Not all salamis or ‘muscle cuts’ are created equally. My God I’ve had some ropey varieties in my time. Most especially those crafted in ‘gastropubs’ where eager chefs have been swept up in the hype around fermented food.
Calm down people. Making charcuterie is an artform and a skill. One that, if you get it wrong, can lead to serious food safety issues – hello botulism.
I’m happy to report that one chef’s foray into this culinary sideline has now become a full blown career.
I first ate James Santillo’s charcuterie at The Duke’s Head in Somerleyton on the east coast. James ran the pub until recently with partner Tara Smyth (also his partner in Sunday Charcuterie).
It was, in fact, the last place I ate before the first lockdown hit. I stayed nearby in a shepherd’s hut with my husband, and remember using a torch to amble down Slug Lane in the kind of pitch black that can only be found in rural parts. Nothing but the screech of an owl. The bark of a fox.
James and Tara had created at The Duke what I genuinely believe was one of the best pubs in the country. It had everything. Unfussy décor. Fires. An impressive line-up of real ales. And let me tell you about the food.
I still have fantasies about the rare-breed beef, ordered by weight, cooked on the bone, and served sliced to the table with house butter, Parmesan seasoned chips and a simple salad of green leaves.
Simplicity is sacred in food. Some things clearly shouldn’t be mucked about with. And cured meats fall into this bracket. Charcuterie was laid on at the pub as a starter – arriving with a few tiny pickles. Nothing more. Nothing less. The flavours James managed to infuse into the products were sensational. So good in fact, that with uncertainty looming in the hospitality trade, the couple jacked the pub in at the end of their lease, managed to get help with funding for a production kitchen nearby, and set up Sunday Charcuterie as a full time gig.
The name, says Tara, is inspired by the quiet moments of reflection the pair shared together on a Sunday evening, collapsing on the sofa after a week in front of the stoves, or dashing about front of house. “We’re always to tired to cook,” Tara told me. “You just don’t feel like it after being in the kitchen all day. On Sunday nights we’d quite often sit down with a plate of charcuterie, cheese and wine to pick at. The name just seemed to stick.”
As I’ve already said, simplicity is key, but so is quality. And with cured meat you have absolutely nowhere to hide. If you start with rubbish meat, the end result is never going to shine. James and Tara insist on working only with small, trusted farms local to them when sourcing pork.
“We visit all the farms we work with,” Tara said. “They truly are free-range. We can guarantee the pigs have been reared in the happiest way possible. Because they’re not intensively reared and not ‘part of a process’, they’ve been able to grow up and socialise and...be pigs.”
The range includes five salamis, a growing collection of whole muscle cuts, pancetta, nduja and more.
I tasted the garlic and black pepper salami. Their take on a French saucisson sec or Italian salsiccia secca. It’s toothsome. Not too saline. And has a tremendous texture. The pork cut course, and flecked with nuggets of soft, melting fat. The garlic is there, but not overpowering of the meat. This salami means business.
I also try the almost maroon-edged coppa which has herbal notes, and a thin ribbon of marbling through that makes it sink deliciously into bread at room temperature.
“We’re really excited about our salami San Lorenzello,” said Tara. “That’s named after the village in Italy’s Campania region where James’ father is from. It’s an entirely new recipe. It’s a darker salami - the colour is more like a chorizo – and it’s got some cayenne, paprika and fennel running through. James also hand dices some fat and runs it through as well, so it looks more interesting when it’s sliced.”
You'll find lonza (from the loin), pancetta and guanciale – cut from the cheek, and the only porcine ingredient used in Italy to make authentic carbonara.
“Our cullatello has been popular as well. It’s like a ham, but it’s cut from a different muscle, so it’s a quicker cure. It eats similar to prosciutto.”
A must-try on your grazing boards this autumn. Find out where to buy here.