Herd the lat­est?

Linda Duf­fin meets a pro­ducer mak­ing char­cu­terie from lamb

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

MOST an­i­mal lovers get them­selves a cat or a dog, per­haps a horse if they have the space, or a ger­bil if they don’t. Not Vic­to­ria Lea. A child­hood spent hol­i­day­ing in the Lake District gave her an abid­ing love of Herd­wick sheep and once she had fin­ished her de­gree at Writ­tle Col­lege in Es­sex and got back from a year’s trav­el­ling, she bought her first flock of six.

“I like Herd­wicks. I think they have friendly faces,” Vicki con­fides. Hud­dled on a freez­ing day by a rented field hold­ing part of her flock, I give her tru­cu­lent-look­ing ram the squint-eye, but I can see what she means. They are hand­some beasts and the ewes, at least, look placid.

“I like their tem­per­a­ment and I like to try to keep that con­nec­tion with Cum­bria,” says Vicki, who orig­i­nally came from Cheshire but now makes her home in Stoke-by-Clare. “They are hill sheep and they do re­ally well here. In fact, we’re try­ing to get some cull ewes down from the fell. You can get a few more years out of them down here be­cause the en­vi­ron­ment is kinder.” I pull my jacket tighter and try to stop my teeth chat­ter­ing, but I can imag­ine that the soft, green fields of Suf­folk are like a holiday camp for sheep used to the bleak win­ters of the Lake District.

Vicki is made of sterner stuff, which is just as well be­cause she takes care of her flock, now 50-strong, on top of her day job as an IT spe­cial­ist for the Na­tional Health Ser­vice. The 32-year-old is out in the fields, come rain or shine, at ev­ery spare mo­ment and she doesn’t have too many of those. Her part­ner, Sam, who also works in farm­ing, helps out, but most of the work she does sin­gle-handed.

“I work flexi-time with the NHS, four days of nine-and-a-half to 10 hours. I’m less busy with the sheep in win­ter but at lamb­ing time, when I’m trim­ming [shear­ing], or mov­ing them to new pas­tures, and with gen­eral hus­bandry, I don’t have much spare time. I do farmers’ mar­kets most Satur­days and one Sun­day, and I’m booked into a lot of food fes­ti­vals this year,” she says. She re­ally loves those sheep. So much so, in fact, that she would like to turn them into a full-time job. But with no land of her own it is not easy to make that a pay­ing propo­si­tion.

Vicki has al­ways sold lamb boxes of a half or whole sheep. She slaugh­ters them as hoggets at be­tween one and two years of age, and says she’s got good feed­back in terms of qual­ity and flavour. “That was plod­ding along nicely but it wasn’t re­ally go­ing any­where as

‘They are hill sheep and they do re­ally well here. In fact, we’re try­ing to get some cull ewes down from the fell ’

such, we haven’t got the amount of graz­ing land that we need to keep the amount of sheep we need to turn it into a full-time busi­ness. So I was look­ing for some­thing else to do with it. I wanted a stand-alone busi­ness to sup­port my­self and was look­ing for ways to make the meat more prof­itable. In Europe they make char­cu­terie with these meats so I thought, why not?” And so The Lamb Char­cu­terie Com­pany was born.

Vicki was in­tro­duced to Jackie and Sarah Kennedy, from Marsh Pig Char­cu­terie in Nor­folk, who, in ad­di­tion to their own range, make salami and other cured meats for clients. “They ad­vised me to come up with recipe com­bi­na­tions and I came up with our first four flavours, which I gave out to friends and fam­ily and got lots of feed­back. Orig­i­nally we had four salamis, then we did a very hot Ha­banero salami for Christ­mas and we’re work­ing on new flavours this year.”

The cur­rent range of salamis is de­li­cious – rose­mary and gar­lic, smoked mint, fen­nel and orange, and cracked black pep­per, all of which marry well with the lamb. They are good as they are but Vicki cooks with them too, mix­ing her chorizo into Bolog­nese sauce and lasagne and serv­ing the pep­pered salami with scal­lops.

“Even­tu­ally I’d like to take over mak­ing the char­cu­terie my­self but I have al­ready made a big in­vest­ment to get to where I am now,” she says. “We have a build­ing in the gar­den we want to con­vert and we’re look­ing at var­i­ous lo­cal grants to help us with that. We should be slic­ing and pack­ag­ing at home from March and the next step will be pro­cess­ing it on site.” I be­lieve her. It’s clear this hardy north­ern lass has trans­planted to Suf­folk quite as suc­cess­fully as her sheep.

‘Orig­i­nally we had four salamis, then we did a very hot Ha­banero salami for Christ­mas and we’re work­ing on new flavours this year.’

Vic­to­ria Lea of Herd­wick Char­cu­terie for Suf­folk Mag­a­zine.

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