Saturday, 1 August 2015

What The Papers Say 2014 .........

We usually do this at Christmas time - look back at what the press had to say about Walk The Pork , Large Black Pigs and what we get up to at Scotts Field Pork. Last year however Sarah opened a new shop in December and is only just starting to draw here goes a belated look back (in no particular order) at 2014 starting with Stacia Brigg's feature in The Eastern Daily Press.

Stacia is the paper's feature writer and a huge supporter of all things foodie here in Norfolk - this is what she had to say about 'Walk The Pork'

'Yesterday Scotts Field Pork kick-started The Brecks Food and Drink Festival by holding it's annual 'Walk The Pork' event at it's farm near Oxborough, an invitation only tour of the pig paddocks for butchers, customers and food fans.

In attendance was MP Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Enviroment, Food & Rural Affairs, whose constituency includes The Brecks and who has long been a supporter of the area's food producers. (She said)

'It's a fantastic success story and just one of a number of success stories in The Brecks. What I hope events like this will do is help people understand the connection between the landscape and the food they eat.'

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Rare Breeds- Use them or lose them

The last thing that we looked at at ‘Walk The Pork’  was the benefits that a rare breed animal such as The Large Black Pig can offer commercial producers today and Rob spoke briefly about this:

‘Large Black Pigs are like all rare breed animals – you need to use them or lose them. They are our heritage, part of our rich farming history and so like a great cathedral should be preserved, however if there is no commercial reason to keep them then they become like a zoo animal that is in danger of distinction.

Fortunately The Large Black Pig has many favourable attributes that will appeal to the small producer so we have every confidence that they will survive.

 As a sow they have a very docile temperament, they are great mothers, they produce reasonable size litters, milk very well and produce great pigs.

The Large Black is white skinned but black haired so they don’t get sunburnt and as they have more fat than a commercial pig are able to cope better with the cold in the winter. Another benefit is that they cope well with both indoor and outdoor systems.

Finally, Large Blacks have a great conversion rate - I feed these sows about 20% less than I would a commercial pig which brings feed costs down and although we don’t do it this way they would probably survive on a forage based diet as they are natural grazers.'

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Walk The Pork - The RBST

It is a matter of great pride that Rob's work is recognised by The Rare Breed Survival Trust. Although we produce 'tiger pigs' which are a cross between a Large Black Sow and a Duroc Boar - finding a way of making this meat palatable for modern tastes means that we have been able to increase the national herd of Large Blacks thus helping to secure their future.

We are very privileged that The RBST Chair, Gail Sprake agreed to speak at Walk The Pork 2014.

'Thank you for the invitation to join you this morning and for giving me the opportunity to talk to you all. It is a privilege to be standing here, witnessing conservation in action.

Conservation is at the heart of what RBST stands for.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is the leading national charity working to conserve and protect the United Kingdom’s rare native breeds of farm animals from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, the public, corporate sponsors and grants and legacies in order to carry out the vital work we do.

RBST was founded over 40 years ago and since then no breed of British farm livestock has become extinct.

The picture was not so rosy in the first 73 years of the 20th century - breeds such as the Lincolnshire Curley Coated pig, the Small White and the Dorset Gold Tip pig breeds, Glamorgan cattle, Limestone sheep, the Suffolk Dun cow, all these breeds are consigned to the history books and their genetics are lost - for ever. They cannot be re-created, and once they are gone, they are gone. The UK has a rich and diverse heritage of native breeds across all species, more than any other European country - we have nearly 60 livestock breeds currently on our Watch List, and 74 native poultry breeds listed as at risk. That makes a total of over 130 native breeds at risk from extinction.

In 1973 when the Trust was formed, the Large Black pig was immediately placed on the Trust’s Watch List as a “critical” breed. Today, 41 years later, the breed remains on our Watch List and numbers have increased, with approximately 200 - 300 breeding females in the national herd.
That’s good news, but there is no room for complacency.

Our vision is to secure the continued existence and viability of the UK’s native farm animal genetic resources. We promote knowledge and the keeping of rare and native breeds, we monitor breeding populations, we work alongside the government’s Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR) committee, we support and participate in research, and most importantly, we maintain and develop our Gene Bank of rare native breeds. The National Gene Bank contains genetic material from all of the rare breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and equines on the RBST Watch List.

We aim to educate our farmers and livestock keepers as to the benefits of rare breeds.

We work with partnership organisations such as Plantlife and the Wildlife Trusts, most recently in the Coronation Meadows Project launched by HRH The Prince of Wales who is Patron of all three organisations, to restore wildflower meadows to the British landscape to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation. RBST takes every opportunity to emphatically reiterate that these wildlife meadows need grazing animals and the two are intrinsically linked. It is the rich diversity of our native breeds of farm livestock that have shaped the landscape we see today.

The Brecks is a classic example of this - the flat, free draining, predominantly arable land  provides an ideal environment for outdoor pig production, and grazing animals. One of our rarest native sheep breeds, the Norfolk Horn, is indigenous to this region, and when the Trust was formed in 1973 there were only 9 Norfolk Horn sheep remaining. I am pleased to say that today the breed is in better shape and listed in Category 4, At Risk, on the Watch List with 900-1500 breeding females. At the local Wayland Show in Watton last month there was a line up of 14 shearling ewes in one class, testament to the hard work and dedication of our Norfolk breeders who are passionate about our local breed.

Passionate is the description that is totally apt when one considers keepers and breeders of rare breeds. But these animals are not museum pieces, they are part of our farming way of life, and a sustainable farming future and we have to use them, or lose them.
Sarah and Robert are a great example to all keepers of rare breeds - they have taken one of our oldest pig breeds, risen to the challenge of sustainable farming, and guaranteed a future for this breed by using it. They have successfully educated the market to the superior eating qualities of our traditional native breeds.

I’d like to conclude by sharing one final thought with you - the media reported last week on comments made by the US Ambassador to Britain, Matthew Barzun, when asked by Tatler to describe his ideal dinner party dish. He responded by saying “I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes. I must have had lamb and potatoes 180 times since I have been here. There are limits and I have reached them”. I would have to say to Mr Barzun that it could not have been native breed lamb, thoughtfully reared, knowledgeably produced and carefully prepared.

Whether it is pork, beef, lamb or mutton, the flavour, taste and eating quality of our native breeds is beyond compare. As livestock keepers, we have to share the passion demonstrated by Sarah, Robert and their family; we have to eat them to keep them, or, use them or lose them.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Walk The Pork - The Chef

In 2014 we were privileged to be nominated for The Field to Fork Norfolk Food & Drink Award. One of our fellow nominees was Scott Taylor – Head  Chef at The Elveden Estate and a customer of Scotts Field Pork .The Elveden Estate is not only the largest in house farm in the country but it is also the gateway into The Brecks. We were delighted when Scott agreed to talk at Walk The Pork about his role on the estate as well as the estate’s policy for sourcing food in it’s restaurant.

‘ The Elveden Estate is 22,500 acres of Breckland of which only about 10,000 acres is used for arable farming, most of the rest is managed as part of various conservation projects. This means that The Elveden Estate Restaurant is part of a a very large scale operation. One in six Ryvitas comes from this farm in The Brecks  as well as 6% of the UK’s onions.

 When I first arrived at Elveden I found it quite difficult to use estate produce in our restaurant. This is because our farmers usually deal with a minimum order of 16 tonnes of onions for example, so finding a 10 kilo bag for me was a real pain. To their credit they have bent over backwards to try and accommodate me and this is because Lord Iveagh’s passion to use the produce that is around us here in The Brecklands is shared by everyone who works on the  estate. If it is not supplied directly by the estate it comes from small scale producers nearby, so we buy Red Poll beef from a gentleman that is a tenant on the farm and we use Jacob lambs from another.

We buy our honey from someone on the estate that has his own hives – last year we bought 600lbs of Elveden Honey to be used in The Estate Restaurant as well as The Elveden Inn. It is also the reason we like to support Scotts Field Pork which  is a brilliant product as the pork has a fantastic flavour. We could use commercial pork but that is not what we are about – it is important to us that we support small farms in The Brecks.

One of the things that we make from Scotts Field Pork is The Brecks Salami which is made from beef fat from the red polls mixed with the pork to make a fantastic product that is then sold to our customers.  The idea of the Elveden farm shop & restaurant is to be part of The Brecks food web. As a relatively large organisation we are able to buy quite a lot from the small producers that surround us enabling them to increase their business and employ more staff. We in turn provide employment locally and so the hopefully a large proportion of the money that is made in The Brecks by visitors spending at the estate shops stays in the area.

This philosophy has been developed further by the estate helping local small holders to increase their businesses by for example purchasing a flock of sheep which the small holder then buys back with a loan arrangement.

Here inThe Brecks we have  a unique landscape. You can see this as you drive past  the fields,the honeycombing of sand, the soil, chalk and flint. The productivity here is a credit to everyone that works on the land which is not the easiest on which to grow. When you go up Lincolnshire way and see that lovely dark peat soil it amazing to consider that we get anything out of ‘The Broken Land’. It is however our unique heathland that gives rise to a habitat for plants which are not found anywhere else on this planet  and this must give our animals which graze it a unique flavouring that wont be found elsewhere.

It is our relationship with our producers that creates interest with our customers. Like Vanessa I am on first name terms with them all and it is this that gives us a unique understanding of how the food has arrived in our kitchens.

In short we are an example of a large farm working with lots of small farms and I think this is the way the future lies to ensure the continued success of us all.'

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Walk The Pork - The Food Web

The story of a food web in The Brecks

We were joined on Walk The Pork by Vanessa Scott from Strattons, Scott Taylor of The Elveden Estate, Tony Potter of Impsons Butchers and William Gribbon from Heygates Farms, businesses both large and small - all of whom in some way contribute to ‘TheBrecks sausage Roll’ which is symbolic of the successful food web that we are involved with here in The Brecks. With less than 100 food miles being involved in it’s production it contributes towards the success of several family businesses who in turn create employment for others.

Vanessa Scott - Strattons
Can I start you off with a thought , one which is part of The CPRE report  and was voiced by Monty Don.  ‘Mapping Local Food is a powerful way to form our own connections to the land, landscape & nature. It’s a chance to enjoy seasonal produce, to discover the best, most wholesome and freshest food around us and the most distinctive varieties and taste. It is our chance to support a food network that is rich with variety and diversity and meaning. It’s our chance and we need to seize it’.

Now if you just hold that point I want to talk to you about something that happened to me about five or six years ago. I was in a ‘gastro’ pub on the outskirts of Norwich and the owner was determined to bend my ear about local produce. He knew that along with Richard Hughes of The Lavender House I spend a lot of time talking about sourcing food locally and was keen to point out that I had got it all wrong.  At the time he had a chain of hotels in small market towns and his philosophy was to buy it in and bang it out cheaply. He was very proud of the fact that he was a guest of honour at a dinner in London held by a national low cost catering wholesaler as that was where is was buying all his produce from.

Now I will skip ahead to what we do here in The Brecks. The Brecks Sausage Roll was my introduction to The Black Pig. The initial introduction came from Liz Truss our local MP who introduced me to Rob at Scotts Field Pork and it was through him that I met Tony of Impsons who is our local butcher in Swaffham. A butchers staffed by people with proper skills, they can talk about the meat and the cuts and tell you how to use the different products that they sell – so if you read about something in a recipe book they will happily present you with the cut you require for it.
The Brecks Sausage Roll which we produce in the cafe at Strattons is made half and half from Scotts Field Pork as well as Heygates potatoes and root vegetables from The Elveden Estate which people always find surprising as they think it is such a ‘meaty’ sausage roll.

It is projects like this that keep me interested in running our hotel, meeting the producers that come to the back door with their amazing produce and  stories.
A little footnote to my story.

 The man all those years ago who was selling breakfasts at £2 a head is no longer (strangely enough) doing that . Our business goes from strength to strength and it is because of items like our sausage roll which is a premium product (as they retail at £2.75). This might be considered to be  expensive, but it is because we have picked  the best ingredients we can . We have picked individual items that come from this area, that aren’t available elsewhere and which not only tell the story of the unique landscape of The Brecks but gives all our guests a unique visitor experience. It is a unique selling point which we should never underestimate.

Tony  Potter of Impsons
Our involvement with this food web is through the Black Pig which we take from Scotts Field Pork and sell not only to hotels in the area but in the shop as well. We add value by producing a dry cure bacon which more and more people are asking for as they are tired of the froth producing stuff they buy from a supermarket. We also produce a sausage – The Brecks Banger which goes into The Brecks Sausage Roll.

In our shop we probably have about 300 years worth of combined experience.  A local Tescos opened recently and the butchers there have hours rather than years of experience, something which the public need to know & understand if The British Butcher is not to continue to be a dying breed. As with all rare breeds you need to use us or lose us!

William Gribbon – Heygates Farms
At Heygates we farm about 6000 acres in around Swaffham on The Brecks light, sandy soil. We predominately grow potatoes and have created a brand called The Norfolk Peer. This is a high quality new potato that is sold in supermarkets , markets like Covent Garden & national wholesalers as well as more local ones in Norfolk. With The Norfolk Peer we have created a brand out of a commodity and are proud that here in Norfolk we are producing something of real quality. It is this potato as well has flour from our mills that goes into the production of The Brecks Sausage Roll.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Walk The Pork - The Farmer

I started the business in 2004 with two in pig Large Black gilts from a prison farm near Boston which we put in a field at the bottom of the garden in Scotts Lane – hence the name Scotts Field Pork. We expanded to six sows and a boar and moved to this farm in Oxborough in 2005. We continued to breed the pigs pure but found that although the taste & tenderness of the meat was most appreciated it was a little too fat for modern tastes. We decided to cross The Large Black with a commercial boar and after a series of experiments found that the Duroc Boar worked best by reducing back fat levels whilst maintaining intramuscular fat and improving confirmation. This made the meat we produce more appealing to our butchers and their customers and we have been able to expand the herd to about a hundred sows – seventy of them pure bred Large Blacks and about thirty Large Black cross Welsh sows using the Duroc as a terminal sire.

We originally chose The Large Black Pig as it used to be the commercial pig of choice for East Anglian farmers indeed my maternal grandfather had a herd of Large Black Pigs as did my paternal great grandfather who kept them in his Orchard at Blakeney so there is a strong family connection.

We also felt there was an opportunity to help a rare breed by trying to create a viable business based on the breed’s favourable eating qualities and it’s ability to thrive outdoors. This would give our butcher customers a product not available in the supermarkets and thus enable them to grow their pork sales.

In summary the business has four main aims. One is to provide an income for us as a family & hopefully a full time member of staff. The second is to increase the fertility of this Breckland soil on the host farm, the third is to promote the Large Black Pig and encourage others to do a similar thing with another rare breed. The fourth is to give our butcher customers a branded product to help to increase their sales within the local community

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Walk The Pork - The Minister

This year we held ‘Walk The Pork’ as part of The Brecks Food Festival – a three day event that takes place as part of the wider Norfolk Food Festival over the third weekend in September. It is an opportunity for everyone in The Becks to showcase their skills from ‘farm to fork’ and is supported by many local businesses including The Elveden Estate & Heygates  Farms.

We were delighted to welcome The Right Hon Elizabeth Truss who as well as being Secretary of State for  The Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is also our local M.P. Liz has taken a keen interest in The Brecks Food Festival since she was elected in 2010, recognising its significance in promoting both food & tourism in the local economy.

She kindly agreed to speak at Walk The Pork as the opening event of The 2014 Brecks Food Festival.
‘It is fantastic to be here again at Walk The Pork. I remember the first year that I was invited along. It was an incredibly hot day and I was amazed to walk into a field and find as well as some black pigs the most fantastic pork and bacon products on offer.

The pigs that you have here are a very rare breed producing a fatter meat which is I believe is coming back into fashion as tastes change - they certainly produce fantastic meat. Since that first walk I have seen The Black Pig being sold in many local shops, cafes and restaurants. Yours is a great success story and is part of the wider success story of The Brecks.  We have The Brecks Food Festival that Vanessa Scott of Strattons Hotel has been so instrumental in making happen to showcase other great Brecks produce such as The Norfolk Peer potato which anyone can now buy in their local supermarket.  In season we also have fantastic asparagus produced in the Brecks. I think that what the festival is doing is helping people understand the connection with the landscape, it is a incredibly unusual landscape with amazing bio-diversity which co-exists with really fantastic products that people want to enjoy and eat.

I am pretty obsessed with local food. It’s a great movement which is helping people connect with the environment and nature as well as our history.  It is great that the festival is going from strength to strength. It is good for tourism and raising the profile of The Brecks.

As DEFRA Minister I am very open to ideas about what we can do to promote sustainable agriculture,  to make sure in Britain we are eating our indigenous food, our fabulous local food as well as getting the opportunity to export as well.’