Why do the top chefs love Pugh’s Piglets in Garstang?
- Credit: H Forman and Son
Some of the world’s best chefs want suckling pigs and porchetta from Lancashire on their menus, as Emma Mayoh discovered.
It’s a calling card of high profile names any food producer would envy. Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay, Antony Worrall Thompson and Aldo Zilli are just some of the celebrated chefs that Pugh’s Piglets, near Garstang, have been able to call customers. Add to that Andrew Nutter and Paul Heathcote locally and you start to get the picture of how revered the family’s businesses reputation is.
‘We’ve worked hard,’ said Richard Pugh, partner in the family business. ‘People know that they are going to get quality from us because we make sure we only have the highest quality piglets.
‘But it does get funny sometimes. My mum once answered the phone and it was Gary Rhodes asking for us to supply him. She thought it was someone winding her up. It took her a while to realise it really was him. We’ve had some really famous chefs take our products as well as eat them. We supply The Goring in London and The Queen goes there. She has had our suckling pig.’
Pugh’s Piglets was first founded more than half a century ago, in 1965, by Richard’s parents Barry and Gillian Pugh. Barry was a pig farmer but as prices started to rise in the sixties, he started to look at other options. It was Gillian who came up with the idea of trying out suckling pigs. And the business soon mushroomed.
‘My dad started supplying to Chinatown in Manchester,’ said Richard. ‘And then he went to Birmingham and then to London. It took off really quickly. My dad was driving an MGB and I remember going to London with him with piglets all around me. It’s one of my first memories. Then we upgraded to a Ford Cortina until eventually we got a wagon. It was a bit like Reg Johnson did. Just went off down to London and we’ve built it up from there.’
Barry and Gillian, although still involved in the business, have taken a step back and Richard, along with wife Bernadette, have taken the reins. When Richard joined the family business as a teenager, fresh out of school, he thought he was in for an easy ride. Not a bit of it.
‘I was the typical teenager,’ said the 40-year-old. ‘I thought I would get all of the cushy jobs because I was the boss’s son. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I got all of the worst jobs. I’d been on work experience just before this, at a farm, when I had to skin and cut off the feet of rabbits.
‘Then I came back to the family business and I was sent to work at the slaughterhouse. My next job was to clean out the intestines of the pigs. I’d thought it would be easy. I gradually got promoted. I realised I had to do things properly. My dad really pushed me but he also opened my eyes and made me realise I had to put the hours in.’
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And Richard survived. Today, Pugh’s Piglets sell whole boned suckling pig, spring lamb which they source from North Wales, sausages including a Sicilian and Sardinian variety. But their real speciality, loved by chefs, is their porchetta. It was developed by their resident chef and Italian, Giovanni Miticheccia, who has worked for Pugh’s for over 20 years. He has taken his knowledge gained growing up in Rome and his skill to produce this tasty cut of meat, which is made into medallions. They do a traditional variety, based on the Rome region’s style of porchetta. It is lined with fresh rosemary, fresh garlic, bay leave and salt and pepper. Each roll feeds between eight to ten people.
The pigs are reared on farms across the country including in Bretherton, Parbold, Kirkham and Skelmersdale. All of the animals are brought to the family farm site at Bowgreave where they are prepared and dressed, ready to be sent out to customers. They source around 250 to 300 piglets a week to supply many establishments including Ribby Hall, Gibbon Bridge, Toll House in Lancaster, Manchester’s TNQ Restaurant and The White Bull in Alston. They work with old breeds like Tamworths and Saddlebacks.
They are served up and down the country. But the bulk of their business is in the capital where their pork is served at The Savoy, The Ivy and The Goring. They also supply high end retailer Forman and Field. But you’ll never find their products in a supermarket aisle.
‘We don’t want to water down or dilute our products’ said Richard. ‘It’s not giving any respect to the product and recognising how good it is.
‘Chefs love our products and that says a lot for how good quality they are. We’re very proud of what we do and we don’t want anything to change that.
The business has raised some eyebrows by those who don’t agree with selling piglets as food. But valves from some of their pigs have gone onto be used for a medical purpose.
‘Some of our pigs have saved lives,’ said Richard. ‘Their valves have been used for transplants and we’re very pleased that we’ve been able to help in this way. Of course some people don’t agree with what we do. But there is this other side to it also.’
A new chapter is emerging for the family business now. Richard and Bernadette have plans to move the business from the family farm to a special unit nearby.
‘It’s about taking the next step,’ said Richard. ‘We’re in the process of selling the land here and we hope we’ve found a site just down the road.
‘It’s time to move on from here now and start the next part of the Pugh’s Piglets story.’