When Illtud Llyr Dunsford and his partner Liesel Taylor moved to the family farm in Wales, they looked for a diversification project to provide added value to the farm produce. The result was Charcutier Ltd, established in 2011, a business that seeks to explore a diverse range of meat products with a global inspiration. Illtud’s explorations have been aided by a Nuffield (UK) Farming Scholarship which enabled him to travel the world to investigate “the far reaches of value adding.”
Felin y Glyn sits in the verdant Gwendraeth Valley in West Wales where Illtud’s family has farmed for well over 300 years and, although he was born in Cardiff, it was where he always spent his weekends and holidays.
Having studied photography, his early career was in film production but a move to the farm began in 2004. Living in a caravan whilst converting a former cowshed, he and Liesel started looking for the right path for diversification. Illtud says: “After varying plans, I made the decision in the winter of 2010 to transform the family tradition of producing livestock for our own table into a business. I had been extending the repertoire of products that were produced each winter but in early 2011, with the opportunity of voluntary redundancy from my full-time employer, I threw myself into researching wholeheartedly the field of specialist charcuterie production, concentrating on the whole supply chain.”
Shortly after, Liesel left her career in design and technical textiles to join what is a truly family business, with Illtud’s parents and uncle supporting both on the farm and in production. Family tradition has played a major part in setting the ethos for Charcutier Ltd, as Illtud explains: “While dairy was the mainstay of production on the farm, my grandfather and uncle reared British Saddleback pigs during the 1970s and ’80s and, in recent years, we have returned to rearing the native regional breed, the Pedigree Welsh. We’re fortunate as a family to have retained the pre-war tradition of fattening to high weights, killing on-farm in winter and salting in the pre-refrigeration method. The annual slaughter was a social experience with family and neighbours helping with the production of faggots, brawn, fresh blood black pudding, sausages, bacons and hams. There was always the utmost respect for the animal with absolutely nothing wasted.”
In developing Charcutier Ltd, Illtud has drawn on this rich family heritage and combined it with extensive research to produce a range of sausages and cooked, smoked and air dried pork products. He spent a summer school at the Meat Lab at Iowa State University followed by a Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Production Wales) Scholarship looking at the pork supply chain after which the first Charcutier labelled products were sold.
Products were sold through farmers’ markets, events, delis and restaurants and successes soon came to the door: Charcutier Ltd was named Countryside Alliance Champion for Wales for Local Produce in 2015 and the BBC Food and Farming Awards Best Producer in 2016.
Initial production was based in the farmhouse kitchen, but in 2014 the former milking parlour was converted into a purpose-built facility with a well-equipped butchery, Italian drying rooms, German smokehouse and a comprehensive recipe development space.
In early 2013, Illtud took up the role of Project Manager for the Pedigree Welsh Pig Society to manage their EU-funded research programme and his work for this laid the foundation for the topic for his Nuffield Scholarship. He says, “Initially I was planning to concentrate on evaluating other pig breeds but an early visit to an abattoir whilst accompanying an auditor shifted my focus to value-added products. Blood collected and discarded from this single abattoir for incineration at a cost of £300 per week would have provided me with enough raw material to produce £30,000 of fresh blood black pudding. This set the initial wheels in motion to concentrate on the utilisation of waste, to look at value-added products that would fit into the super-niche world I inhabit.”
Extensive travels took Illtud to many countries – and into the exploration of some of the wider ethics involved in food production, including the role that cellular agriculture might play in the future. He says: “My Nuffield farming journey was a transformative experience and provided me with a different world view as well as making me look further into the question of feeding the planet. I still hold the opinion that the naturally evolved biodiversity of both livestock and plant breeds hold the key to any future food production. They have already provided the genetic building blocks for developed or hybridised breeds and the wealth of their genetic diversity still holds the same resource for the future. On food waste, I believe there are huge opportunities for production from the waste generated within the meat industry and that we have a responsibility to connect with the consumer to reduce the food products that are wasted. Looking to the future, I do not believe that the intensification of large scale agriculture alone will feed us – it will be a balance of small family-owned farms, industrial-scale farming and a new stream of technologies.”
The immediate impact of Illtud’s study tour has been a reconsideration of Charcutier Ltd’s whole farm plan, with plans for 2017 for a new building to include a farm office, studio space, library, teaching space and an on-farm shop for both the meat products and a range that will derive from the farm’s products.
One of the key outcomes of the tour came from a meeting with Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust who also farms Bwlchwernen Fawr in West Wales, producing milk from his Ayrshire herd that is used to make Hafod Organic Cheddar. Illtud explains: “Our specification for the pigs that we use in our production is that they are a British native breed and that they are fed at least one form of waste co-product from the food industry in addition to their standard ration. We were already taking a small amount of rose-veal from Macros Farm in the Vale of Glamorgan, but Patrick could potentially offer us native breed Ayrshire bull calves fed on whey from their cheese production.” Charcutier Ltd is now taking every bull calf that Bwlchwernen Fawr produces.
Read the report
Sponsored by the John Oldcare Foundation, the objectives of Illtud’s study tour were to review native pig breeds, understand the systems present for the retention of genetics and their commercialisation, explore traditional production with a concentration on the high-end niche of producing money from waste, question the ethics relating to food production and explore the far reaches of value adding.
As well as locations in the UK, the tour took him to Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, USA, Brazil and China. The tour included conferences and symposia, visits to producers, processors and retailers – and many, many tasting opportunities!
A copy of Illtud’s report in full is accessible via the Nuffield International website.
Photographs: Peter and Illtud Dunsford
Sign up to our Newsletter
Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news