Traditional methods bring the cure for tasteless bacon

CURE FOR ALL ILLS: Butcher Chris Battle, whose traditional skills are in demand by a major supermarket in relaunching their range.
CURE FOR ALL ILLS: Butcher Chris Battle, whose traditional skills are in demand by a major supermarket in relaunching their range.
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A YORKSHIRE butcher is helping to relaunch Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range of bacon. Catherine Scott reports.

In 1964, he began work as an apprentice at Jack Scaife’s butchers, in Keighley market.

The business had a mini abattoir at the back of the shop where Chris was taught how to cure bacon.

In 1967, Chris married Jack’s daughter, Barbara. Together, and with their two daughters, Chris and his wife took over the family business.

The 1970s saw the start of a major change in the UK bacon market as, for the first time, cheaper bacon began to be imported from Denmark and Chris began to stock it within his shop.

After about five years, however, customers who had been used to butcher-cured bacon began to complain about the quality of the Danish bacon. They said that, despite looking good, the Danish bacon would shrivel and shrink in the pan and release a white froth on cooking.

Chris realised that there was a huge difference in quality between the new imports and the bacon which his family had been curing for three generations, and he began experimenting with hand-cured alternatives.

The family eventually started selling their bacon through the internet and Chris began receiving enquiries from across the country and from as far afield as Cuba and Sri Lanka.

The hand-cured bacon had tapped into a genuine consumer demand and Chris acquired a number of celebrity followers, such as Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worrall Thompson and Rick Stein

The obvious quality of Chris Battle’s bacon and the passion behind it was noticed by food supplier Cranswick, who approached Chris with a view to upscale production and offer the general public the chance to try this delicious, top quality bacon.

After lengthy talks and promises that Chris’s trade secrets would not be leaked, Jack Scaife and Cranswick became the Cranswick Gourmet Bacon Company.

In May this year, the company is re-launching the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range with a focus on classic flavours and traditional production methods. The entire Taste the Difference range will also be made using British pork adhering to the RSPCA’s strict Freedom Foods farm assurance scheme.

The new range has been developed in association with Chris Battle using the dry-cure recipe his family have used for more than100 years.

Although the scale of the operation Chris runs today is much larger than it was in the past, all the initial beliefs and processes are still in place.

“Quality is the be-all and end-all of what we do with bacon,” says Chris, whose enthusiasm for the product is evident – he is obsessed with producing the best bacon available.

A cheaper, imported bacon rasher will generally be “cured” with an injection of saline solution.

Chris explains that pork is naturally made up of 35 per cent water, and saline injections can increase this to 65-70 per cent, the cause of shrinkage and white froth release on cooking.

In contrast, the process of dry curing bacon, used in farmhouses for hundreds of years and replicated for the Taste the Difference range, removes existing water.

Traditionally, pork back was cured to preserve it by hand-rubbing with sea salt and sugar and then hanging to dry.

The process is time consuming – once the cure is added, the pork back is cured for five days, before it is then hung to air dry for a further 21 days.

The result is bacon that does not shrink in the pan and, because of the removal of existing water, boasts a pork content of around 105 per cent.