East Anglia produces 40% of British pork, so it's only natural this region should be leading the way in innovative pork products. Feast East, a regional food festival, recently gathered together the region's pork producers in Cambridgeshire for a celebration of all things piggy. MTJ spoke to three bacon producers about their success in the sector.
Fergus Howie has seen his business grow at a remarkable pace. He started as a pig farmer in Essex, but diversified into bacon and other pork products in 1999, concerned about the instability of farming. "We were trying to add value," says Howie, who has had to employ 15 extra people to cope with the expansion of Wicks Farm. "Our bacon is cured by hand over wood chips with salt and brown sugar. There is absolutely no water in it - in fact, the last water this bacon saw is the last drink the pigs had."
Wicks Farm is now selling bacon and its other pork products at a rate of 100 pigs a week to farm shops, delicatessens and some Asda stores in the East. The company's next move is to expand its range of cures and produce new ranges such as treacle-cured bacon, says Fergus.
Bill Palfreman has been making bacon for over 20 years and says the growth in demand for quality bacon is a welcome development for artisan producers. His business, Grangeworth Quality Farm Foods, supplies streaky and sweet-cure bacon to around 30 farm shops across East Anglia. It is small-scale - Bill uses three to four pigs a week - but growing. He says: "People want this kind of bacon now because they realise it tastes
better. Most commercial bacon is a very cheap commodity."
Another entrepreneur from the East is Ian Whitehead. Like Howie, he started as a pig farmer but was concerned that it might not provide a stable income: "Anyone who knows the pig industry knows that it's copper and gold - one minute you're making good money and the next you're losing a fortune," he says.
He diversified into sausage and bacon production in the early 1990s after noticing a large number of pig farms springing up in the region. "In 1995, we formed Lane Farm Country Foods. We dry-cure our bacon by rubbing salt into it and then hanging it up to dry," he adds.
Ian has since branched out into salami and is now thinking about producing