A taste of Dorset: From a great waste to a great taste
Tamsin Chandler meets the couple turning meat into golds at Capreolus Fine Foods
Published in January ’14
In the 2013 Taste of the West awards, Capreolus Fine Foods received a Gold award for every product they entered – in every category, ten in all. They then went on to clinch the Champion Product award for their Guanciale (dry-cured pork cheek), which the award-winning chef, food writer and restaurateur Mitch Tonks praised thus: ‘This really shone out as an extraordinary product that is beautiful in both appearance and taste. It has a strong West Country provenance combined with continental methodology, which keeps it true to its roots.’
When David Richards, a food lover and talented cook, was made redundant from a lucrative but unfulfilling career as a sales director in a nanotechnology company around five years ago, he and his wife Karen came up with the goal of producing world-class charcuterie and got right down to it. They work from a rural farmhouse in Rampisham, equipped with a set of simple tools – meats, spices, a wet room, a fermentation room, a smoking room and a small, trusted staff.
Capreolus (the taxonomic name for the Roe deer) are producers of Dorset charcuterie – cured, air-dried and smoked meats. Their approach is artisanal in practice, exacting in standards and always ethical in production and sourcing; the result is, they now count chefs including Yotam Ottolenghi, Jeremy Lee, Matt Budden, Hawksmoor’s Richard Turner and River Cottage as customers.
The orders are unrelenting – and so is the workload – but David and Karen couldn’t be happier. Due to Capreolus’ increasing popularity, the next challenge is to expand to meet production targets without sacrificing quality at any stage of the process. David and Karen are adamant they won’t.
Whilst remaining as loyal as possible to provenance, David has the confidence to be innovative and to conceive of new products. When Lawrence, his son, returned from a trip to France with some duck saucisson sec, David immediately thought to himself: ‘I could do that.’
He found the price of locally sourced duck too dear to be workable so, with some lateral thinking and investigation, David arrived at a solution which not only resulted in a new line, but also ticked another box dear to his heart – putting to good use a product otherwise considered to be food waste. ‘We love to use every part of every animal and especially animals that might otherwise be wasted,’ explains David. ‘That’s how the goose salami came about. We use “cull” geese – those from breeding flocks that have become too old (about seven years old) to lay enough eggs to remain commercially viable. These geese would normally be killed and then incinerated or rendered, as the meat is too tough for eating. However, we use this meat to make into a goose salami (blended with pork and pork fat).’
‘Another product making use of overlooked bits is our venison tongue rillettes,’ David says. ‘The tongues of deer are generally discarded along with the rest of the head, but we have developed a recipe to use it.’
Goose salami is now one of the bestsellers in the Capreolus range and the rillettes won Gold at Taste of the West Gold 2013. The range also includes smoked mutton (created for Tim Maddams of River Cottage), air-dried beef (essentially Bresaola, but it is illegal to use that name outside of the Valtellina valley in Lombardy) and Coppa (dry-cured pork neck). Unsurprisingly, David keeps his recipes and methods close to his chest, but many come with interesting and entertaining stories attached.
In any business, relationships are key. Capreolus have forged relationships with a select group of suppliers based on trust and a shared belief in ethical and sustainable farming. David and Karen display obvious pride and enthusiasm when chatting about their local suppliers, carefully selected for commitment to humane farming practices and, of course, superlative meat quality; these two factors tend to go hand in hand.
Capreolus source their mutton from Martin Hayman at Netherton Farm, Closworth and Clive Sage at Wyld Meadow Farm outside Bridport. Their pigs are from Sam’s Pigs – a family-run farm in Halstock where rare-breed Oxford Sandy & Black pigs roam and dig freely in the woods and are fed on the whey resulting from the cheese-making process from the neighbouring (and itself multi-award winning) Woolsery Cheese – another otherwise-wasted food product being put to excellent use. David suggested this traditional Italian farming practice be replicated in Dorset. Their rose veal supplier, James Seeley at Fossil Farm near Winfrith Newburgh, takes in the male calves from neighbouring dairy farms and rears them for seven to eight months, successfully using another ‘waste’ product of the food industry.
Let us finish as we started, with Mitch Tonks: ‘They [Capreolus] really care about what they do. We are not traditional meat curers in this country, but Karen and David Richards have perfected their craft. Capreolus Fine Foods are incredible innovators who truly deserve success.’
• Capreolus Fine Foods can be found online and at many farmers’ markets (including Bridport, Dorchester, Totnes and Borough Market in London), festivals and events. David and Karen also hold Smokehouse Open Days at in Rampisham. Full details of upcoming events and a full list of products can be found at www.capreolusfinefoods.co.uk