A SMALLHOLDING and a sprawling country estate in south Wales have forged an award-winning partnership to add value to Welsh venison.
The combination of Cwm Farm’s meat processing flair and skill and Margam Country Park’s 400-strong herd of deer has led to an exciting new project creating a range of venison cuts and cured meats.
The instigator of the partnership was Cywain, a project created to bring added value to primary produce within the agricultural sector, which matched the Cwm Farm and Margam Park’s skills and expertise enabling them to grow their businesses and open up new marketing opportunities.
Carpenter Andrew Davies and his school administrator wife Ruth bought Cwm Farm at Rhydyfro, near Pontardawe, five years ago and initially stocked it with two in-pig gilts with the intention of producing their own pork and sausages. However, so positive was the feedback from friends and family the couple decided to expand their production and sell the meat from their growing herd of Saddleback and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs. Ruth said: “We bought a catering trailer – Poacher’s Pantry – and sold our bacon and sausages on the A4067 in Pontardawe.
The response was amazing so we entered some of our produce at the Royal Welsh Show and won 16 gold and three silver awards!” The desire to grow the enterprise led Ruth to a factfinding trip to Denmark to study how to add more value to their meat.
“I was amazed at how much value could be added by making products such as salami and cured meats, and our saddleback pigs have the right fat ratio for salami making,” she added. Following 18 months of technical advice, butchery training and product development at the Food Centre Wales in Horeb three varieties of salami were created – with laverbread, traditional paprika and Moroccan spice.
“We took them to last year’s Royal Welsh Show and we had some fantastic feedback,” said Ruth, who also sells Cwm Farm’s products to rugby fans on match days at Parc Y Scarlets.
The link-up with Margam Park came through Cywain, which has long been helping Cwm Farm develop and market their produce – including beer sticks (slim sticks of salami). “Cywain have been with us every step of the way,” said Ruth. “They have been an absolute rock and the support and help we have had has been tremendous.
“Our Cywain mentor Rolant Tomos has been with us from the very early stages and he knows our business inside-out. “Through Cywain we have been able to forge new opportunities and take part in events including the Royal Welsh Show and the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham.” In addition to processing Margam Park’s venison Ruth devises recipes combining it with ingredients such as chestnuts, cranberries and orange.
The partnership made its first foray into the marketplace at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair where the venison burgers and sausages picked up a raft of prizes including four gold and two silver awards. “The Winter Fair was a great success, and now we’re going to make venison salami, jerky and biltong snacks,” said Ruth.
Last month Cwm Farm opened its own specially designed processing unit in Pontardawe which includes a special drying chamber imported from Italy. It will enable Cwm Farm not only to add value to their own pig meat and Margam Park’s venison but also to meat produced by other smallholders.
“We are really enjoying working with Margam Park and have created a traditional venison salami as well as a version with chocolate and chilli. It is a very exciting time,” said Ruth.
Once the home of the Talbot family, and now owned by Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Margam Country Park is famous for its herds of fallow, red and rare Chinese Pere David deer that roam the 900-acre estate. Regular deer culls are carried out as part of the management of the herd, but until now the commercial potential of the venison produced has not been fully explored. Park manager Michael Wynne said: “We have to cull the deer, mainly for welfare reasons, and we have previously sold the carcasses to members of the public and to game dealers.
“But it struck me we should look at ways to add value to the venison, and with Cwm Farm’s help we hope to open up a wider market for our venison.
“I’d actually met Ruth previously at a food conference in Swansea and was impressed by her enthusiasm and ideas, but it wasn’t until I contacted Farming Connect who put me in touch with Rolant Tomos at Cywain that we all came together as a team.
“Our core business is not processing meat, Ruth and Andrew do all the things we cannot do. We supply them with the venison and they do all the development and processing for us.
“We are planning to cook the sausages and burgers to serve to Margam Park’s visitors. We are also hoping to offer venison boxes to the public during the winter months. Eventually we may develop a farm shop element at the Park too.”
Mr Tomos said: “Using Cwm Farm’s charcuterie skills and knowledge has not only created award-winning venison sausages, but has also established a relationship that will create exciting new products, safeguard existing jobs at both businesses and in the future create new jobs.”