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Tempus Foods: meet the chefs making award-winning British charcuterie

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 6 days ago by VICTORIA STEWART

Lisa Faulkner, Celebrity MasterChef winner 2010 and Dhruv Baker, Masterchef winner 2010, at the MasterChef Pop Up restaurant at Meza, Soho.   (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty Lisa Faulkner, Celebrity MasterChef winner 2010 and Dhruv Baker, Masterchef winner 2010, at the MasterChef Pop Up restaurant at Meza, Soho. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images) A grey industrial unit in Surrey, 40 minutes outside of London, is probably the last place you’d expect to find the headquarters of an award-winning British charcuterie business. Still, this is where I have come to meet Dhruv Baker, chef and co-founder of Tempus Foods.

At one end of the Tempus office sits a huge glass chiller cabinet stuffed with meat, which Baker laughingly calls “our fun fridge - we’re trying out a few things.” Next door there’s a swanky kitchen for research and tastings and, downstairs, a production area complete with butchering, curing, ageing and storing rooms.

Baker, a cookbook author, chef, TV presenter and 2010 Masterchef winner, says that he and his business partner, Tom Whitaker, accidentally started Tempus whilst sharing a kitchen in 2015.

"I’d be there preparing canapés and losing my mind with boredom and Tom - who had trained in charcuterie in Italy - would be there butchering an entire pig, which looked way more interesting," he remembers. "I’ve always been intrigued by the alchemy of charcuterie… then Tom asked me if I could write some flavour profiles. Then we began playing around with different cuts and different breeds, trying to find what the best thing was for the style of charcuterie we’re trying to make.”

Last year, officially six months into business, they decided to nominate the early products for the inaugural British Charcuterie Awards, and were surprised to win the most respected ‘producer of the day’ prize.

Today, varieties of their nine products are stocked in shops including Selfridges, Bayley & Sage delis, and the Cannon & Cannon cured meat shop. They’re also “always developing new products,” and targeting chefs “to encourage them to use it as an ingredient rather than just on a board.”

Baker is excited about the potential for British charcuterie, “by which I mean continental air-dried style products,” which he says has been growing as a small grass-roots movement over the last 10-20 years. “It’s picked up huge amounts of momentum over the last few years, and is gathering pace constantly.”

Meanwhile, the name Tempus refers to the Latin for ‘time’ but Baker says it also reflects the time taken to cure and to age meat, “and the fact it’s about time that we [consumers] ask for better meat.”

Here is a breakdown by numbers of what goes into producing their British charcuterie.

01/18: First day of production

Wooden cutting board with prosciutto cheese on wooden table background. Close-up © Getty Wooden cutting board with prosciutto cheese on wooden table background. Close-up “We built this unit and started production, before discovering how little we actually knew. What followed was the steepest learning curve I’ve ever encountered!”

3am: Finishing times

“In the early days, we’d immerse ourselves fully - you can’t just dabble with salami as you’ve got the mincing and the curing and the casing and the fermentation stages. And you’ve got to monitor everything. There were times when we were making it that it felt like a really stupid idea - because we were hand-cutting stuff we could have had machines for. Often we’d be there into the early hours, having been at it for 11 hours.”

9: number of products they sell

“We now make a ham product, a smoked and a spiced coppa, a loin product, a jowl product, three salamis including our new hand-diced one, and a bresaola-style product. Then we do others including a lardo, a pancetta, and we’re experimenting with cooked hams and mortadella.”

Delicious artisanal whole smoked slab bacon on a cutting block. © Getty Delicious artisanal whole smoked slab bacon on a cutting block.

2: Number of pig farmers

“We get our dairy cows from Bedfordshire for our beef product. When we were finding them, it was a case of who could supply us with what we’re looking for, and the amount we need. It’s a constant re-evaluation. Now Tom and I are experimenting with different breeds and with smaller sizes. Using dairy meat is technically a waste product. Then a lot of the pigs we use are sows so once they’re deemed commercially unviable - I hate that word - we can use the meat. Overall that makes us more more sustainable and sits better with us ethically.”

240: The size of the large black pigs

“The animals we use tend to weigh anything up to 240kg, whereas in this country most pigs are slaughtered at 180kg. There is a huge difference in what you can make - the consistency of the back fat changes, the muscle tone changes, and the flavour profile changes.”

3: Number of pigs on first day of production

“Those three pigs took three of us 16 hours to process. Now it takes two people six hours to process six pigs.”

a piece of pizza: Tempus use single breed pigs and ex-dairy cattle to make their award-winning charcuterie (Tempus) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Tempus use single breed pigs and ex-dairy cattle to make their award-winning charcuterie (Tempus)

1000kg: Amount processed per week on average

“A good rule of thumb is that for every 3kg of raw material in, you get 1kg out.”

6: Number of hours of cold smoking

“After butchering the animals, mincing, mixing, spicing and curing (adding salt to) the meat, then stuffing it into (natural) cases, it’s time for the ageing. For our smoked products, we cold smoke just before that, in three batches at six hours each, which gives us a much more uniform smoke.”

14: Number of months it takes to get ham ready

Italian antipasti wine snacks set. Grizini, cheese variety, Mediterranean olives, pickles, Prosciutto, salami white background, top view © Getty Italian antipasti wine snacks set. Grizini, cheese variety, Mediterranean olives, pickles, Prosciutto, salami white background, top view “The salami is done in five weeks but the hams can take anything up to 14 months. Someone comes to check on the meat every day and turn the trolleys round every week. When they’ve finished ageing, they go into the store room to be packed and sent out."

2: Number of staff

“My role has changed. Tom oversees production and I now oversee the commercial side and also work on the flavour profiles and spice blends. Occasionally I miss that cold room, but we’ve got more people now, chefs with great palates, and a system which tells us everything - the date and temperature of the animal, and so on - so it’s easier to split responsibilities.

For more information visit tempusfoods.com.

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