural wine bar up at Islington Marina in Ancoats. Otway got shortlisted for Chef of the Year at the 2023 Manchester Food and Drink Awards and was highly praised by Sunday Times reviewer Marina O’Loughlin. All this despite the venue’s very limited cooking facilities.

The real tools behind his artfully assembled small plates were the salad, fruit and veg sourced from Cinderwood, their own organic market gardenin deepest Cheshire. It was how the Higher Ground gang occupied the lockdown hiatus, turning over the one acre leased to them by Poole Hall’s owners, Jane and Chris Oglesby. Polytunnels and a shed  were built, horticultural nous acquired in the shape of head gardener Michael Fitzsimmons and a supply chain created to a network of enlightened restaurants. The future seeds were sown, but that has proved to be only the beginning as a deal has now been struck to take on Jane’s remarkable meat.

Higher Ground and Climat collab

The latest restaurant in Manchester to source from Cinderwood will be Climat, which hit the ground running just before Christmas. It’s actually quite a long way off the ground – on the eighth floor of Blackfriars House – and was praised to the skies last weekend by Observer critic Jay Rayner. Climat are actually going one step further by tapping into the ‘Jane’s Farm’ link-up that promises to make the resurgent Higher Ground such an exciting destination for 2023. The two restaurants have reserved a four-year-old heifer to share, avoiding wastage, and that beef will be on stream into the spring. But first the triangular farm to fork pathway will be forged by the pork on Joseph Otway’s launch menus.

Jane Oglesby has kept back six pigs from the autumn, which have been gorging on acorns in the Poole Hall woodland, so they each weigh a whopping 150 to 170kg. Noah’s Ark style, every fortnight a pair of pigs will be ferried to an independent, small scale abattoir on the Wirral, accompanied by farm manager Ste Simock. The carcasses then go to Littlewoods in Heaton Chapel, arguably the finest butcher’s in the region, to be jointed for the Higher Ground chef team. 

The end product may include (off the sample menu) pig head terrine, pickled garlic capers (£10), Jane’s acorn reared pig belly with grain and mushroom porridge (£24) and dry-aged pork leg steak, cauliflower, fermented mustard leaf (£20).

The beef, in its turn, will hang for at least four weeks at Littlewoods. Future plans include mutton from sheep sourced from Jane’s cousin in the Dales. A further third of an acre is being leased at Cinderwood, where sheep will graze, turning over the soil naturally, avoiding the plough, just a final ruffling with a rotivator before brassicas are planted on the site. The aim? Both brassicas and meat will be ready at the same time for a seasonal companionship on the plate. This is so true to the agricultural philosophy Jane espouses…

Jane Oglesby and the joy of regenerative farming 

After negotiating a maze of rutted country lanes in the Nantwich hinterland it’s after dark when we pull up at Poole Hall. So I have to take it on trust that out there across 200 acres those Dexter crosses and a scattering of their Belted Galloway rivals are revelling in being given the licence to roam and chomp the vigorous wild plant life, while in the woodland thickets Large Black x Tamworth porkers root for acorns. Just like their Spanish cousins. But they are still a work in progress, unlike the 120-strong cattle herd, which Jane Oglesby has been building up for over a decade.

I’ve come down from Manchester with Joseph and Richard to collect a couple of pork joints for the test kitchen ahead of a New Year’s Eve feast at Flawd (three sittings, check availability with them), where the centrepiece will be pork shoulder slowly seethed in milk. If it follows the Italian method for Maiale al Latte, lemon and sage will feature. As a dish it’s not a looker since when the pork is cooked the milk will have curdled into brown nuggets, but it will be delicious.

Inside Poole Hall, a sophisticated kitchen belying the country house’s Regency trappings, our host Jane offers us each a bowl of restorative beef broth. It reminds me of the ’dry-aged beef ends brothreputedly served when the great American ‘farm to fork’ champion Dan Barber transformed his upmarket Greenwich Village restaurant Blue Hill into a pop-up called wastED for two weeks. It later guested at Selfridge’s in London

You nailed it: creating thought-provoking dishes out of kitchen cast-offs. Even the candles were made out of beef tallow, which you dipped your bread into (Caroline Martins at her Sao Paolo Project in Ancoats was recently pulling off the same trick). Akin to the Italian brodo, that Barber brothmay not sound a radical statement but it marks a change of direction in a top-end restaurant culture that can be profligate with raw materials.

Using every part of an animal, capitalising on the virtues of vegetables, respecting the soil – Joseph Otway and Richard Cossins learned these lessons first hand while working together, as fish chef and front of house respectively, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. Barber’s farm to table restaurant is symbiotically linked with an on-site Rockefeller-funded non-profit farm and educational centre engaged with the pursuit of ‘regenerative farming’. 

That too is Jane’s hands-on mantra across her own increasingly fecund Cheshire land. No ploughing, encouraging wild nutrients in fields formerly given over to dairy farming. Result a yummy riot of clover, yarrow, trefoil, chicory, sheep’s parsley and plantain. She insists: “My belief is that when they have a multi-varied diet the meat is more tasty, all down to the variety of herbs consumed.”

It was through a mutual friend that Jane linked up with the Higher Ground team. As Richard Cossins recalled on my initial visit to Cinderwood: “Chris Roberts (a chef specialising expert in cooking with fire) had told the Oglesbys they really ought to meet us, we’d really get on, so they just turned up out of the blue at our Kampus pop-up launch night. Jane produced this pasture-fed beef from her handbag and Joseph, after opening the windows, cooked these amazing steaks.

“Jane really knew her stuff, had read Dan Barber’s (seminal) book,The Third Plate, and it  had inspired her quest for regenerative beef. We bonded at once and they offered to lease us land to start Cinderwood on the estate.”

One thing led to another. Joseph and his team got to appreciate the quality of the meat, while hosting private dinners for Jane and her husband Chris, chief exec at developers Bruntwood. All this culminated this autumn when the couple rendezvoused across the Pond at Stone Barns with Joseph, Richard and their Flawd/Higher Ground partner and natural wine expert Daniel Craig Martin (this NOMA alumnus met Joseph when the pair were working in Copenhagen). 

For Jane Stone Barns more than lived up to its manifesto of an integrated system of vegetable, cereal and livestock production, dedicated to cultivating new varietals, and its former employees recognised the Barber sustainable quest had even ratcheted up a gear.

What none of them was quite prepared for was their meat course in the kitchen there. By the fireside at Poole Hall Joseph shared phone images of the half a cow’s head they were served. Not nearly as shocking as the infamous horse’s head in the bed in The Godfather. Still it’s more approachable when the choice meaty bits have been levered out for you.

‘Jane’s Farm’ send their animals in pairs for slaughter to Callum Edge’s abattoir on the Wirral. To reduce stress they may be accompanied by Ste Simock. Day to day the herd is calmed by leaving the bulls with them and employing a 15 year-old dairy cow to impart her own field wisdom.

The Belted Galloways, brought in to be ‘finished’ are from her cousins’ farm up in the Dales – Jane’s first contact with agriculture. “As kids we used to come up from London or Birmingham to stay at their farm,” she recalls. Much has happened in the world of cattle rearing since then. Not least the shrinking number of small scale abattoirs like Edge’s, the latest to quit the century-old Mettrick’s in Glossop. The remaining ones are hog-tied in red tape, the industry geared to force-fed, accelerated growth livestock. 

“Pasture-fed animals necessarily take longer to grow, but regulations dating back to the Mad Cow Disease epidemic place restrictions on animals over 30 months old,” Jane tells me. This former GP, has said in the past: “The health of my family was what got me into farming. The combination of being a GP and a mother started me thinking seriously about what I was eating. When my daughter was a baby, there was very little information about what was in food or how it had been raised. 

“I started to read about hormone use in cattle. We had a friend who had a beef farm and all his cattle had permanent growth-hormone release things in their neck. I didn’t want my children to be given growth hormones, plus there was the use of pesticides on the cattle feed. I was at the point where I thought I might become vegetarian. Then I thought, we’ve got land, I could have a cow and my family meat that I’ve reared myself. Initially it wasn’t that much of a commitment, apart from the small amounts of time that one cow and its calf take.”

But what about the health of the planet, Jane? I ask this in the wake of Animal Liberation activists occupying Michelin-starred Mana in protest at them serving meat. All that cattle-generated methane contributing to global warming. So what are you thoughts on the George Monbiot documentary Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed The Planet?

“Big choices have to be made on behalf of the planet. We have to regenerate the soil. Extensive rewilding is not the right direction, reintroducing wolves and vultures and all that. Monbiot is an ideologue, who sets out to challenge existing norms, but is too embedded in what he proposes. I don’t believe in the stats he uses to convince us how much cattle contribute to global warming compared with so much else. His is not the way.”

Monbiot has been equally dismissive of sheep’s contribution. So let’s finish with a ‘nature will heal itself’ narrative from Jane’s resident flock of Shropshires. “We had this maverick sheep, which went off on its own to just nip off the tops of plantains (the ‘mother of worts not the banana cousin). It set us thinking. Perhaps it was ailing. This was finding medicine  the plantain is one of the great healing plants.”

So what to expect from the 2023 version of Higher Ground?

Faulkner House on the corner of Faulkner Street and and New York Street is the new permanent home for Higher Ground. The 3,000 sq ft space will seat around 50 covers, with the design incorporating floor to ceiling glass on two sides of the building, as well as a large island that will be shared between both the front of house and back of house teams. 

There’s no shortage of experience there. Richard Cossins’ CV includes fronting Feta at Claridges and Roganic for Simon Rogan, but he is pragmatic about the new project they have settled on. “We don’t feel like now is the time to be opening a tasting menu only restaurant. Flawd’s success has shown that an approachable, neighbourhood concept works well. It actually makes us question our original thinking. Starting with Flawd has been the perfect entrance to a new food and beverage landscape.”

Menus will change on a daily basis depending on the season and ingredients will be sourced from the North-West with a focus on organic, small-scale agriculture and small herd, whole carcass cookery.. The wine list will encourage discovery and curiosity with a spotlight on small-scale, low intervention winemakers from around the European continent.

Expect an a la carte offering as well as a sharing menu option priced at £45 per person, made up of both individual courses and sharing dishes, encouraging family-style eating. Example non-meaty plates could include Cumberland Farmhouse Cheddar Quiche and BBQ Leek Skewers and Cow’s Curd and Celeriac with Spanish Blood Orange and Bay Leaf. Curing Rebels charcuterie from Joseph’s native Brighton will continue to feature. Guests will be offered the choice of sweet or savoury options to round off their meal with Garstang Blue and Lager Rarebit sitting alongside Yorkshire rhubarb, Custard and Caramelised Croissant on the dessert menu.

The grill will be central to the operation. While head chef at Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In Otway followed the ‘second plate’ principles of veg dominating with a reduced amount of meat effectively forming the sauce. With the Oglesby tie-in he has to accommodate butchering and not wasting any part of whole carcasses. “It’s a daunting challenge,” he tells me. “It’s about more than the prime cuts. We are going to have to be creative.

“Now that we will have a full-scale kitchen to work with, we’re eager to further our existing relationships with the many local producers and farms here in the North-West. We should hit the very beginning of spring when the restaurant opens. From a produce perspective it couldn’t be more exciting,” 

Flawd will continue under the stalwart stewardship of Megan Saorise Williams with Where The Light Gets In fermentation specialist Seri Nam taking over in the kitchen.

Higher Ground, Faulkner House, Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4DY. Bookings now being taken. Walk-ins welcome.

Kitchen Opening Times: Wednesday 5:30pm-9:30pm; Thursday 5:30pm-9:30pm; Friday 12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-9:30pm; Saturday12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-9:30pm.

Bar Opening Times: Wednesday 5:30pm-11:30pm;  Thursday 5:30pm-11:30pm; Friday 12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-12am; Saturday12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-12am.

I came late to The New Forest National Park and it has found a nest in my heart. This 550sq km patch of ancient England is an all-year-round destination, but autumn is particularly alluring when the russet woodland plays host to Pannage. This is the practice of releasing domestic pigs into a forest (also known as ‘common of mast’), dating back to the reign of William the Conqueror, who founded The New Forest in 1079.

In this case up to 600 pigs are released to eat fallen acorns, beechmast, chestnuts and other nuts, which are poisonous to the ponies, donkeys and cattle which roam the forest. The season started in September and finishes on 18 November. It is the only time of year that the pigs are allowed to ‘roam’ – around the same time those commoner-owned native ponies are rounded up, some headed for auction. 

This New Forest breed is most often associated with this former royal hunting ground. Pigs, though, have their own special status, too. Just to watch the wilded beasties wolfing down acorns is enough to induce dreams of free range pork products There is a good reason celebrated hotel/restaurant chain The Pig, with its stalwart commitment to local produce, first took root in the heart of the Forest, just outside Brockenhurst. 

A glance at the original Pig’s ’25 mile’ menus reveals a Saddleback crackling snack, starters of Pannage Coppa or home-made black pudding, a Tile Bar Farm pork chop main and my favourite, Crispy Chilli Pork Belly, Garden Leaves, Makers Honey and Greenhouse Chilli – locally reared and grown ingredients, with zero-mile produce picked from their own kitchen garden.

A whole chapter of founder Robert Hutson’s The Pig Cookbook (Octopus, £30) is given over to ‘Porkology’, a snout to tail guide tackling the various breeds they farm and their kitchen uses, particularly charcuterie. Chef Director at The Pig James Golding even teamed up with a third generation local family butcher, Alan Bartlett, to create a curing company called A Pinch of Salt.

Which brings us to a more traditional outlet for all that pork. ‘Mr Bartlett’s Hampshire Hogs’ have a case to be the perfect bangers to match with mash. The recipe date back to Alan’s great grandfather. Jame and his team can’t resist updating the ‘secret’ blend with the addition of (my favourite spice) fennel pollen plus elephant garlic (think a cross between standard garlic and leek).

Hampshire Hogs

Ingredients: 100g breadcrumbs, rapeseed, 25g seasoning (roughly 20g salt, 5g sugar, a pinch each of sage, thyme and garlic powder), 700g boneless pork shoulder (80% lean, 20% fatty), 150ml cold water, sausage casings.

Method: Fry the breadcrumbs with a little oil until golden brown. Mince the meat straight onto the crumbs, adding the water. Mince again. Tie one end of a sausage casing with string, then insert the narrow part of a wide-necked funnel in the other end. With the back of a wooden spoon push the meat through the funnel into the skin. Once it’s full remove the funnel and tie the end. Pinch and twist into four individual sausages, then link and tie with with string. Overnight in the fridge. Best cooked over charcoal.

Enough ‘snouts in the trough’. So who needs Vermont when you’ve got the New Forest?

There are are many good places to walk and witness the autumn colours. Try the following. Hightown Common, located near Poulner in the Forest’s north, is perfect for experiencing colour on trees, from the brilliant yellow of the birches to the last clumps of purple heather and the delicate tracery of the dying brackens. The walk starts off by passing a clump of gorse bushes, which provide beautiful colour and a distinctive coconut scent. Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is probably the best-known road in the whole of the forest.  Considered by many as the ultimate autumn colour-burst, the drive was planted in 1860 and offers colour and wonder all year round, as well as the Forest’s tallest tree. Time it right, and you can also proceed on to Blackwater Arboretum to see the falling leaves twirl and float into the pond there.

Staying in the New Forest

Many of the forest’s accommodation providers offer good deals to fill beds in the autumn ‘shoulder season’, and quieter roads, pubs and restaurants make it the perfect time for a short break. One place I’d heartily recommend is the four-star Balmer Lawn Hotel (above). This is currently offering three nights for the price of two until the end of November 2022. The break costs from £145 per person, B&B, based on two people sharing a room, and  also includes full use of the leisure facilities including indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, jacuzzi and gym. Pigs can be spotted very close to the hotel, and some rooms are dog friendly (though dogs should be on leads where there are pigs.)

We stayed at Balmer Lawn on our pre-Pandemic voyage of discovery. Here’s my report on that equally enchanting spring visit – Tall Trees and A Small Dog in The New Forest. For further information on the area visit the New Forest website.

Regular readers of this website may have registered my passion for charcuterie. Be it the remarkable Italian artisanal products championed by one of my local haunts, Coin in Hebden Bridge or the Modena poaching sausage Cotechino replicated by a Liverpool charcutier trained in South West France.

British charcuterie has remained under the radar but, like our wine and cheeses, is now promoting itself as a real contender against continental opposition that has been curing or  smoking the stuff for centuries. Our own traditional brawns, haslets, chines, potted meats, even hams, are a whole different matter. We may have left Europe but when it comes to  a sharing platter it seems it has to be that French term charcuterie.

In Manchester I’ve recently enjoyed a selection (above) from Curing Rebels at Flawd wine bar whose chef/co-owner Joseph Otway is a huge fan of his fellow Brightonians, while the strong Scottish influence at the Butcher’s Quarter (Tib Street and Deansgate Mews) has seen them featuring nduja and salamis from Edinburgh’s East Coast Cured. A widely available pioneer, using no nitrates in their charcuterie, is an old favourite, Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire and the outstanding Cobble Lane Cured flies the flag for London across some prestigious establishments.

What all the operations have in common is combining curing skills gleaned from Europe’s finest with Britain’s exceptional raw materials.

Yorkshire border based, I’m happy enough to rely on Porcus three miles away as the pig flies, but there is Tyke competition from the multi-award-winning Lishman’s of Ilkley, who’ve stuffed a lot into 35 years of sausage making, pies, bacon and all things porky.

I’ve come late to their salami, though, the high profile of which has coincided with Emma Lishman joining dad David in the family business, the roots of which go back much further.

On the Lishman’s website David recalls: “I grew up on a farm where we raised pigs and turned them into bacon and hams, on the stone slabs in the cellar. My father taught me the recipe and method. He also grew up on a farm near Harrogate, and during WW2, the POWs from the local camp were brought to work on the land. One German was a butcher back in his homeland, and showed father how to cure and preserve the meat from the pigs on the farm. It’s a method we still use today.”

Stalwarts of Q Guild of Butchers, the body representing Britain’s best quality independent meat retailers, the Lishman team hand-craft their products in-house featuring pork from only Yorkshire high welfare outdoor bred pigs. It has won them a raft of awards, including two golds in the 2021 British Charcuterie Live Awards for their Yorkshire Black Bacon and Pork Hazelnut & Cider Salami.

My verdict on the Lishman charcuterie

Yorkhire chorizo This take on the spicy Spanish speciality won best gluten-free at this year’s Smithfield Star Awards run by the Q Guild. It is silky, the fat well balanced.

Fennel salami My favourite, even when not called ‘Finocchiona’. I am a fennel freak, liberally dusting many a dish with expensive fennel pollen, so maybe for me the spicing could have been more assertive.

Coppa A real depth of hammy flavour from cured pork shoulder loin.

Smoked York Ham Delicately smoked without compromising the creamy fat. Being honest, with all these products (available online via the website) and other UK providers I do regret mostly having to buy them ready sliced and packaged, however sustainably. I like slicing int the whole thing. A small grumble in the midst of such quality.

What do the composer of the William Tell Overture and a Liverpool charcutier trained in South West France have in common? A love of Cotechino. No, not the name of some cynical Juventus centre back but the most amazing poaching sausage I’ve left it far too long to discover.

Bel Canto maestro Gioachino Rossini was forever ordering this speciality of Modena in his native Italy, along with its culinary cousin, the sausage-stuffed pig’s trotter called Zampone. Both winter seasonal delicacies are based on the uncompromisingly porkiest bits – real nose to tail stuff. Modena, not short of World Heritage recognition for its buildings, was also assigned Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Cotechino Modena in 1999.

I ordered my debut Cotechino nearer home from North by Sud-Ouest Charcuterie, its bits sourced from free range rare breed pigs on the Wirral. It arrived as part of a £40 ‘Large Selection Box’ showcasing the pork-curing talents of one Andrew Holding.

Also in the pack, weighing in at over a kilo, were sliced selections of coppa (cured pork collar), cured pork loin and goula, the jowl bacon called guanciale in Italy; the spreading sausage nduja, two whole saucisses sec, lardons of Ventrêche (which formed a bacony base for a Coq au Vin) and whole, chunky, grey Cotechino bulging out of its natural casing.

If Andrew follows the traditional recipe, it is made from high fat content meat from cheek, neck, shoulder, fatback, and lots of pork rind, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and coriander. Made fresh in Modena, it would traditionally take hours to poach in simmering water until the rind softened to give the characteristic melting texture. The essence of Slow Food. 

My take on Cotechino with mustard and lentils

Here, pre-prepared and vacuum packed, it took just 20 minutes to warm through. 

These days most North Italians would do the same. They would also serve it, as I did, with lentils and mostarda di Cremona. For my Cotechino e Lenticchie I used the French Le Puy variety because they are incomparable; the mostarda, a mustardy candied fruit preserve, came (via Alexander’s Mediterranean Pantry on Todmorden Market) from its Cremona heartland, 90 minutes north west of Modena.

Mostarda di Cremona – if you’re making your own handle with care

Lockdown had me creating many pickle and relishes from scratch but life really is too short (again). I was put off mostarda making by my mentor in most things hardcore Italian, Jacob Kenedy, chef patron of Soho’s Bocca di Lupo. In his Bocca Cookbook (Bloomsbury, £30) he writes: “The day you are satisfied that the fruit is candied and the syrup thick enough, procure some essential oil of mustard. This may not be easy to find and should be handled like TNT. Rubber gloves must be worn, wear some glasses too and the bottle shouldn’t be sniffed directly. This may sound over-cautious – but it is a dangerous and irritant substance before dilution in the mostarda.

Andrew Holding has imported European charcuterie skills to Liverpool

Jacob, London-born and Cambridge educated so hardly a peasant, also crafts his Cotechino from scratch. Caveats here include the necessity of sourcing skin-on pig’s cheeks. Worth it because “lots of glands and gnarly bits in the jowl give an incredible roundness of flavour”. Pigskin is tough, used for making shoes, so Jacob advises it might be worth asking your already obliging butcher to mince meat and skin together through a 4.5mm plate. When the spiced mince  mixture is finally encased there’s a lot of sausage hanging to be done.

Better to buy one from North by Sud-Ouest or alternatively from Coombeshead Farm a restaurant with rooms featured in the recent Rick Stein’s Cornwall BBC series.

Best of all, when travel restrictions are lifted, head for the Emilia Romagna region at New Year, where they put into practice the old maxim ‘del maiale non si butta via niente’ (pigs are used till the last bit), with cotechino and zampone the centrepiece of celebrations. The lentil accompaniment to the former is believed to bring luck in the year ahead. If the mustard oil hasn’t blasted you first!