Meet the Producers
In the second of our ‘Meet the Producers‘ features, we’ve headed to East Anglia to meet The Fruit Pig Company in order to learn a little more about them and more specifically their ‘Fresh Blood’ Black Pudding.
The Fruit Pig Company
The Fruit Pig Company is a bespoke butchery company based in East Anglia. It is owned and managed by Matthew Cockin and Grant Harper, with their specialty being traditional, rare breed meats and the production of joints and award winning charcuterie. Naturally, we wanted to know a little more, so Matt, kindly, answered a few questions for us.
The Fruit Pig Company was established in 2008. Tell us a little about the company origins and what prompted you to start the business…
Originally, I cut up pigs and sheep for smallholders in my spare time from working in a local butchers and running a smallholding. Sometimes I made their sausages, bacons and hams too. One customer was so enamoured with a sausage recipe we had produced she sent out tasters to local restaurants and hotels in Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Before long, orders rolled in. These original pigs were autumn pigs fed primarily on leftovers from a local fruit and veg wholesaler…Fruit Pig was born!
You both have very different career background(s), how did you develop your knowledge of rare breeds, butchery, and charcuterie?
I had 20 years in the RAF and Grant was a horticulturalist and landscaper. Both of us independently moved to Norfolk and bought smallholding 6 miles apart. Grant joined Fruit Pig a couple of years after I had started. I learnt butchery at college in North London after leaving the RAF and Grant learnt on-the-job. There are many smallholders in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, so both of us learnt our smallholding skills by doing and listening to those more expert. The same can also be said in butchery, both of us have researched and tested many cuts and recipes; we are both ‘foodies’. We love being tested and challenged by our chefs. A recent challenge was to produce a pork cut called ‘Presa’ for one of our local, award-winning chefs. We have always tried to keep it real; this is why we are one of the few producers of real, fresh blood black pudding in the UK.
Club Note: Presa is a very tender, well marbled, cut from between the top of the shoulder and the beginning of the loin (not usually separated by British butchers).
Which rare breeds do you raise / source and why is it important to you to use these varieties?
I don’t have a smallholding now, when I did, I raised and bred Gloucesters. Grant has tasted and bred most breeds. Raising and supporting rare and traditional breeds ensures that those breeds do not die out. It is a well-used line, “the more you eat them, the breeders will breed them”.
Are locally sourced animals and ingredients an important factor in making your products the best they can be?
We try and keep as local as possible. When not locally available, we go as far a field as Yorkshire for our rare and traditional breed produce. Unlike a high street butcher or farm shop, we supply wholesale and UK-wide. Currently, our fresh blood black pudding production requires well over 100kg a week of rare / traditional breed pork fat. Yes, a locally based wholesaler can supply us, however, their fat is Spanish or Dutch, but it is at least half the cost of what we have to pay. I’m sure the quality is fine but that is not what we are about.
What are the main products in your current product range?
Our main sellers are our national and international award winning fresh blood black pudding and our mutton bacon.
You are one of the few producers in the UK that use fresh blood for your puddings and this is a key message put across in your marketing content. Why did you choose to go ‘fresh’ and what benefit(s) do you achieve?
We are a handmade traditional breed’s butcher. Our recipes are well researched and authentic. The French do not use bread in their sausages, so neither does our Toulouse. Black pudding should be made from real, fresh blood and not imported dried blood powder. Yes, the powder is convenient. We hand produce around a tonne a month not 30 tonnes a day. We like some of the dried blood varieties too, but they are not a patch on ours… in our opinion. If you prefer your Lancastrian, Scottish or Irish commercial black pudding for its flavour that’s great, it’s a free country. We won’t however, be lectured that ours in not a real black pudding. Ours is made from fresh blood, collected by us from our local abattoir and our pork fat is British.
For those who may not have tried fresh blood black pudding, do you think they’ll notice the difference?
Goodness yes. You need to make a comparative test really. Ours is rich and succulent. Fruit Pig black pudding lacks that powdery taste that you only know is there once you have tried our fresh blood variety.
Club Note: For more information on this topic, see our article Black Pudding: A Bloody Debate. [Updated Oct17]
So, fresh blood aside, is there any more you could tell us about what differentiates a Fruit Pig Company Black Pudding from those of your competitors?
Grant and I hand make our pudding- we are ‘mandrolic’! We even harvest the blood ourselves and are in the process of becoming fully qualified slaughtermen. Because we hand make, we produce many unique varieties for our chefs (and even a Hollywood A Lister!).
Update Oct17: Congratulations to Matt and Grant on becoming fully qualified slaughtermen in April 2017.
In more general terms, what do you suggest is the key to making the very best Black Pudding?
Quality, authentic ingredients.
What size business are you and how many staff do you have?
Fruit Pig has 2 full-time, tired but happy staff.
The business is growing quickly. Do you attribute this success to any specific [business] principles or values?
I don’t wish to sound clichéd but we use quality ingredients, we work hard, listen hard and are results driven. Grant and I are Fruit Pig; we stand and fall by our products and the professional relationships we develop. Chefs are not fools. We make a premium product. To convince them to pay more for what they are currently using is not easy.
Who do you supply your products to? And, aside from the Hollywood A Lister, do you have any ‘famous’ clients, especially chefs?
Yes, we have some famous clients. Here in East Anglia we supply Titchwell Manor (one of our first ever customers), The Duck Inn in Stanhoe, The Market Bistro in King’s Lynn, Hambleton Hall, The Victoria at Holkham, The Morston Anchor, Byfords of Holt, Stratton’s in Swaffham and Jimmy’s Farm as well as some of the loveliest butchers, cafes and delis. Further afield, Tom Aikens with Tom’s Kitchens has been supporting us for years. More recently, The Duck & Waffle, The Hawkmoor and Aqua in the Shard.
The Hand & Flowers (Tom Kerridge’s 2* Michelin Pub / Restaurant) is now one of your customers. Is that a reflection on the quality of product you can provide for them?
Yes, it is so nice when people you really rate, rate your product as highly as the chefs at the Hand and Flowers do.
If people reading this wanted to try some Fruit Pig Company Black Pudding (or any of your other charcuterie), what is the easiest way to buy some?
Simply visit our online store!
Finally, do you have a tip or favourite recipe / meal for preparing or cooking your Black Pudding?
We have many wonderful recipes with our fresh blood black pudding. However, it’s got to be a full English.
Crispy shelled, fast grilled slice of each of our black and our white puddings. Fast grilling crisps the outer surface whilst leaving the middle soft. Then, cover each slice with a free-range, runny poached egg. Add 2 thick slices of our crispy grilled cold smoked collar bacon, our classic sausage/s, tomatoes, garlic mushrooms, beans, two half slices of toasted and buttered granary, a flat white and a glass of orange juice…Good night Madison, you’ve been great!
Thank you to Matt & Grant!