How Charlie Hodson’s award-winning Nelson sausage roll is promoting Norfolk food chains
- Credit: Chris Hill
An award-winning chef is using a humble sausage roll to promote the story of Norfolk's food-producing prowess, and to raise awareness of farming issues.
It may seem a simple staple of bakery shelves – but this special sausage roll encapsulates a valuable Norfolk food chain, and a desire to tell its story to consumers.
Charlie Hodson, founder of Charlie's Norfolk Food Heroes, won the national Sausage Roll Off competition last month with an entry named the Nelson.
To celebrate, the campaigning chef gathered together the producers who supplied his ingredients to demonstrate the breadth of the Norfolk food network behind his creation – and the commitment to quality applied all the way along the chain.
That chain begins with the pork from Morley Farm in South Creake, near Fakenham, where Tim Allen and his brother Phil produce about 7,000 outdoor-reared pigs a year, bedded on straw harvested from the mixed farm's cereal crops.
Being several steps away from consumers on the supply chain, Mr Allen said farmers are 'terrible at PR', but his business relied on the butchers and farm shops it supplies to tell its high-welfare pork story to customers.
'We show them the story behind the pigs and when they show that to the public they are telling them a story they have seen with their own eyes,' he said. 'Then it is not PR. It is fact.
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'We give them the information and then hopefully they can fire those bullet points across the counter and say they have been to the farm, and seen how these pigs are kept.'
His brother Phil Allen added: 'There is a lot of time and effort that goes into what we do.
'If we were not producing pigs in this way, we would not be selling them to butchers and restaurants, because they want to show their customers that the meat they are selling has had a good life, and a high standard of welfare.
'I think it is fundamentally important that people understand where their food comes from. We like to think we are doing a good job but when Charlie takes it on and turns that raw material into something that wins an award, it is a feather in our cap as much as it is a feather in his.'
The Nelson sausage roll also includes manufactured products such as vodka, chutney and rapeseed oil which have all, in turn, been made using Norfolk raw materials of malting barley, vegetables and oilseed rape.
Candi Robertson, of Candi's Chutney in Holt, said it was the 'duty' of secondary manufacturers to tell the story of the primary producers who grew their ingredients.
'I only use locally-grown produce,' she said. 'If it was not for the support of the growers, I would not be here. I think as producers if we are not telling their story we are not doing our jobs properly. It's our duty. If we are not doing it, then who is?'
Many of the producers met at the Salle Estate, near Reepham, where the farm's oilseed rape is pressed into rapeseed oil by Crush Foods.
Sales manager Stephen Newham said while communication along the chain from farmer to processor to consumer was a key part of reinforcing a product's home-grown credentials, it was also important to collaborate across the chain.
He said: 'We are now distributing Candi's chutney – we are acting as a delivery service for her as we are going to all the same customers. It allows Candi to do the thing she is great at and it is really good to work with someone who has got a different brand and a different way of looking at things.'
Grain trader Andrew Dewing, a shareholder of Crush Foods, said the Nelson sausage roll was a perfect vehicle to explain the value of Norfolk produce. 'It is all here in one small product – food miles, local employment, attention to detail, and a very high-quality end product,' he said. 'Every single ingredient in this sausage roll has been thought through by a group of people within a 20-mile radius. That deserves support from the general public.'
'Everything I do needs to have a story behind it,' said Charlie Hodson, the chef behind the award-winning Nelson sausage roll.
'It is no good just being a chef. I wanted to prove that you can make something amazing by supporting local food.
'People might know that Norfolk has really good pigs and grows really good oilseed rape, but when you go off on a tangent and say we make awesome vodka and grow amazing saffron they are very surprised. We can put them in touch with those producers and that is where the magic starts.
'It is like going to an art gallery and have someone tell you why this beautiful painting is on their wall, and why they chose those colours. It is no different to being an artisan producer. They are all artists, they just work on a different canvas.'
HELPING MENTAL HEALTH
As well promoting Norfolk produce, a percentage from the sales of the sausage roll will be donated to YANA (You Are Not Alone), a mental health charity which works with farmers and isolated rural workers across Norfolk and Suffolk.
'There is a big issue around mental health,' said Mr Hodson. 'Some of our producers work all the way through winter from November to February on their own. They may never see anyone else. Tim Allen and his brother (the pig farmers who supplied the pork for the sausage roll) are very lucky because they work together but a lot work on their own, with the pressure of bills and paying for heat and diesel. If you are so isolated, who do you talk to?
'I like to think of it as a 'farm to farmer' story. We start off with the farm and we give back to the farmer in the end.'
The Norfolk ingredients in the Nelson sausage roll include:
• Sausage meat from pigs reared by Tim and Phil Allen at South Creake, slaughtered by HG Blake of Costessey and butchered by Jamie Archer of Archer's Butchers in Norwich.
• Carrot chutney from Candi's Chutney in Holt.
• Norfolk Saffron, grown by Dr Sally Francis at Burnham Norton.
• Wild Knight Vodka, distilled in Beachamwell from Norfolk barley.
• Cold-pressed rapeseed oil from Crush Foods, made from oilseed rape grown at the Salle Estate, near Reepham.
• Fresh blood black pudding from the Fruit Pig Company.
• Puff pastry, made using flour from Letheringsett Mill and butter from Norton's Dairy in Frettenham.