Farm Of The Week: Doing the continental a success in the Dales

Chris Wildman above Gordale Scar with his Yorkshire Chorizo

Chris Wildman above Gordale Scar with his Yorkshire Chorizo

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CHARCUTERIE was the turning point for Chris Wildman’s effort to turn an old-fashioned Dales farm into a blogging, tweeting, eco-responsible and telly-friendly food hub.

He wishes he knew an English word for it. There are plenty of traditional British products which fit the meaning – bacons, potted meat, black pudding, pickled brisket and pressed tongue, brawn and faggots... But he made his breakthrough with Yorkshire Chorizo. And the next one could be lamb pancetta. So maybe the Continental catch-all word for meat products is the best one anyway.

Chris, 45, came from a line of butchers and left his older brother, Nigel, running the family’s Bentham-based meat business when he took off for London with a business studies diploma from Skipton. He worked in IT and this and that, before doing 10 years marketing for a Keighley company specialising in labelling and packaging for clothing.

His wife, Jennifer, grew up at Church End Farm in Kirkby Malham, and they met at Craven College, where she was studying pharmacy. She travelled with him to London but when they decided to marry and start a family, 18 years ago, they came home – and after a while moved into a cottage on Church End Farm, which her father, Bill Bland, was still running.

He is still there, producing Mules from 650 Swaledale ewes on 200 acres of his own and 200 and some of National Trust land on Malham Moor. But the younger generations have found ways to fit in alongside him.

Chris and Jennifer’s elder son, William, 16, has just left school to go full-time into the farming career he started when he was knee-high to his grandad. At the age of five, he had to watch the army take his pet lambs away. But when foot and mouth was over, his family bought him a couple of Bluefaced Leicesters – the sire line for Mules – and he has become a serious breeder, and a familiar name in the honours lists at Malham and Kilnsey shows.

Meanwhile, five years ago, working evenings and weekends in Church End Cottage, Chris Wildman started Paganum Produce, named after the Latin for ‘rural tradition’.

The family butcher’s shops had been seen out of business by supermarket competition. But suddenly a lot of us were looking for traditional and local again. And in the Dales, Natural England was pouring money into projects like limestone meadow recovery, which meant paying farmers to replace some sheep with native breed cattle – Shorthorns, Longhorns, Belted Galloways, Welsh Blacks, Highlands.

“They were creating a product before they had created a market,” Chris comments. But he thought he could do something with the product.

A friend and neighbour, accountant David Mitchell, agreed there was an opening for an “online farmers’ market”. He remains a sleeping partner.

Chris did deals with various local suppliers and began distributing nationally, using a Skipton courier service, Eurotran, which he has stuck with ever since. They charge around a tenner to more or less anywhere for up to 20 kilos of chilled fresh meat.

It costs about another fiver for the insulated boxes which are part of Paganum’s pitch – supporting small farms and natural rearing and delivering in boxes made of recycled cardboard and insulated with Woolcool liners (wrapped sheep’s wool). You can get a couple of pounds off the next order by rolling the liners up and posting them back but a lot of people compost them or save them for insulating the loft.

Chris says: “We have big competitors who use polystyrene packing because it costs £2 instead of £5 but polystyrene is made from oil and has to be thrown away.”

Through intensive use of new media like Facebook and Twitter, he got Paganum noticed, by customers and by TV and magazine researchers looking for butchers nouveaux.

On the ground, it was harder.

“You can have wonderful meat but raw meat on an open-air stall in a farmers’ market is a hard sell,” he sums up.

At the same time as learning that lesson, he was finding out why pig farmers squeal. After he went full time in Paganum, he and his brother-in-law and neighbour, Paul Darwin, who is married to Jennifer’s sister Susan, started rearing a traditional breed, Oxford Sandy & Blacks, in a corner of the farm. The sows and boar live loose indoors, with free access to real paddocks, and produce 40-50 baconers a year. Paganum can charge a bit of premium for the provenance but the competition is so “ridiculously cheap”, says Chris, that it is doubtful they make a profit on plain pork. One way and another, the Yorkshire Chorizo was the answer to a number of problems.

The media loved it and so did the public. Yorkshire Chorizo has its own website and Chris has to buy in extra trad’ and free-range Yorkshire pork to meet orders for up to a couple of hundred 120-gram chorizos a week. His charcuterie range now includes his version of cured pork jowl, known as guanciale in Italy and essential to a proper carbonara sauce, he says. He has also dug out recipes from the family history books for brawn, ‘luncheon tongue’ (pork tongue) and original corned beef – a different thing altogether from most of what comes in tins, he says.

Bill Bland is buying a few butcher’s lambs to fatten alongside his gimmers and Chris is doing lamb pancetta and lamb bacon and looking at other possibilities.

He and his brother are in the course of replacing the trailer where they work on the meat with a cold store, butchery and curing room, which will take more work in-house and will be, in effect, Wildman’s Butchers reborn.

The irony is, the original Wildman’s, had it survived, would have been twice as right-on as they can ever become. Animals were bought at Bentham market, walked to a lairage behind the shop and taken down one step at a time for slaughtering, quartering, hanging and sale.

The brothers have been building their new headquarters as they have had money and time. They have been at it two years so far and still have to kit it out. Paganum might have had its share of TV exposure but there has still been a lot of simple slogging to do.

“Every time we have any money, it goes on a slicer or a sausage machine, or a cow or a sheep or some building materials,” Chris sums up.

As well as running the core business over the internet, he delivers by van as far as Harrogate and Leeds, runs a hog roast service and goes to two farmers’ markets in Leeds – the new Kirkstall Abbey Deli Mart, 12-3 on the last Saturday of every month, and Headingley on second Saturdays. Town End Farm Shop, at Airton, BD23 4BE, stocks Paganum produce.

Apart from the meat, one line doing well is Paganum Rapeseed Oil, which Chris buys from a North Yorkshire farmer with a cold press and bottles himself. Top rapeseed oil is building quite a following.

His latest venture is courses in butchery and charcuterie and the new complex on the farm will include a classroom. Meanwhile, the courses are running at various venues. See www.paganum.co.uk/

Paganum is also part of a co-operative self-help network – see www.northyorkshirelocalfood.co.uk/

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