We recently started to work with Crown & Queue, a beautiful shop in Spa Terminus. The team specialises in British cured meats - all sustainably sourced and made. We were very curious to hear more about how they make their charcuterie so delicious we asked Adrienne, founder of Crown & Queue, about how it all started and what makes their cured meat so special.
1/ Could you introduce yourself, Crown & Queue and how you started?
As most things are, this is a complicated origin story! In a nutshell, I spent 16 years as a professional chef before spending three years as an apprentice to an Italian Salumière learning how to make cured meats. When I moved the UK, my original intention was to continue my apprenticeship with someone who specialised in British curing (as a North American, we tend to assume that the whole of Europe has these culinary traditions) but lo and behold, upon arriving, all I found were Brits making Italian meats! I wasn’t interested in that, so instead I took a job with Neal’s Yard Dairy who were focused on what I loved about meat (the history, the provenance, the simplicity) but just in regards to cheese!
But I couldn’t get over feeling like there must be recipes to be uncovered here. Every society had the need to preserve foodstuffs! I just had to find it…. so three years later, after scouring as many history books, hand-written cookbooks, gardening almanacs, and online ‘recipe-preservation’ projects I could find, I started Crown & Queue to bring life back to that history. But alongside that I knew I also wanted to combat some of the negative attitudes around meat in general and cured meats/sausages specifically. So from day one I was focused on a transparent, sustainable model.
2/ How do you select the meat and producers you work with?
I personally visit every farm before we begin to work with them - and we do that for as many of our suppliers as we can manage. Our focus in on heritage breeds from extremely high-welfare farms that keep sustainability goals at their core. That doesn’t always mean that they are certified organic, but usually means they could qualify if they chose to. We like to focus on small farms, mainly because small-scale farming, no matter what it is, will of a necessity be closer and more intimate with their land. The same goes for smaller businesses. We start as locally as possible and then start branching out as we need to, to meet our other ethical goals (welfare, etc.) 3/ How do you cure the meat - could you share the process with us?
At its core, curing is a very simple process! What makes it difficult is 1. Maintaining the correct conditions to do it safely 2. Creating those conditions which don’t occur consistently in the UK!
There are three major techniques, and we use them all in varying combinations and permutations. First, salting. Salt is a desiccant, and its one of the oldest known preservatives (along with sugar). This is a delicate step because you don’t want the goods to taste salty (think of Salt Cod!), but you want enough to begin the process of removing water. Spoilage bacteria is a, pardon the expression, thirsty bitch, so getting the water out is key.
Secondly, acidity. Decreasing the pH (i.e. increasing the acidity) is another age-old method of preservation. Pickles are the famous recognisable modern option. But adding vinegar is only one way to increasing acid. You can also encourage fermentation which is the same principle behind creating yoghurt, cheese, and many alcohols! This means we encourage the growth of natural healthy bacteria like lactobacillus (the charmer responsible for all three of those tasties just mentioned as well), feed them a bit of sugar (it doesn’t actually need much! There can occasionally be enough naturally present in the meat, or can be found in adding ingredients like fruit. We sometimes add treacle or demerara sugar and sometimes we add dextrose, which sounds scary but is actually just a ultra refined sugar that lactobacillus finds easier to chomp on), and they will begin to create lactic acid. That recognisable tang you taste in salami? That’s the taste of lactic acid.
And finally, definitely not the least of all steps, TIME. We keep the meats in carefully built rooms designed to capitalise on the natural cool, moist environment of our railway arch (and to mimic certain periods of English weather). By very very very (did I mention very?) carefully controlling this, we can DRY the meat. Remember how I said moisture was no bueno? Well, drying is another method of managing that. And it can simply be a matter of exposing the meat to a slightly dry atmosphere over a period of weeks to months. All together, this creates a meat that will not spoil (sometimes for years). What you end up with is a delightfully chewy, deeply-flavoursome meat that lasts forever and tastes delicious to boot! What’s not to love?
4/ What is the difference from a production perspective between artisan charcuterie and industrial charcuterie?
I would say the biggest difference and most obvious is that we control the above principles by hand - each single sausage and piece of meat has been rubbed, hung and cut by hand. That means that each piece we turn out is perfect - nothing is allowed to slip through the cracks on texture, flavour, or safety. In addition, our attention to detail means we don’t have to resort to tricks or shortcuts meant to prevent failure or error. We don’t add ascorbic acid, we don’t add colour preservatives and we don’t add rusk.
Take a look at the ingredient list of grocery-store bought cured meats and let me know how many ingredients you recognise. And then take a look at our labels where it’s basically Pork, Herbs, Salt, Pepper. We can also get away with adding significantly less in the way of curing salts because we’re on hand every step of the way to monitor progress and safety. Finally, an artisan does what they do for love, not for money. We pay our farmers a properly fair price for their meat, we pay our employees living wages, and we can choose to be incredibly particular about the welfare of the animals and other ingredients we work with. All of that care translates into a better experience for the person who eats it: tasting better, definitely, but they can also feel better about eating it.
Thank you Adrienne!
Discover their beautiful and delicious Lincoln Imp cured sausage on our eshop
And visit their shop in Bermondsey or online with their full range of cured-meats.