How Woodalls in the Lake District is flying the flag for British charcuterie

Colin surrounded by hams in the drying room

Colin surrounded by hams in the drying room - Credit: Archant

The art of making real British charcuterie would probably have been lost but for one family. Roger Borrell reports

A selection of salamis and hams

A selection of salamis and hams - Credit: Archant

Think of British charcuterie and the chances are you’ll conjure up images of vacuum-packed salami sweating on a supermarket shelf. It’s best left to the Continentals, isn’t it?

Certainly not, says Colin Woodall, an eighth generation butcher and master curer whose delicious meats are sold across the country in high end retailers such as Selfridges and Booths and are enjoyed by guests at upmarket events including Ascot and Henley Regatta.

What’s more, Woodall’s air dried hams have helped to fuel several Everest ascents as well as powering sailors in the Vendee Globe round-the-world yacht race.

And after talking to Colin for five minutes, you realise there is no reason why we shouldn’t be among the very best when it comes to producing charcuterie. It is just as much a part of our heritage as the French, Italians or Spaniards and Colin is busy reconnecting us with this almost forgotten English delicacy.

Black Pepper & Garlic Salami

Black Pepper & Garlic Salami - Credit: Archant

‘Our unique selling point is that we make British charcuterie – we don’t make charcuterie in Britain,’ he says. ‘Everything has its roots in what our family and others have been producing for the last few hundred years.

‘People think there is no tradition of charcuterie in this country. That’s just not true – you just have to go back in time to find it.

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‘Certainly in this part of the world, every family had a pig. It would go for slaughter in October or November and be processed. It was important there was no waste and they would make products that would happily keep at ambient temperatures because there were no refrigerators. That’s how traditional dry curing came about.’

Richard, who lives at the family home in Waberthwaite near Millom but runs the curing business from a base in Manchester, describes how the rear legs were turned into hams, the back became bacon and just about everything else went into Cumberland sausages.

These sausages, made with seasoning and spices but no rusk, were hung up in the kitchen like Christmas decorations. Those that weren’t eaten early on in the process dried out and, hey presto, they turned into salami.

‘When the Industrial Revolution arrived, people quickly left the countryside to live in the towns and that tradition was lost. That change didn’t happen in Europe so they never lost the traditional way of curing meat.’

Luckily for us, the Woodall family continued to use the age-old traditions and those techniques, skills and, importantly, the recipes were handed down the generations and they are now used by Colin when he is treating his supplies of outdoor reared pork.

‘Our products have been incredibly well received,’ says Colin. ‘There is growing interest in British charcuterie and we have spent a lot of time educating people about what it involves and the traditions behind it.’

While Woodall’s air-dried hams, salamis and pancetta are being enjoyed nationwide, the North West remains its strongest market. But there are signs of interest in the export market notably in Hong Kong, Dubai and Belgium.

‘I can’t deny that it will give me a certain satisfaction to sell British charcuterie to the Europeans,’ says Colin.

Went down well on the Titanic

It all started for the Woodall family in 1828 when they set up their butcher’s shop in rural Waberthwaite in the Lake District. Over the years they became nationally renowned masters in curing and smoking pork, obtaining the Royal Warrant in 1990. Across the decades, their products featured on such august menus as the ill-fated Titanic and Concorde, as well as giving UK adventurers a taste of home when they explored the world.

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