Autumn Bacon Casserole

With Autumn upon us it was time to dig out the big stove pot & make a casserole, a bacon casserole naturally, here follows the recipe though the weights & measures are very approximate as the Bacon Wizard I am not, much more a smoosh it in the pan all together making it up as I go along sort of cook, but judging by the second bowls everyone went for here at Bacon Towers the results were all the tastier for it.

 

Ingredients

Serves 4 (It turns out I made enough for 10 so have just tried to dial down the amounts)

 

  • 4 leeks thickly, sliced
  • 1 onion thickly, sliced
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 200gms pearl barley
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 1 dollop of butter
  • 1 slosh of olive oil
  • 1 packet bacon snipped into smallish pieces

 

Extras

(I found these in ‘Lady P’s Pantry’)

  • Sea salt
  • Celery salt
  • Fennel seeds
  • Ground cumin

 

Method

In a frying pan heated with the butter and olive oil I fried the bacon- in this case it was one of our flavours in development ‘Jamaican Jerk’- over a medium heat until the fat just started to colour. I then added the leeks, onion and garlic & stir fried for another few minutes.

I then transferred this to the pre-warmed stove pot and added the pearl barley, sweet potato, chicken stock so that it was nearly covered and extras. This simmered for about 45mins with occasional stirring, tasting and adjusted ‘extras’ until the stock had been nearly fully absorbed by the barley.

I popped a lid on it to let it sit for five minutes or so & served up big dollops of it with crusty bread.

To my mind it would have been significantly improved with the afternoon off and a clutch of scrumpy cider, but our accountant’s a devil for wanting accurate information so that idea had to be parked. For now.

Cheers

Hargreaves

 

autum

When is handmade not handmade?

Back before Christmas we launched an advertising campaign on Twitter which featured the phrase “Handmade Bacon”. The response was slightly overwhelming with a myriad of responses:

“How can bacon be handmade?”

“Surely the bacon is pig made”

“How can you make bacon out of hands?”

The list goes on and on, and started a debate whether these points were fair and that we had inaccurately described our process. So for the record we though it only right that we outline the production process from butchery through to packaging.handmade

  1. .

Each loin is handled more than 6 times. For those that don’t know bacon comes from pork, pork comes from pigs, you cannot make our bacon without the process outlined above which is by hand.

We could fully automate our production process and no doubt make it much more efficient until that time comes we are more than happy to say our bacon is handmade, because quite simply it is!

We are open throughout the week so you are more than welcome to come and see for yourselves how Cure & Simple Bacon is made.

‘Super Bacon’

It’s the party season and last night you’ve kicked it hard – and why not? Tis the season and you’ve earnt it…..today though the morning is a foggier, less hospitable place than the night before and you need help, restorative, comforting, warming help, but where to turn for this short cut to wellness?

Simple.

A big, fat, tasty bacon sarnie – which my friends, is science, as Elin Roberts science development manager at the Centre for Life in Newcastle reported to the UK national press in 2009: “Food doesn’t soak up the alcohol, but it does increase your metabolism – helping you to deal with the after-effects of over-indulgence. So food will often help you feel better. Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids.

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“Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good.  Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of amines which tops these up, giving you a clearer head.”

There’s even a scientific formula behind that, oh so, aromatic delight of a bacon butty.

Elin adds: “If you’ve got amino acids and reducing sugars at a heat above 150 degrees centigrade, it kickstarts the Maillard Reaction in the pan. That means lots of lovely smells are released and it’s this which draws us in. I know of three vegetarians who have been broken by the smell of bacon.”

So we can all enjoy ourselves this festive season, safely please (eh? I really am 40 now), knowing that we can help put things right with plenty of fluids and a sizzling pan.

Thanks Bacon!

Cheers!!

Hargreaves

Top, Top Artisans?

Oxford English Dictionary, Noun; Artisan “A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand “.

Words as we know follow fashions and trends like all else in life and the two that I constantly hear bandied about at the moment are ‘Top, Top’ and ‘Artisan’ – technically that’s three words I know – but, as a football and a Liverpool fan ‘Top, Top’ shot into my conscious when Sir Alex Ferguson described Steven Gerrard, in his 2013 Autobiography, as ‘not a top, top player’, which made me bristle a fair bit, as with a maximum of only 198 players on the pitch at any one time in the premier league I would say that anyone securing a regular position in the starting line-up most definitely is a ‘Top, Top’ player, especially when considering the amount of people trying to do exactly that. Having once had a trial at West Ham or Tottenham Hot Spur definitely doesn’t count – did they just have a policy of letting everyone have a go in the ‘80’s?

However, the term ‘Top, Top’ has since become an easy way for pundits, both professional and pub based, to segment the merits of different players and so my question is- will we see the same sort of segmentation for all things labelled ‘Artisan’?

New-Artisan-Economy-logos-1

 

The word’s roots are French from the mid 16th Century and based on the Latin artire, ‘to instruct in the arts’, but in English usage was “often taken as typifying a social class intermediate between property owners and wage labourers’ (OED).

So to be artisanal was an aspiration for the majority of the poor beleaguered work force, as to be employed in a profession that required you to be able to manufacture with a great deal of learning and care in a skilled trade was to really improve your lot in life. No wonder then that in recent years it has become such a popular label in the food industry in order to connote on a product that it is something hand crafted, created with more care and skill than the mass produced, industrial process driven ‘fayre’ that is most commonly retailed. And it really is an industrial process, see Charlie’s article ‘After all a pig is not square’ to understand how they do it.

Labelling a product ‘Artisan’ is now so popular that a quick Google search has revealed that it’s been applied to Domino’s Pizza (who then confusingly say they are not Artisans, but then that actually they might be), Starbucks ‘Breakfast Sandwich’ and Mcdonald’s ‘Artisan Roll’, as well as Gel Nail Polish, Investment Management Services & Injection Moulded Plastics – I kid you not!

And after plastic bankers I doubt there’s a lot left for the term to be applied to, but real Artisans – ‘Top, Top Artisans’ will always be worth searching out as price is what we all pay, value is what we get.

 

Cheers

Stephen

Website development

Fortunately for myself my career up to this point has been immersed in building websites. I originally started out building very small static websites for local provincial retailers over 15 years ago. More recently I was fortunate enough to be let loose on developing web platforms for some of the world’s largest technology and media brands. Along the way many valuable lessons have been learnt, sometimes through skill and dexterity (or so I think), sometimes through luck and perhaps the most important lessons I have learnt has been through failure.

Drawing on these experiences we set about building the website presence for Cure and Simple over the summer of 2013. If you are new to building websites these are the steps we went through to build cureandsimple.com and can be utilised to build your website.

Commercial Specification – are you retailing one-off products, or doing a subscription based model with recurring billing. How do you collect your £££. How you manage the supply chain, are you going to automate this or make this a manual process. This includes fulfilment, stock management and payments. Lots of questions you probably already have the answer for. The purpose of this is that the developers can start to get an idea of what sort of tech / systems they can use. Are we going to build something from scratch or buy something off the shelf?

Flow Chart – What is the journey for the user from finding you, right through the process of seeing your offering to signing up? The below is what a basic flow chart looks like.

workflow-diagram-example-ecommerce

Application Specification – This is what you actual want your website to do this will be a document which outlines every process and requirement, this will be the benchmark for the guys building the platform. Remember to ensure what devices you want your website to be viewed on. Not to include mobile is a very dumb thing to do unless there is a very good reason.

Wireframe Generation – A builder uses architect drawings, a website developer uses wireframes. The link below is the first set of wireframes we used for Cure & Simple, one of the most important aspects to website development is to get this absolutely nailed http://internal.fieldshires.com

Design – The creative aspect of the website development with all the design / graphic elements. Some of the early designs we did not use, are below:

home02

Build – Building the website, now the developers have all the information they can then set about putting the site together.

Test – Make sure the website works it works across and performs how it is expected to across multiple devices and is running on your hosting environment

Launch – Get the website out there

By following this process we managed to get the website launched and taking orders in the very first hours.

In regards to who should do this work for you if you don’t have the required skills, there are three schools of thought. Get a company to do this for you, lots of very good companies out there, get a freelance web developer, where there are also plenty or finally build your own team. The benefits of using a company is that they will have all the required skills to deliver the outline above, however you will be paying a minimum of £500 / day for a web developer through this, as well as all the other associated fees, Account Managers, Project Managers etc. If you are well organised and want to jump in at the deep end then you will be able to secure and experienced web developer for as little as £300 / day, unless you find a real gem you will also potentially need to find additional freelancers to project manage or creative design. If you are going to build your own team this is by far the most expensive but will give you the most flexibility and the ability to make changes and adaptions as you grow remember if you are a dotcom your web site requires constant nurturing and development.

For the technical bits or for those who are intrigued, our site utilises the following technologies: php / MySQL we use Codeigniter which is a PHP MVC framework (unfortunately support for this framework was dropped after the website was developed), not that this will stop the site from running but advice would be to look elsewhere, we hear Cake is very good. Client side nothing revolutionary jQuery and twitter bootstrap for the responsive aspects (responsive design means the design of the website changes depending on device and screen size)

We also have multiple API services running built in Codeigniter that interact with 3rd party applications, including MailChimp for email handling, Royal Mail for deliveries, Chargify for subscription management and our merchant services provider for dealing with credit cards

We use Windows VMs for our hosting, which are managed for us by our friends at Zsah.

We have learnt lots on the way and more than happy to share our experiences with you, simple drop us an email at hello@cureandsimple.com if you want to know more.

Error!

When Charlie suggested that I write an article he also said it would be a good idea to introduce myself as the newest member of the team here at ‘Bacon Towers’.

I am Stephen Hargreaves and joined Cure & Simple at the start of June; I first met Charlie back in 2007 on a freezing cold morning stood in a field as we were trying to catch a loose horse and over the intervening years it became apparent there was much in common between us. We are both country ‘lads’ with backgrounds in agriculture & animal husbandry, we are both passionate about animal welfare & food production, both ‘foodies’, with a desire to create and deliver something unique, but more than this we share the same values and a similar outlook on life.

We also have complimentary skill sets, Charlie developed a professional expertise in software development & brand building, my area of specialism was in finance and more accurately as a professional investor in small & mid-sized companies. A good platform on which to develop a team and build a business we think.

Building our business will inevitably include errors and naturally enough we only want to make each mistake once, so we need to incorporate into our process a system of both recognising & correcting each error and also of ensuring that it won’t be able to happen again or have an impact on other areas of the business.

A simple system, regardless of the type of system, is always the strongest, but as systems grow and become more sophisticated they also become inherently weaker so we need to allow for this and create ‘safeguards’ for failure, either partial or total, as any system that does not prepare for failure is effectively ensuring it – something that engineers know all too well through their study & training and something that the ‘Fathers’ of the European currency would have been well served to have heeded.

404 Error

In doing this the best place to start maybe to follow Henry Ford’s maxim “Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain”. Let’s not invest time assigning blame, but find out what went wrong and build a safeguard into the system to prevent others from making the same mistake.

With this in mind what can we learn from others? For if we only learn from our own mistakes we are condemning ourselves to repeat the mistakes of others; so who can we learn from? Simple logic suggests that those industries where errors are the most catastrophic are likely to have the most comprehensive error reporting and prevention systems –airlines could fit the bill perfectly here and indeed they do have a very robust system of confidential error reporting, which is well highlighted in Peter Bevelin’s book: Seeking Wisdom, From Darwin to Munger

“the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has an Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) for analysing and reporting aviation incidents. FAA utilizes NASA as a third party to receive aviation safety reports. This cooperation invites pilots to report to NASA actual or potential deficiencies involving aviation safety. That NASA is the receiver ensures confidentiality and anonymity of the reporter and all parties involved in an incident. There has been no breach of confidentiality in more than 20 years of the ASRS under NASA management. Pilots who report an incident within ten days have automatic immunity from punishment.” pp163.

Anonymity in a small team is admittedly difficult to achieve. We can however, instil the culture of investigation and remedy, not blame, from the beginning through the design of our own Error log, not just for actual, but also for potential errors in order to consider break points and build in contingency plans. Doing this will allow us to create checklists and simplify procedures to make better decisions and avoid dumb mistakes.

And avoiding the dumb mistake is something we can all strive for!

 

Cheers

After all a pig is not square?

 

This was the reply that came from a question on how we could try and standardise the shape of Cure and Simple bacon. Not that the bacon tastes any different but the all too fussy consumer wants their artisan bacon to look exactly like the supermarket alternative.

The loins from each pig are always different in shape, unsurprisingly, after all no two pigs are identical. The large processors get round this by freezing your bacon down to about -8C, essentially this gives the bacon loin a consistency akin to play dough. This allows the bacon to be pressed into a perfect shape, before slicing. The end result is bacon that is the same size and dimensions slice after slice, the consumer is safe in the knowledge that their bacon will be the same shape day in day out.

For us we do things a little more traditionally, calling on times gone by when people didn’t expect exact dimensions time in time out, and blast chillers didn’t exist. We have to accept that the chump end of the loin is much thicker to the shoulder end. Generally speaking if your Cure and Simple bacon is much more circular in shape, it comes from the chump end. If it is similar in shape to streaky bacon, more rectangular in shape then it comes from the shoulder end. As for the middle it looks more like the bacon you come to expect in the supermarket. In regards to shape their will never be two packs of bacon that look the same, they all taste the same due to the exact recipes we use but shape will always be different.

Cure and Simple Old English - Chump End

Cure and Simple Old English – Chump End

Cure and Simple Old English - Middle

Cure and Simple Old English – Middle

Cure and Simple Old English - Shoulder End

Cure and Simple Old English – Shoulder End

Refreshingly, the Cure and Simple customers have yet to pick up on the difference in shape of their bacon, must be that they also understand that a pig is not square.

 

All good things come to those who wait!

A cliché perhaps, but one thing we have learnt here at Cure and Simple, there is no substitute for a bit of patience and perseverance in creating something fabulous. Whether it is a skilled joiner, furniture maker, tailor or even curer, a quality handmade process cannot be beaten by a machine, at heart that is what artisan means.

For us patience is required in bucket loads to create our bacon. From Pork to Bacon through your door, our process takes just over 3 weeks. While this creates a problem for us in regards to supply, this is easily outweighed by the flavour we get from a process that takes this long. The actual process of curing takes anywhere between 8-12 days. When we say curing this is when we immerse the loins in salt and all the flavours that make up each of the recipes. With the loin being turned every few days to ensure the cure is spread evenly across the whole loin. The time taken is purely dependant on the size of the loin, the thicker the piece the longer time, the smaller the piece the shorter the time.

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Cure and Simple Pancetta Curing

Once the curing time has elapsed we hang the loins to dry in a humidity controlled environment, with a gentle breeze flowing over the loins. The purpose of this is to draw out more of the moisture from the loin. Not only does this help preserve the bacon but also draw out some of the more subtle flavours that we use in the curing process. Finally the slicing and packaging of the product is carried out.

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Selection of Cure and Simple Loins Hanging to Dry

In 3 weeks, we have taken a piece of raw meat and converted into a fully preserved food all with a bit of patience, (and some salt and air). For those who have made bacon at home, you wonder what the differences are to the process described above and what you have done. In essence not a great deal, a lot more record keeping, a controlled environment for the pork to be transformed into bacon and demonstration of best practises to those that need to know i.e. Local health authorities.

We know that with this traditional hands on approach you end up with a far superior product to that what is commonly available in the shops. So if you don’t want to try some of our own bacons why not give it a go and make your own:

1)      Go to your local butcher and ask for a kilo or two of pork loin (Ask them to remove the bones and rind), not a requirement but makes a life easier later on.

2)      For every KG of Pork you need

  1. 30gms salt (flakier the better we find)
  2. 15gms sugar
  3. 10gms of any herbs and spices
  4. 2.5gm of Cure #1, (buy Cure #1 at http://bit.ly/1kzFzFE )

3)      Mix all the ingredients together and rub into the pork

4)      Once rubbed in, place the pork in a non-metallic container in the fridge for 10 days

5)      Turn the pork every other day, and pour off any of the liquid, try not to remove any of the salt flakes that haven’t dissolved if so add the some new salt back in to the cure as you poured out, but rubbing back into the loin.

6)      Once 1o days is up, run the loin under a cold tap briefly and pat dry with a clean cotton towel

7)      You now have bacon and can slice with a sharp knife and enjoy straight away.

8)      Alternatively you can let this hang for a few days in a cool dry area, garden shed or similar, best to wrap fully in muslin so the flies don’t get at it.

9)      If a white mould appears then simply wash of with some vinegar, it is perfectly harmless.

10)   Slice with a sharp knife and enjoy.

 

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Home cured bacon, post curing pre hanging

Simple!

The delivery conundrum

It was back in 2007, when LoveFilm, burst onto the scene, with a simple service of delivering movie rentals through the post. What made the offering so compelling, was not only the huge array of titles on offer, or the price point, but the way that your postman could quite easily deliver your movie rental at the fraction of the price of a traditional courier and certainly more convenient; you didnt have to be in.

 

The founders of LoveFilm soon sold the company to Amazon, and set their sites on their next goal; Graze.com. Another compelling offer, but this time deliverying all sorts of snacks and treats through the post, the company was soon snapped up by a private equity outfit. The power of Royal Mail is considerable, with their network being able to deliver packages and letters throughout the country overnight. The real trick to getting Royal Mail (or other nationwide postal services) to work for you  is to get the weight of your package and dimensions correct so that you can use 1st Class Post for a letter or large letter. For Cure & Simple we use a large letter format, and keep the total weight under 500gms. This enables us to deliver overnight nationwide for under the price of half a pint of larger.

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The UK is inundated with fantastic small manufacturers of all types of wonderful foods, who sell their wares throughout a myriad of independant retailers, farmers markets and other regional events. In days gone by unless you happened to live next door to these events being able to experience these foods was problematic. The internet soon filled this gap, and online ordering soon became the norm for these companies to offer their products to a nationwide market. The problem for this is that you either have to buy in bulk or you are hit with a huge courier bill to ship your product to your door. An example, pull up Google, type in “Artisan Bread Online“, select the top link and buy a loaf of “Multi Seed Rye”, go through the checkout process. The product is £2.30 to purchase which seems perfectly reasonable, by the time you get to adding in your card details, the price is over £7.30 for a loaf of bread!! No doubt the producer is also helping to subsidise some of this delivery charge. Suddenly even the most deepest of pockets would struggle to justify the price of a loaf of bread.

 

Fortunately Cure & Simple, delivery is a straight forward process due to the fact that bacon averages 5mm in thickness and doesnt weigh that much, plenty of other products can also benefit from being delivered by 1st Class Post. What is really needed is a simple method for small producers to be able to ship their products in bulk to a single location overnight, and for consumers to buy multiple artisan items from this single location. The price of delivery is then split between all items in the basket, maybe even on a pro-rata basis. Maybe there is a co-operative out there or an independant artisan retailer who does this already, if you know of any, then please let us know. If their isnt one perhaps the artisan food movement should set one up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an Idea!

Back in 2008 a group of friends decided it would be a good idea to keep some pigs in the English countryside, to fatten up and fill up the freezer. The premise of the idea was syndicated pork, I.E. a syndicate would share the risks, rewards and efforts in growing some tasty pigs. Any profits would be then shared amongst the syndicate. Six Gloucester Old Spot weaners arrived in May and took a one way ticket to the abbatoir in October. A crash course from the local butcher enabled the syndicate to feast on this most delicious of meat, safe in the knowledge that the quality of the product was directly influenced by its own efforts. It was through the summer of 2008, that a fascination with all things pork began for one member of the syndicate.

 

Fast forward 5 years to January 2013, and Charlie Pyper who had carved out a career in media and technology was chatting to a great friend and foodie Tom Kevill-Davies (aka The Hungry Cyclist) about a crazy idea, bacon by subscription shipped in the post. As quick as a flash Tom suggests that the brand should be called “Cure & Simple”. Truly inspirational! With a name like that this one idea could not be left to fester with all the other great ideas, this had to be done.

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Over the next few months while making the transition from the tech and media world to full time bacon manufacturer, the idea developed further. Charlie knew lots about making bacon already through much trial and error over the past 5 years with Pig Club, but on a commercial scale this was something totally new and daunting. With the careful guidance of Jasper Akroyd (aka The Bacon Wizard), the recipes soon developed over the summer of 2013. A site was found for the making of the bacon, an Old Tractor Shed in the village of Great Hormead, in rural Hertfordshire which needed to be fully developed. While the facility was developed, a brand was developed, a website was designed, a whole application was built to underpin the whole subscription process, packaging was designed, suppliers were chosen and nearly 16 months after the original idea, Cure & Simple opened for business.

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The purpose of this blog is to share the insights into what we do at Cure & Simple and why we do it! Every aspect is open to discussion and not just about the products we serve to our customers. We want to share our philosphy with you, on making the best bacon and the making of a modern company