Keeping rare breeds Case studies Masterchefs to Charcutiers Dhruv Baker was MasterChef winner in 2010, returning as guest judge the following year where he met highly-praised finalist Tom Whitaker. Dhruv went on to work in leading kitchens, including La Gavroche, published Spice: Layers of Flavour and opened The Jolly Gardeners gastro-pub in south-west London. Tom studied continental-style artisanal charcuterie production in Italy and set up a private dining business, London Dining Concept. Along the way, they found themselves sharing the same kitchen and the idea of combining Tom's butchery expertise with Dhruv's passion to spice and flavouring led them to start making charcuterie as a hobby. They took some of their 'experiments' to Sean Cannon of Cannon and Cannon, specialists in British cured meat and charcuterie, whose positive response put them on the path to setting up a charcuterie business. Two to three years were spent experimenting with British rare breeds, as Dhruv explains: 'Leading charcuterie producers in Italy and Spain talk about the pig all the time and will only use a single breed'. While there is a growing number of British producers, no one was focussing on one breed. As chefs, consistency was important to us which meant finding one breed with animals produce as we needed them. Good charcuterie starts with good animals, so we had to start by finding those good animals.' The breed they selected was the Large Black, and it's probably no coincidence that much of hte top Italian and Spanish charcuterie is also produced from black pig breeds. Dhruv says 'The large back was going to be our defining characteristic and we drove all over the country to find farmers with a deep passion for the breed who were willing to meet our specification. The suppliers we talked to probably thought we were bonkers.' Dhruv and Tom found what they were looking for in two family farms in Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The business also invested in a two-storey factory unit in Weighbridge, purpose-fitted to a high specification and had 9 tonnes of charcuterie in production at its launch. The time they have put in has certainly paid off. To carry off the BritishCharcuterie.live Producer of the Year Award just six months into trading is impressive and, Dhruv believes: 'It validates to our farmers that what we are doing is worth all the effort - and perhaps we are not as bonkers as they thought'.