There is no such thing as ‘a chorizo,’ nor is there such a thing as ‘a salami’ or ‘an air-dried ham.’ Each individual piece of finely crafted charcuterie is different in its own right.
“You go to one town in Spain,” said James Swift of Trealy Farm, “and it tastes different than somewhere ten miles down the road.
“You go to Italy and you get an air dried ham,” he continued, “you go 20 miles down the road and it’s a completely different air-dried ham.” This regional variation in taste is something that he claims Britain has lost sight of, but is beginning to make a comeback.
With a French mother, a young James spent a lot of time across the Channel and grew up around the stuff. “I was always showered in charcuterie,” he joked, but back then he was not to know that he would one day be producing what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has described as “the best artisan charcuterie in the UK.”
Using rare breed pigs, lamb, beef, venison, wild boar, rabbit and even goat, Trealy Farm expertly creates a broad range of around 40 different products from their award winning air-dried lamb to cured sausages and salamis.
But despite having arguably mastered the ancient art of charcuterie, James hasn’t always been producing it and although farming was in his blood on his mother’s side, he pursued a career in education policy for the government in London. After meeting his wife, who grew up on a farm in Snowdonia, they made a break for it.
“As soon as we met,” he explained, “it was like ‘let’s get out of here!’”
It wasn’t for a few years that he would settle on the idea of making charcuterie commercially. Having reared pigs, he realised he wasn’t obtaining a viable rate for them. “I never wanted to run that sort of business,” he said, “I wanted to run a business around the food that came from farming. I didn’t want to be a farmer.”
After three years of “scrambling around” he met former business partner Graham Waddington at the Abergavenny Food Festival whom he shared a passion for fine quality charcuterie with. That coupled with the fact that the fattier rare breed pigs he reared had the perfect characteristics for making excellent meats, it only made sense to put two and two together.
“Looking at the continent, all the top charcuterie lines are made from the rare breed pigs in those countries,” he explained. “In Spain the Pata Negra, in Austria and Hungary the Mangalitsa.
“One thing we’ve got in Britain is far more rare breed pigs than in Europe,” James continued. “We’ve got ten or eleven here which is far more than any other country in Europe.”
As well as rearing the hairy Hungarian Mangalitsa, they currently keep Gloucestershire Old Spots and Saddlebacks making up 80% of their drove. Trealy also works on a coop basis with between 30 and 40 small farms where they get other breeds such as Tamworths.
Graham has since left the business but Trealy Farm has gone from strength to strength. Despite all his awards however, James still enjoys the day-to-day contact with his customers more than any accolade or medal. “If I’m at a farmers market and I sell something to someone and they come back the next week and tell me they’ve made a good stew out of it, which I’ve suggested and said its really good,” he said, “that is what I enjoy more than anything else.”
From extensive travelling all over Europe, learning and mastering various techniques from Spain, Italy, Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland, coupled with a lot of trial and error, James’ produce has rightly gained wide acclaim. “It’s about creating something distinctive,” he said, “It’s about starting a new type of charcuterie.”
James and Trealy Farm have done just that; a British style of charcuterie that is on par with the centuries old styles found in Europe.