Photos: Walk the Pork farm showcases a real flavour of the Brecks
PUBLISHED: 15:49 12 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:49 12 September 2014
Archant © 2014
It was a perfectly porcine way to start proceedings at the Brecks Food and Drink Festival which begins today. STACIA BRIGGS joined this year’s Walk the Pork near Oxborough.
In the shadows of Oxburgh Hall in the Brecks, there’s a heritage herd that you won’t find anywhere else in the country: Rob and Sarah Simonds’ Large Black Pigs.
Born and reared outside, the pigs are free to roam in spacious paddocks. Grown slowly, the meat they produce is flavoursome with a succulent texture and has become a staple at local restaurants and on Norfolk dinner tables.
Yesterday, Scotts Field Pork kick-started the Brecks Food and Drink Festival by holding its annual Walk the Pork event at its farm near Oxborough, an invitation-only tour of the pig paddocks for butchers, customers and food fans.
In attendance was MP Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose constituency includes the Brecks and who has long been a passionate supporter of the area’s food producers.
The Chairman of Trustees of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Gail Sprake, also came on the walk as did Scott Taylor, head chef at Elveden Estate and Norfolk Food and Drink Festival patrons Vanessa Scott and Richard Hughes.
Ms Truss explained that she had first been to the Walk the Pork event three years ago and since that time had noticed an increase in the number of stockists supplying the farm’s pork.
“It’s a fantastic success story and just one of a number of success stories in the Brecks,” she said.
“What I hope events like this will do is help people to understand the connection between the landscape and the food they eat. I am pretty obsessed with local food – I think it helps people connect with nature, with the environment and with their history.”
Rob Simonds explained that Scotts Field Pork began with a few pigs at the bottom of the family garden on Scotts Lane, hence the name of the business. Production was moved to the farm in 2005.
“I come from a background of commercial pig breeding – my great grandfather Dr Andrew Kay kept a herd of pedigree Large Blacks in his orchard at Blakeney during the 1920s,” said Mr Simonds.
“I am passionate about the survival of these pigs but recognise that one of the reasons they are no longer as popular as they once were is because the carcass can be too fat for modern taste,” said Mr Simonds.
“We now use a Duroc as the terminal sire which produces a more commercially viable product. Once you’ve tasted the pork produced by the Large Blacks you suddenly remember what pork used to taste like.
“We don’t sell our meat to supermarkets but rather have a relationship with a network of independent high street butchers throughout Norfolk and Suffolk.”
With a long deep body and lop ears, the Large Black is Britain’s only all-black pig, originating from The Old English Hog which was established in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Described in 1810 as “as perfect a make as possible in pigs”, the Large Blacks were widely distributed throughout the country and were frequently crossed with other breeds to produce both bacon and pork pigs.
The breed had declined rapidly by the 1960s and the Large Black is now registered as a rare breed with only a few hundred sows left in the UK.
Ms Sprake explained that since the inception of the Rare Breed Survival Trust 40 years ago, no breed of UK farm livestock had been lost.
Today there are 58 breeds on the Watch List and 74 native poultry breeds listed as ‘at risk’, making 132 native breeds at risk of extinction.
She said: “Our interest in Scotts Field Pork is to look at how they have, to quote wholesale butcher Charlie Mills of Bramfield Meats, managed to ‘transform a very old fashioned and traditional pig and develop it into a product that would suit our modern tastes’ and in doing this establish the only commercial herd of Large Black Pigs in the country.
“To the uninitiated, this might not seem like a big deal, however when you consider that there are only about 350 registered Large Black sows remaining and approximately 60 of them are here, you quickly understand that they are responsible for about 25 per cent of the existing national herd.
“Scotts Field Pork sets an excellent example of how farmers can and should take advantage of our rare and native breeds and successfully meet the challenge of sustainable farming.
THE BRECKS FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL EVENTS:
Butchery Demonstration with Impsons Butchers in Swaffham Assembly Rooms from 7pm and 9pm.
• The traditional Saturday Market will have a festival makeover with a kilometre of bunting created by Beachamwell Women’s Institute. • Fabian Eagles Poultry Auction, Lynn Road – the gates open for entries at 8.30am until 11am and the auction begins at 11.30am. Pure breeds and cross-breed poultry will be available. For more details, visit www.fabianreagle.co.uk.
Green Britain Centre Garden and Apple Orchard Day: 10am to 4pm: For more information, visit www.greenbritaincentre.co.uk. Entry is free but a charge applies for the turbine tours. • Food Festival Quiz at the Assembly Rooms, organised by Strattons Hotel, 7pm: A food festival quiz with tastings and prizes to raise funds for The Neuroblastoma Society. For more details, contact Strattons on 01760 723845 or visit www.strattons-hotel.co.uk. September 14:
• There will be an all-day Brecks Food Festival Farmers’ Market in Swaffham Market Place. At this special market for the Food Festival, there will be music, refreshments, a picnic area and swingboat rides for children. • At the market, the Sacred Heart School Harvest Festival produce baskets will be on sale. All proceeds will go to the local home hospice charity and Ss Peter and Paul’s Restoration Fund. •At the Assembly Rooms in Swaffham from 2pm to 5pm there will be an International Food Day organised by the Iceni Partnership which will feature food and drink from around the world, entertainment and activities for children. • College Farm Thompson: During the festival, Katherine Wolstenholme will be cooking dinner with ingredients that have not travelled for more than five miles – for example, venison from her land and pork from her own pigs. On September 14 there will be a lunch party – Lavender’s Lunch – in the garden with food prepared by Katherine and villagers, using local ingredients, with donations to the local parish church.
• Pop Up Food Friday with Strattons at The Westacre Theatre. Enjoy a very special night of opera and tapas at Westacre – the £40 tickets includes the chance to see Madama Butterfly screened live from the Sydney Opera House in Australia. To accompany, chefs from Strattons Hotel will be presenting a sumptuous selection of hot and cold Spanish tapas. For information about tickets, contact Strattons on 01760 723845 or visit www.westacretheatre.com.
September 23 - Brecks Game Night, Elveden Inn:
• Enjoy a feast of locally-sourced game dishes, including venison and rabbit from the Elveden Estate. Booking is advised, call 01842 890876 for details or visit www.elvedeninn.com.