It has been nearly 10 years since Andrew and Ruth Davies realised their dream in buying their own holding near Swansea. Home to their award-winning charcuterie business, Gaina Morgan finds out more about where it all began.
Producing a range of high-end award-winning charcuterie at Cwm Farm, Swansea, was not the first thing Andrew and Ruth Davies thought of when they took the 16-hectare (40-acre) holding nearly 10 years ago.
Today though, the pair field enquiries from across the world, supply events at Downing Street to the British Embassy in Finland and their unique laverbread salami, made from a secret recipe using their own rare breed pork, recently won gold medal in the prestigious Olymp Food Awards in Athens.
Thanks to Ruth’s flair for marketing and social media, they have become accustomed to mixing with celebrities, world class chefs and, in particular, with Welsh rugby royalty.
But the road to success did not happen overnight.
The farm was ‘a dream come true’, with grazing rights on common land commanding views stretching from Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park to the Gower Peninsula. But when they started farming at Cwm, it was a case of holding down day jobs, Andrew as a carpenter and Ruth a school administrator, while caring for pigs.
Tiring of the stress of juggling both, the pair soon felt they needed to think outside the box. Raising pigs, a few sheep and Highland cattle on bare grazing land, rising to 750 feet (228 metres) above sea level, was barely going to cover costs, let alone make them a living.
Ruth says: “We started off with the pigs, raising them for the table and then doing meat boxes. But we soon felt we needed to do more and add value and the journey has been, I feel, the part of adding value to the products and the pigs. It was fun in the beginning, but then when you need to pay your mortgage each month, it is like, right, we need to do something. I have been round the world to learn how to add value.”
The light bulb moment came during Ruth’s work experience on a 52,000-head pig farm in Denmark, funded by a Welsh Government grant, and since then their charcuterie business has led them on a journey neither could have anticipated.
Ruth says: “On that farm, I learned how to do artificial insemination. I learned everything, but the main thing I learned was about Beersticks. It was a snack salami that this farm produced, obviously on a much bigger scale, and they were all indoor pigs.
“I did not know anything about salami, or that there was anything like salami and cured products out there. When I came back from there, after being with them for eight days, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. It was a gut feeling.
“We decided we wanted to do a Welsh salami, so that is where the laverbread salami came in. There is something about making a unique product, anyone can copy Italian or Spanish chorizo .”
Ruth and Andrew had product development help from the Welsh Government at the Food Centre Wales in West Wales, which offers advice, technical services and training with the support of expert food technologists.
Using the laverbread as a seasoning with 90 per cent pork in salami was Andrew’s idea. The Welsh delicacy is traditionally made from seaweed, boiled, pureed and rolled in oatmeal and served with breakfast.
More recently and a new chapter has begun for the pair with the opening of their new facility ‘Salami HQ’, a 4,000-square foot (371sq.m) unit at Pontardawe, in the Swansea Valley, just a 10-minute drive from the farm.
Thanks to grant assistance from the Welsh Government Rural Business Investment Scheme and design and certification advice from Food Centre Wales, the premises includes a laboratory, where Ruth can carry out water and PH testing, as well as a bigger drying chamber, lined with blocks of pink Himalayan salt.
Andrew’s carpentry and building skills have also been put to good use here. The drying chambers shipped in from Italy have natural spores in the cabinets, so producing the correct, safe moulds with the right depth of flavour naturally, with no dipping or added flavour is important.
Crisps, snack salamis, black pudding and others all form part of a range of different products Cwm Farm Charcuterie Products produces.
The pair also work with two Welsh country parks to make venison salami in a range of flavours, including rum and raisin and apricot and brandy. Spreadable salami and lardo, dried finely sliced pure fat, is prized by some of the world’s top chefs.
Ruth says: “We have two ranges of products, pub snacking and fine dining, aimed at different customers. Now we have the room to have more specialist machinery, it will enable us to do different products, such as chorizo nuggets, which are fabulous for tapas bars.”
On-farm and the ethos was always to work with nature and with the elements.
Andrew’s pig farming experience had, from childhood, been with his grandfather’s intensive indoor system, but he and Ruth both knew they wanted outdoor rearing and rare breeds.
Their pig production began with Ruth’s favourite, the Middle White. But after realising they did not thrive grazing outdoors, online training, research and experimentation with rare breeds led them to Large Blacks, a breed the pair feel is perfectly suited to the terrain and yields them exactly the right fat to meat ratio.
Andrew clearly delights in them. The concept of trebling the return from them by producing charcuterie appeals, although they are only allowed two litters a year. They are all hand-fed and sent to a Gower abattoir, Hugh Phillips, for slaughter.
Andrew says: “The pigs are fed out of a bag. They come to me. We take them to slaughter at about 52 weeks, sometimes even 18 months. A standard pig will go in as a cutter, at 65-75kg, between porker and baconer.
“The bigger pig gives us a fabulous lardo, fat content, to make our very special product, nduja, a spreadable salami with fresh chilli. The more fat and the longer growth period makes for a better taste. I feed them fattening pellets and also a biscuit crumb, out of a biscuit factory in Carmarthen. There is sugar in it and I feed it by my eye. I wll give 15kg or so a day between six young pigs.
“They graze as well. Pigs are natural grazers. I know they root, but they also love the grass. I also feed silage. I put a bale in a field and let them feed ad lib.”
This year’s planned St David’s Day opening of the new facility at the beginning of March was soon overshadowed by lockdown and some worrying times. But the couple’s flair for innovation and marketing means they are back on course, ready to create jobs and a legacy for their grandchildren.