A salami success: We meet artisan charcutier Will Macken
When you think of salami you're probably taken back to holidays in the Mediterranean.
But this cured, air-dried sausage is actually being produced a lot closer to home.
Will Macken is part of a growing band of artisan charcutiers combing traditional methods with homegrown British pork.
He went from preparing and curing meats for himself, family and friends to setting up his own business Shropshire Salumi.
Now the father of three sells his products at farm shops, farmers markets and food festivals around the region as well as over the phone.
So what makes a good salami? "It's all about the pork. You ideally want a slow-growing bread with a good balance of intramuscular fat that lets the flavour of the pork come out.
"The pork has to be the star of the show," explains Will, who lives in Grafton, near Shrewsbury, and previously worked as a conservation consultant.
He describes making salami as being like 'alchemy'. "You've got the pork that if you left in the fridge for 10 days it would be inedible but with salt and a bit of magic you increase its shelf-life to potentially years using age old food preservation techniques," says Will.
The pork shoulder, usually from outdoor reared Gloucester Old Spot pigs, is minced before mixed well with the seasoning and salt to release the proteins which helps to bind it together.
The mixture is then stuffed inside a natural sausage casing before being left to ferment for a few days at a high temperature to kick start good bacteria growth.
It’s then left to air dry in a temperature controlled curing room set to 10c for 10 weeks with some varieties left for up to two years.
The key to successful salami is to let it dry slowly but surely. This is to prevent the outside of the salami drying too fast and becoming hard. It also prevents the inside from drying properly.
"My salamis left to fully cure to give them the full flavoured, soft bite of an authentic salami," says Will.
Will's love of curing came from a lifelong interest in food and butchery and he says over the years he became more aware of the importance of animal welfare
"Food is important because you eat three times a day and so you be enjoying what you are eating.
From an early age I had been interested in butchery and learned to skin a rabbit when I was a kid.
"When I got older I realised the important of animal welfare. I would sit at the table with friends and family eating charcuterie and while I knew its provenance, I didn't know anything about the welfare of the animals.
"I thought it was better to know where the meat had come from. I wanted to know what I was eating. We have the best livestock in the world in the UK and in Shropshire it's second to none.
"I began experimenting and curing meat for myself and friends and family would ask me to make this or that.
"I realised I could put a smile on their faces not just with the quality but also with the story of where the meat comes from.
"I decided to leave work and set up full-time and I haven't look back since," the 40-year-old tells us.
He has six different salami flavours including classic, hunter's, four peppercorn, fennel and chilli and ale, which are available in two different sizes as well as smaller snacking salamis or salaminis as well as air dried whole muscles of beef, ham and pork belly.
Will has also collaborated with other Shropshire producers - Hobsons brewery in Cleobury Mortimer and Shrewsbury-based wine makers Paso-Primero.
"It's all made with local produce. There are lot of small-scale producers in Shropshire who are passionate about what they are doing," he says.
His produce is sold at regular markets including Shrewsbury Farmer's Market, on the first Friday of every month, the Made in Shropshire market in Shrewsbury, held on the second Saturday of every month and Local to Ludlow on the second and fourth Thursday of the month.
He will also be attending events throughout the year including Ludlow Food Festival and Cosford Food Festival.
Will is now in his fourth year of business and says he's pleased with he response his produce has received.
"The first year was about getting a feel for the market, the second year was for getting my product out there and broadening the net and the third year has seen production increase twofold. There is still a long way to go but it's going well so far," says Will, who also sells his produce over the phone or by email.
It's been a learning curve for the producer who has to balance his time efficiently and plan ahead so he can keep up with demand.
"Because of the curing time, I'm almost guessing what I'm going to be selling in three months time so that can be tricky," explains Will.
The name of his business is comes from the Italian term for cold cuts of pork - 'salumi'.
"I get asked about the word a lot but it encompasses everything I do and I hope to keep on expanding my range in the future," says Will.
British charcuterie has become more popular over the last 10 years which has seen a rise in the number of produers, he tells us.
"In the last 10 years the demand has grown and there is a good number of us around now," adds Will.
He says he has no regrets about setting up his own salami business. "It is hard work, I've been living and breathing this for three years but it's great to be able to talk to people about my produce.
"When I worked in conservation I was often knocking on someone's door and giving them the bad news that there were bats or newts on their land and what ever they wanted to do was going to cost them more money.
"Now people to come to see me, taste my produce and leave with a smile on their face," says Will.