British charcuterie is pretty scarce these days. You are more likely to pick up some Spanish chorizo or a German salami than dry cured meats from our own fair land. The Dorset Charcuterie Company operate from their butchery and tea room, The Purbeck Larder, on the outskirts of Lychett Matravers in Dorset. Ben and Lee are the young entrepreneurs who have established this business, both trained butchers and crazy about the practice of charcuterie. I went over one morning recently to learn a little more about breaking down a pig and to see the setup out there. I rolled up into the old farmyard and made my way into the converted barn. It was early, seven am, and the boys were already in full flow. This being my first experience in a working butchers I was absolutely mesmerised by all the meat, trays ram-packed full of lamb chops, buckets full of mince, half a cow being chopped up on one bench by Lee whilst Ben made his way through half a pig. I felt very manly stood there amongst the dead animals, blood and blades. I lingered by Ben and the pig and all I could think about was reaching out and getting a good old squeeze of that bum cheek, not Ben's I might add, the pigs. The ham was large and from the side I could see it had a beautiful thick layer of fat surrounding the meat. I breathed deep and let the aroma of dead animal fill my lungs, it was satisfying. Lee showed me round the fridge and I got to see the sheer size of the cow sections, "The cows come from that field just over there, sometimes we go and pick the ones we want out." Lee then showed me through to the curing room where panchetta, coppa and guanciale were hanging. A bucket full of salt sat on the floor with the trotters poking out the top from two large hams."All the pork is from a farm a few minutes up the road." Lee informed me. What is so nice about The Dorset Charcuterie Company, is that they really are just so enthusiastic, the meat as local as possible and the dedication to charcuterie is something which I wholeheartedly believe will become a fantastic alternative to European cured meats. As we wandered back into the kitchen a tall thin man came to greet the boys and gave them a big blue sealed bucket. "Caught these eels for you in the river Piddle this morning." (yes the river is really called the Piddle) Ben and Lee explain to me how when you cut the heads off, that the eels still writhe and wriggle for several hours. Eels freak me out and fortunately they put this to one side to deal with later. Don't get me wrong, I love eating eels, but live, they are too much like snakes for my liking. Victor Borg, of River Cottage fame, does the smoking for the boys down near Kimmeridge and in the fridges you can find packs of smoked eel, smoked pork tenderloin and smoked bacons alongside the offerings of pancetta, coppa, Bath chaps, lardo and nice big fat lardons. It was time for me to take a look at the breaking down of a pig. I have had many adventures with severed parts of the pig but never had I witnessed the dismemberment of the beast into the traditional cuts. Lee was busy and so I merely stood by and watched him do what he does best. It was a surprisingly short process and it has now got me playing with the idea of breaking a whole pig down myself. At around £200 a pig, I don't foresee it happening anytime soon, something Emma, my wife, is thankful of. Before I left Lee brought out a ham which he had dry cured and aged for nine months. Bolted into a Spanish style ham holder Lee took paper thin slices of the ham. The salty fat melted with the heat from my lips and the meat had a flavour that lingered throughout my mouth. I looked up to the rafters to see several hams hanging, some already have names on, pre-ordered for Christmas. The Dorset Charcuterie Company or The Purbeck Larder is well worth the visit. The cured and smoked offerings are tremendous and I know Ben and Lee are always happy to talk you through various process without you feeling a fool for not knowing.
The Purbeck Larder
Telephone: 01202 625688