Connoisseurs have been praising the quality of Gloucester Old Spot pig for decades. But now they have another way to enjoy it. Hemyock Farming couple Clive Counsell and Donna Lucking have developed Gloucester Old Spot salami – and it's proved an instant hit with their customers at farmers' markets.
The Gloucester Old Spot is one of the most popular of Britain's minority breeds but was on the point of extinction a few years ago until an organised breeding programme hauled it back from the brink.
Traditionally the breed flourished along the banks of the Severn where the pigs were finished on windfall apples before the autumn slaughter. The system imparted a deeper, more complex flavour to the meat and earned the animal its "orchard pig" nickname.
Now Gloucester Old Spots are very much back in fashion, with the country's leading chefs praising their outstanding eating quality. And increasingly, the animals are finding their way into specialist products such as air-cured hams.
Clive and Donna keep five breeding sows on their farm in Hemyock, and outdoor-rear between 50 and 60 progeny at any one time.
"We try to keep a constant turnover because we need them to finish at exactly the right weight," said Clive. "But they are wonderful animals to keep: they are very docile and we look on ours as pets more than anything. And that is the key to producing top-quality meat.
"We know precisely how they have been fed and how they have been treated and both of those things have an effect on the product."
The couple turned to salami making to add another line to their Ellises Farm products, which already include green and smoked bacon and hams.
The pigs are hung for a week following slaughter then professionally butchered locally.
Making successful salami depends on being able to cure the sausage in a carefully controlled atmosphere so that the product retains some moisture.
But, said Clive: "Donna has always been interested in this kind of thing so we thought we would have a go. We converted part of a barn into a cutting room and she really taught herself.
"We didn't get it right straight away: it took us about six to eight months to get the product right and up to a standard where we were happy to sell it, but as soon as we did it really started going well. Our customers seem to love it."