Prior to a break in Wiltshire, in February 2019, we did some Foodie research, of course.
One of the Foodie Finds, was Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon, at Bromham, near Chippenham. Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon
The Wiltshire Cure is ‘wet cure’ which was invented by the Harris family in Calne, Wiltshire. John Harris opened up a butcher’s shop in 1770 or thereabouts. After his death in 1791, his widow Sarah, took over. She sold meat from five or six pigs on a good week. Her sons, John and Henry carried on with the business and had separate shops, selling bacon which they made and other products..
Calne was a resting place for Irish pigs en route to London and were the main source of pork, for both brothers.
The Irish potato crop failure, in 1846, brought their businesses to a grinding halt. the following year. John Harris Junior’s son George, travelled to the USA. He sent home bacon, lard and cheese and opened a bacon-curing business in Schenectady, New York. The business failed and George Harris returned to Wiltshire.
George had observed the American method of bacon-curing. American bacon-curers were able to cure all year round, because they used ice, to keep the pork cooler.
The first ice-cooler was constructed at their Calne factory in 1856. Chambers of ice were built with iron floors, and these were insulated with charcoal. The ice itself was gathered locally in winter, (no climate change in the Victorian era) and was imported from Norway, in summer.
The introduction of both ice for year-round production and the American ‘wet curing’ method, (using a brine of salt and saltpetre), changed bacon-curing in Britain.
The wet curing method they used, produced a softer, less leathery, less salty bacon. The new method gave such a boost to business, that by 1863. the Harris family joined with others, to fund a branch railway between Calne and Chippenham
The following year, Thomas Harris, (son of John Harris Jr) patented the ice house and this brought in another income stream, enabling the Harris bacon operation to grow and become more mechanised. By 1879, 60 men were employed and 1000 pigs per week were being slaughtered. Around 1887 the factory was able to switch from ice-house to refrigeration.In 1888, the two branches of the family united their businesses to form C & T Harris & Co.
Calne was the centre of British bacon curing and bacon was being exported to USA, Europe, China, New Zealand, Africa and India. C & T Harris also supplied steamships travelling in the Atlantic and Pacific.
Another expansion came with WW1, when lines such as pork pies, veal and ham pies and sausages (which had always been made) became just as important as bacon, for feeding troops. Separate pork pie and sausage factories were built in Calne, after the war.
During the time between the wars, C & T Harris, put a lot of effort into building and mechanisation. Unfortunately the Harris company lost control of their company in 1929. Some shares were bought by another bacon-curing family.
The original five storey bacon factory, in Calne, was closed in 1982 and demolished in 1984. At its peak, the Harris factory had employed 2000 people. Harris lost the Marks & Spencer contract and faced stiff competition from the Danish bacon industry.
The Keen family has farmed the 350 acre Sandridge Farm for sixty years. Roger Keen (who was born on the farm), has been wet-curing bacon the Harris Wiltshire Cure way, for more than thirty years, aided by wife Rosemary and now their daughter, Charlotte.
When the Harris factory in Chippenham closed, Rosemary says, her husband went to look at the machinery but ” he came back with the manager (Paul Clapp) from the bacon factory and told him to do it how it used to be done, before the machinery took over. “
The Keens and their employees rear 300-350 sows on home-grown cereals, plus brewer’s yeast from the Wadworth brewery, Yeo Valley organic yogurt, whey from Maryland Farm (makers of Barber’s Cheddar) and windfall apples from the orchard. The pigs are slaughtered at the local abattoir, only half a mile from the farm.
Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell
Unlike modern mass-producers of bacon, Roger Keen doesn’t add any water to his bacon, so that it ‘sizzles not drizzles’. Mass-produced bacon can be 11% water and often forms an unappetising scum in the frying pan.
It takes three weeks to cure Roger Keen’s bacon. He refers to time as another ingredient in his bacon. The ‘Golden Rind’ bacon, is smoked over oak and beech sawdust after curing, for two days.
Writing in The Independent, Duff Hart-Davis called Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon “such bacon as dreams are made of”.
Tom Parker Bowles visited Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon, for his book, Full English: A Journey through the British and their Food is still in print, available as a Kindle edition from Amazon for 4.99 or a paperback from Amazon or other bookstores at around 12.99
Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon also produces five specialty hams: The Chipnam, The Devizes, The Golden Rind Smoked, The Trubridge and The Somerset Sweet Cure. Additionally, there are sausages (probably not gluten-free), plus five uncooked boneless gammons. All traditionally cured (with the exception of the sausages) and made from their own pigs.
If you want a ham for Christmas (assuming that we can gather with our families), order early, as Christmas is Sandridge Farm’s busiest time of year.
On the website, there’s a PDF order form to print off, and send with a cheque.
If you’re in Wiltshire, you should be able to pick up Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon from Bird & Carter https://www.birdandcarter.co.uk when open, at Chilhampton Farm, Wilton. SP2 0AB. Neston Farm Shop & Kitchen at Atworth SN12 8HP is closed at the moment (22/05/20) but operating a Click & Collect service. https://www.nestonfarmshop.co.uk The farm shop has Wiltshire Cure bacon, which should be Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon, being the only Wiltshire Cure producers in Wiltshire, especially because when the kitchen was open, they used Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon for their cooked breakfasts.
So, what does it taste like ? Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon is simply the BEST bacon. Even better than the organic bacon from Helen Browning’s farming operation at Bishopstone, also in Wiltshire.
Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell
Sandridge Farmhouse Bacon with organic free range Wiltshire eggs from Abel & Cole and organic mushrooms and gluten-free sausages from Waitrose Salisbury.