Sam Hurst had a “light bulb moment” in San Sebastian on his travels through Spain. It came in the form of a piece of Puerto Bellota, sliced off the bone. Bellota, for the uninitiated, is a type of ham made from a pure bloodline of Black Iberian pigs that are fed only on acorns and aged for 36 months. “I’ve never had anything like it,” says Hurst, whose smallgoods distributor, Savour and Grace, is all about such light bulb moments.
Hurst was first introduced to pigs at 14, when he began his apprenticeship at the local butcher, which he describes as “old-school”.
“We’re talking wooden blocks and sawdust, and masters’ apprentices,” he says.
After decades working in the food distribution and restaurant industry, Hurst started to become incensed by what still remains an unspoken injustice: waste. “The food wastage issue is the elephant in the room,” says Hurst. “The amount of food wastage that’s going through the system, I find really offensive.”
Whether it’s spring milk, fresh tomatoes or a whole animal, Hurst says that if you believe in seasonal produce, the only way to effectively consume it without throwing heaps away is by preserving or fermenting. “One of the great things about high-quality preserved food like salami is that you can buy it – it gets made twice a year – and you can bring it out of your fridge 30 or 40 times and you don’t waste anything,” he explains. “That’s not what happens with fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Of course, Hurst is only interested in preserving the best. He explains that the best preserved meats are made from hand-selected cuts chosen specifically for their product, whether that be a cured leg or a dried sausage, like salami. He believes that skilful process really can’t be done by machines. “The reality is that the more consistency you put into a product, the less special it is. As you try and control the consistency, you dumb the flavour down,” he says. “You bring in a human element. The Koreans have a word for it – they call it ‘the taste of the hand’. It’s about the touch and the feel, this thing that only humans can do.”
When you’re looking for a great salami, Hurst suggests, you’ve really got to seek out the densest sausage. “If you’re worried about yield, what you want to do is mature the product as quickly as possible and not let it dry out. But if you’re producing for quality, you cure for a much longer time,” he explains. “A good quality salami, from the time you commute the meat, mix the spices in and fill it into a sausage skin, will lose about 50 per cent of its weight.”
It’s also important to evaluate the fat, which, according to Hurst should be sharply defined and bright. “If you look into the fat of the salami, it should be clear and white, not bleed into the meat,” he says. “It should have a stained glass look about it.”
But the only real way to learn about smallgoods is, of course, to eat the stuff. An impressive selection of Hurst’s cured meats – with a special Latin focus – is on offer at The Newmarket Hotel, so head down there to start your education.