meatbox newsletter - the great pork debate

First there was Riverford and then there was the sausage. Other than the occasional excursion into selling bags of farmyard manure and bunches of daffodils (we were a fairly entrepreneurial crew), pork and herb sausages formed the first product sold under the Riverford label. We had pigs on the farm in those days and were looking for a way of earning a small premium in return for high welfare standards. Back then in the early ‘80s the general standard of food, meat in particular, was pretty dire. High street butchers had started copying the supermarkets by cutting corners until there were no corners left. Ridiculously, they started off with fairly good quality meat and then, by trying to emulate the mass-produced sausage, emulsified it to death. The idea of leaving bits of pork you could actually see never occurred to them.

You’ll be glad to hear we did not follow the herd and the Riverford banger has remained virtually unchanged for thirty years. We use no ‘E’ numbers, a natural (rather than synthesised) spice seasoning, natural casings, high meat content of good quality and fresh (not dried) herbs. The meat is coarsely minced, the mix made up, and then minced again. The sausages are then hand-tied and hung for a few hours to dry before packing. Without preservatives they are a short shelf-life product (seven days, but tastier for it). If you’re not going to eat them within this time, freeze them when fresh; I have never noticed a difference in quality.

Today it’s rough going for British pig farmers, who marched on Westminster recently, seeking a fairer price for pork. The increasing costs of cereal feed and fuel, coupled with aggressive supermarket buying strategies has left many losing money on every pig. Another hot debate surrounds the Soil Association’s Not in my Banger campaign. The charity has objected to building proposals for enormous factory farms and is now at the sharp end of some serious legal wrangling. Here at Riverford our philosophy is to support smaller farmers who raise organic animals to high welfare standards as we think it’s better for everyone, and for our countryside. We look at their costs, agree a fair price and stick with them. Like our sausages it’s pretty simple, and no-one is left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Ben Watson