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By MICHAEL POLLITT, Agricultural editor
Friday, November 2, 2012
Pig farmer Peter Mortimer’s fun slogan to promote his new business tells the story – From the Pie to the Sty.
And sales of the five recipes of his pork pies are adding a little spice to an industry, which is facing acute price pressure from soaring costs of feed grains and key ingredients including wheat and soya.
A champion pig farmer, who has won a host of awards since he started as a schoolboy in 1964, he has even gone against the national trend by increasing the size of his herd at Fir Tree Farm, Metfield, near Harleston, to about 250 sows.
Mr Mortimer, who was presented with a life fellowship by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association earlier this summer, relishes the challenge of helping his wife, Gill, by preparing the crucial ingredients for the Metfield Village Kitchen and Pie Company. His pork is also turned into the filling for the highly-successful range of sausage rolls, baked on the farm.
He currently produces about 100 pigs a week, with about a fifth going to an expanding butcher, Tony Perkins, who has shops at Attleborough, Mattishall and Dereham.
While the going has been tough for domestic producers for the past year, with many losing between £15 and £20 on every finished pig, Mr Mortimer has managed to achieve top levels of performance with the assistance of his son, Richard. “Our production is now the highest we’ve ever had on the farm. Last fortnight, we’ve been knocking very close to 26.5 pigs reared per sow per year which is the most that I’ve reared,” he added.
While the pork pie and sausage rolls take a fraction of his weekly production, it is an opportunity to present a positive image for home-produced quality pork. As an ambassador for producers, Mr Mortimer has supported pig classes and judging at the Ro0yal Norfolk Show and also at Trinity Park, Suffolk, where he first won at Ipswich in 1970.
“I had my first pigs when I was still at school in 1964 in Ispwich,” he said. His father, who was a vet in Harleston, also kept pigs and turkeys as well.
Mr Mortimer has always aimed to produce high quality carcases, which are much appreciated by butchers. In May 2009, when he also won the Suffolk Show’s supreme championship with a single bacon pig, his pork was a national winner in a blind tasting carried out by Morrisons at Bradford. The judges of the annual Cut Above meat quality awards said that the “belly pork impressed the panel on cooked appearance and taste. It was tender, juicy and melted in the mouth. It had a good deep flavour that lingered.”
Mr Mortimer decided to consider ways to add value to his pork. When there was an opportunity to apply for funding through the Waveney Local Action Group, he invested in a large lorry container bought from Mark Black at Bacton. The 10ft wide container was fitted out as a purpose-designed kitchen with stainless steel equipment and also three-phase cooker, blast chillers and everything required to comply with food handling regulations. It has EU approval and a licence and is possibly the only one in the Mid-Suffolk area.
He also worked closely with butcher Mr Perkins, who gave him the recipe for sausage rolls, and designed a number of pork pie recipes. One of his favourites, just happens to be called Peter’s Ploughman’s because it includes some cheese of the pork pie. Others in the range include one with caramelised onion, with apricot, a Waveney and even with prunes.
While Mr Mortimer can turn his hand to helping in the kitchen although he tends to stick to butchering the carcases, which are returned from the nearby Lambert’s abattoir, his wife, Gill and two fellow directors, Lorraine and Garry McEvoy, do the cooking of the hand-made pork pies.
Demand for the Metfield Pie Company’s products are increasingly steadily. “We’re selling through local butchers and we’ve got a number of local retailers as well as farm shops and garage forecourts.”
Since they started making their pies in earnest, they’ve enjoyed some success at trade exhibitions. At an event organised at the Norfolk showground by industry body, BPEX, they won six silver medals. When they entered another show at Newark, they took their sausage rolls and pies and came away with three silver and three gold awards.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.