As you walk into The Old Butchershop in Roy Bridge, home of Great Glen Charcuterie you are enveloped by an amazing aroma that speaks of passion, of integrity and of quality. The soft sweet oak smoke, aromatic spice and rich game tells of artisans in the truest sense of the word. Great Glen Charcuterie produce many different cured meats from local red deer; venison bresaola, green pepper salami, smoked venison, chilli venison chorizo to name but a few. It is a company which is on the up and has travelled far from its humble beginnings in a wooden box in the back garden.
Sitting at the kitchen table, the hub of the family home, drinking coffee with Jan Jacob and Anja Baak you quickly realise when they say they’ve put everything into Great Glen Charcuterie they don’t just mean financially. Moving to Scotland in 2000 the Baaks have moved through estate management to game dealers and finally game charcuterie producers. The company was born as Great Glen Game in 2002, at a time when the price of venison was very low, Jan Jacob, who at that time was supplying fresh venison to local restaurants started looking for a way to add value by experimenting with cured meats. By 2008 they had stopped selling fresh game to focus purely on charcuterie, sourcing all their wild red deer venison from another local game dealer so with a full knowledge of the provenance of their meat.
This is a business built on a belief in what they are doing, no little skill and a huge amount of hard work. Jan Jacob talks about the effort that goes into the process of drying meats in the notoriously fickle west highland climate, ‘we could install a system that totally regulates the atmosphere for drying but it wouldn’t be natural, our product is natural and has to remain so’. And a natural product Great Glen Charcuterie definitely is, while spices are of a uniform flavour and quality in general, the venison meat can vary greatly from season to season. It’s these variations that Jan Jacob is keen to preserve and to celebrate; ‘I want people to be excited when they taste our product, knowing they are getting quality produce but also one which varies a little in style, that shows it’s a natural product with natural variation’. It’s this integrity of produce that drew me in initially, a celebration of the land, living within it rather than seeking to manipulate it. The produce still maintains that connection with the local area that started all those years ago.
Jan Jacob pinpoints the winning of their first Great Taste Award stars in 2010 as the defining moment, ‘we knew we had a great product but when other people tell you then you start to believe in it even more’. Entering every year since then they have won numerous awards, culminating with their green pepper venison salami being named Best Charcuterie product of the UK in 2013 and also in the Top 50 foods. It’s the hard work and belief in quality which has brought the company this far, Anja travels the length and breadth of the country, going to food fairs and carrying out tastings, with Loch Fyne Food Festival being a particular favourite, the frequent rain never dampening the atmosphere.
The transition to Great Glen Chracuterie was completed in 2014, by which time both Anja and Jan Jacob had been full time for four years and the Baak family had grown from the three little girls they’d left the Netherlands with to six children, fully settled in the beautiful highlands of Scotland. ‘We do miss the Netherlands’ confirms Anja ‘and always come home with nice treats when we visit. Always cheese, not the ones you buy in the supermarket here but proper farmhouse cheese.’ But they are now very much at home in Lochaber and the business has really grown in the last twelve months. They are looking for new premises, and hopeful of building something in the next year to increase production even further. And the ultimate vision for Great Glen Charcuterie? ‘We are looking to export more in the coming year and would love to see our Green Pepper Salami in the best food halls all over the world.’ It is a vision in keeping with the product, celebrating the best of the highlands but not looking to compromise quality in search of volume and I applaud them for this.
Before heading back down the A82 I have one final question, which product is their favourite? ‘Our chilli chorizo, it is so versatile, great to enjoy as a snack with a drink or to use it in cooking. We use it a lot in risotto’s with whatever is ready in the garden or lurking in the bottom of the fridge.’ It’s hard to disagree with this, I often do the same.
All images used courtesy of Great Glen Charcuterie