Each newsletter we will be interviewing a independent producer who is smashing life. This week we talk to Mat Atkinson from Cobble Lane Cured https://www.cobblelanecured.com
What inspired the switch from butchery to making cured meats for a living?
We wanted to do something that went a bit further than traditional British butchery, using the experience and skills that Adam & Matt Hill had picked up over years in the trade. There weren't many people with Adam's experience in making air dried and fermented meats when we started so it made a lot of sense to have a go at that! Incredibly, at the same time that we were hatching rough plans for a little charcuterie business, we met an amazing guy, Luca, who had just set up a "salumificio" in Islington. He and his Dad were making some salami and wanted some help. It's a story with some twists and turns but we ended up buying the factory from Luca. That sounds suspicious. For clarity - Luca didn't end up in the salami!
Where and how did you learn to make charcuterie?
Adam's experience working for producers in Sardinia, Sicily, Hungary & Germany has been the basis for developing Cobble Lane Cured's range. Matt Hill has been in butchery since he was 13, running butcher shops before setting up Cobble Lane. So Matt learned from Adam when we began and brought his own experience of working with top quality British farmers and suppliers.
Making great charcuterie starts with a great raw / fresh meat product so working closely with suppliers has been really important to developing our charcuterie. Working in kitchens, cheffing, Rob has always been a charcuterie enthusiast. Like a lot of people he started experimenting for himself in his mum's shed! But that wasn't enough for him so got in touch with us and asked us if he could come and learn from Adam & Matt whilst helping out. He became a vital member of the team so we couldn't let him go. But he is still making his meats in a souped up Mum's shed and they're very good! Check out Hilton Hams at Kew Vllage market.
How did the team come together, were everyone friends beforehand?
We were all friends when we started and still are. Some of us more than just friends as well!! Three of us (Adam, Matt & Mat)l worked in a butcher shop in the City together. Lucy and Matt Hill have been together since they were 17. Sabina & Adam have been happily married for 15 years. Rob joined the team in 2014 to get some charcuterie making know-how, but mainly impressed the team with his comic timing and a face made of putty. So we held onto him. He's also very good at making charcuterie now.
Once the idea had been planted, how easy was it to make Cobble Lane Cured a reality?
We were very fortunate meeting Luca, who had set up the factory in Islington, at the same time that we had decided to do our own thing. Then things moved very quickly. Within 6 months of beginning to chat very casually about what we could do we had a small salami factory! We managed to get going on a shoestring budget but the next couple of years were tough. Charcuterie making is a fickle beast and it takes time to get to the point it's ready to sell. So we also made a lot of frankfurters and beef jerky in the early days. These are quicker to make and we sold franks to football stadiums and street food traders and some charcuterie, jerky and beer sticks on our own market stalls. Nowadays we focus on salami and production of whole cuts like coppa, bresaola, hams & pancetta and we sell everything we can make to the restaurant trade.
Run us through what a typical day at Cobble Lane Cured looks like?
Meat deliveries come in early, around 7.30am
Meat will be cut and prepared for making salami and pepperoni for the week There may also be some kielbasa to smoke.
Orders are being prepared and sent out between 8 - 12
Trollies of finished product have to brushed down to thin out the mould before packing and storing.
On a really good day someone (often Sabina or Matt Hill) will make a "family" meal for all of us.
In the early afternoon we often have visits from chefs and existing customers' teams. We give them a little tour (it's a very small factory) and we try all of what we make here. It's a great way to show people what goes into making a our meats.
Using top quality meat appears integral to your ethos, how do you choose where your meat comes from? Does your product range change depending on what is available?
Of course we only buy British meat. We work with a small number of very good suppliers and we work closely with them. We try to help them by taking what their other customers aren't buying so much of - flare fat, legs of pork, whole sows (older animals for breeding).
How long does it take to make a salami from start to finish?
It depends on the kind of salami you want to make, soft & fresh or hard, dry & mature. That's anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months.
How much about making charcuterie is a fine science, is there much room for creative manoeuvre?
Making a good quality product consistently depends on keeping a keen eye on a whole lot of variables so you have to be meticulous, take measurements of pH and water activity, weight loss and tasting of course. Creativity comes in when developing a product, thinking about what sort of product will be best to make with the meat that we have available or what our suppliers have available. Over the last few years we haven't been able to be as creative as we'd like to because we haven't had space to hang any more product. But we've just got a new factory going for making whole cuts - bresaola, coppa, pancetta & hams. So this will free up a bit of space to get creative with.
Why do you think it is only now that Britjish charcuterie production is becoming more established?
I think it's just that more people have some experience making this kind of meat product now. The air drying and fermenting of meats hasn't been part of our butchery or culinary tradition, although it's possible that it was there but had been lost. So there's more people making, at home and commercially, and there's more people being a bit more adventurous with what they eat.
If you had to pick only one for people to try, what would be your stand out product?
Islington saucisson. It's classic.
Most importantly, where can people buy your charcuterie?
We have an online shop where you can buy for delivery to your home. Chefs can order a sample box too https://www.cobblelanecured.com/collections/all . Also Natoora sell our bresaola, coppa & fennel salami on Ocado https://www.ocado.com/browse?filters=natoora-33871
Have you guys become charcuterie snobs, as in, can you still a pepperoni pizza after a night out?
We would never ever say anything demeaning about a pepperoni pizza. They are or can be fantastic (if they have our beef heart pepperoni) and our business depends on great pizza places like Sodo Pizza Cafe https://www.sodopizza.co.uk slinging pepperoni pizzas.
Charcuterie isn't really snobby food. The good stuff is more expensive but you don't eat a lot of it. It's simple food enjoyed best with other simple but great things - good bread, cheese, pickles.
Mat, what’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Chicken breast pudding! (a traditional Turkish dessert made with thickened milk and thin strands of poached poultry)