A HOBBY GONE MAD!!
It all started way back in 2004/2005 whilst watching a TV documentary on smallholdings. This particular program featured a couple of Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs that their owners were fattening up for the freezer. With a small plot of land being owned by another family member, discussions were soon in full flow investigating the possibility of owning our own pigs for our own consumption. Before we knew it we were the proud owners of two GOS piglets, much to the amusement of our four girls (who were also traveling in the back of the car with the new members of the family!).
A few months went by and the cute little piglets we brought home in the back of the car were now two heavyweight eating machines ready to go to the abattoir (girls having lost interest due to the cuteness factor disappearing although they still had much fun trying to ride on their backs without much luck). The girls didn't bat an eyelid the day the two little pigs went to market (couldn't resist!) and in case you were wondering, they went in a reinforced steel livestock trailer and not in the back of the car!!!
At this point it dawned on us that neither of us knew how to cut a pig carcass up into manageable joints of meat. We hunted high and low for books, DVD’s Websites, etc… but could not find any easy to follow information.
Luckily a friend of a friend knew someone else who was a retired butcher. For a few choice cuts of meat he agreed to come and show us how to butcher a pig. Then the penny dropped and we thought why not film our retired butcher friend and make an easy to follow DVD for others to use seeing as one was not available. Our butcher friend obligingly agreed to be filmed and hence the “How To Butcher A Pig” DVD was born. We started selling the DVD online and on ebay and we were most flabbergasted as to how popular it proved. When The Norfolk Sausage Company was formed we revamped the footage and produced a branded DVD cover. We have now sold over 1100 copies to customers all over the world including USA, Canada, Australia, Russia and most of Europe.
Needless to say the meat was gorgeous and there was plenty of it! It tasted how pork used to taste when we were growing up! We had spare ribs (with meat on them), pork chops, rolled shoulder, boned leg joints, hock joints, pork belly, rolled loins, pork mince, bla, bla, bla. Obviously two more piggy’s were swiftly and safely installed in their new home on the land.
A few months went by and we had the odd BBQ in the garden where friends and family were invited to try the results of our new found hobby. The comments and feedback were from such occasions were what we expected.
“Wow! This is delicious!”
“So Juicy and full of flavour!”
“I can’t remember when I had crackling like that!”
“It’s not the pale pink colour that you get from the super markets!!”
It wasn’t long before someone suggested that we try making our own sausages. This just happened to be shortly after "Jimmy’s Farm" the TV Series, had just being aired on TV for the first time, which I suspect had something to do with how the suggestion came about. Not realising where this was going to lead us we took the plunge and invested in a small hand wound sausage stuffing machine, a small electric mincer and a sausage making book which had some recipes to have a go at!
We collected our second pair of carcasses from the abattoir and these we managed to butcher ourselves following our newly produced DVD. The kids lent a helping hand, not deterred at all at the site of half a pig on the kitchen worktop! With all the joints of meat packed away in the freezer we turned our attention to the task of making our first sausages. We played around with some of the spices and herbs to create our own flavours to suit our own tastes, as well as tried some to the recipes in the book we had purchased. After what seemed many hours we had some how managed to transform some of our offcuts of meat into a range of irregularly shaped, limp and wrinkled looking sausages with differing amounts of sausage meat in them giving them. After hanging them for a while some ended up teardrop shaped! This sausage filling lark is not as easy as what the local butchers made it look!! That said, when cooked the skins shrank back onto its contents to make them look somewhat more respectable when served up to the kids (albeit with a good dollop of mash to hide our failings).
Our second attempt (from piggy batch nr 3) was somewhat more successful. So much so, that we dared to roll them out as BBQ’ed offerings at most of the family gatherings that followed. Again the feedback was full of praise, this time followed by “can we take some home with us?”. Perhaps we had been too critical of our previous efforts?
During a late summer BBQ in 2006, that some bright spark that shall remain unnamed (my sister in-law Michelle!!) piped up above the clamour of the kids playing on the bouncy castle and said: -
“Hey, there’s a little competition in September called ‘The Battle Of The Bangers’ being held outside the Forum in Norwich! You should enter some of these and see what happens?”
We had no idea how this one event was about to alter our lives.
Enquiries were made with the organisers and bit by bit, step by step, we were unwittingly laying the foundations of ‘The Norfolk Sausage Company’. As we received more and more information about the competition we had more and more hoops to jump through. First it was a name for entry, The Norfolk Sausage Company just seemed to be the easiest and obvious choice. At the time we were not thinking commercially, we were just seeing if the sausages we made were any good.
Then we needed to confirm what our registered address was? This turned out to be for environmental health purposes which the reply was “well we make them at home for our own use so we are not registered”? Sounds pretty naive now but we knew nothing as yet as to what was involved in this said competition. It turned out that the competition wasn’t simply sending in a batch of sausages for judging, we had to serve them to the public (for free!!) for the public to vote which sausage was their favourite. Undeterred (probably due to an underlying curiosity to know what the public thought of our sausages), we investigated what was involved in becoming registered with Environmental Health. The answer being that we would need to have our kitchen inspected and approved along with the formation of a business for registration purposes. And that was that, The Norfolk Sausage Company was born.
In a whirlwind (a matter of three weeks) we had to register the business with HMRC, purchase griddles and a Gazebo, get our kitchen inspected by the EHO (which surprisingly with four young children wreaking havoc in it on a daily basis it passed with flying colours), design and print our logo/branding for signage and business cards and make enough sausages in preparation to give away to the judging public of Norwich (however many that may be?). We had no time at all to consider where this “little” competition was taking us, it just happened!! The sight of a large white abattoir lorry backing up to our front door in a tiny close in Freethorpe (where we lived then), with three sides of pig carcass being offloaded and delivered through our front door, was quite an amusing sight for the neighbours!
The Battle of the Bangers launched The Norfolk Sausage Company spectacularly and it was here where we realised we had a product that the public really wanted. The sausage we had entered was our Wherry Special Sausage which to this day still proves to be our best selling sausage!
The business started off on its long journey of attending numerous (early start) farmers markets, fetes, food fayres, etc… In no time at all we found ourselves breeding our own pigs and what had started out as the odd two piglets every now and then suddenly turned into 7 piglets from one sow and then 8 from another and so on.
It remained a small business in the early years due to the capacity of sausages that we could make in our kitchen at home. The expense of taking on our own premises and the risks that went with it did not interest us.
As things turned out, a new EU Directive came into force that prevented minced meat products being manufactured in any other than a fully compliant, commercially fitted out premises. This came as a big blow to us as we could no longer make money on our cold produce sales due to the cost of engaging another butcher to make our sausages (which were often not made the way we like to make them). As such our focus turned to the events catering market where we could make things stack up financially.
The Norfolk Sausage Company scaled back to a few events per year and stopped selling cold products until the summer of 2012, where by chance a small commercial unit became available in The Courtyard on Mile Cross road in Great Yarmouth at a cost that the business could potentially cope with. With the help of the landlord with the fit out and the extremely helpful staff at Environmental Health, we found it feasible to setup our own manufacturing unit and give the business the in-house production capacity it requires.
In 2012 The Norfolk Sausage Company was able to cater at many events both large and small selling BBQ’ed sausages including its 6th attendance of the Maritime Festival, its 4th at the Out There Festival as well as attending the Lowestoft Air Show for the first time (and as rumour has it, the last, due to this event being cancelled for the foreseeable future).
In September 2012 we also setup two honesty stalls where we offer frozen packs of sausages at a reduced cost 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One being set up at 7 Collis Lane in East Somerton near Winterton and the other at Stone cottage in Halvergate. Both of these have proven to be very popular with passers-by and we are looking to add other products in readiness for Easter 2013.
Events for 2013 are already being booked and The Norfolk Sausage Company is currently in discussions with some major Norfolk retailers to stock our fresh packs of sausages which now include the following flavours: -
· Plain Pork Sausages
· Wherry Special Sausages
· Pork, Sage & Thyme Sausages
· Pepper Pig Sausages
· Lincolnshire Sausages
· Gluten Free Sausages
All of the above are available in Banger size, Breakfast Sausage Size and Chipolatas.
We have also now started manufacturing burgers and currently have the following to add to our line of products: -
· Norfolk Special Burgers
· Guinness Burgers
A key area of our marketing for 2013 is to target selling our produce to pubs and restaurants, where we are currently working on a sausage recipe which includes a local ale. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook pages for updates on this recipe!
Another exciting addition to the business this year is our "Come Have A Go!" experience sessions. Adults and children alike can come and make their own sausages under our supervision. (click the red text to find out more!)
So as you can see, our Hobby has somewhat gone "A Little Bit Mad" since its humble beginnings consisting of two small piglets traveling in the back of a car all those years ago!!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our shenanigans over the years and look forward to serving you as a customer in the near future.
Thanks for reading!
Samantha & Mike.