Dorset Food & Drink: Capreolus Fine Foods
PUBLISHED: 13:35 24 September 2020
Winning a Golden Fork at the 2019 Great Taste Awards for their Guanciale was an impressive ay for Capreolus Fine Foods to mark a decade of smoking and curing in Dorset.
There are many ways to celebrate a “big” birthday – but for Karen and David Richards the tenth anniversary of their Rampisham-based Capreolus Fine Foods artisan business was marked by an award which ranks their charcuterie among the best in the world.
Their Guanciale was awarded Charcuterie Product of the Year at the Great Taste Golden Fork Dinner in September 2019. A video of the presentation shows Karen dancing on to the stage to the musical accompaniment of We Are The Cheeky Girls!
Guanciale, derived from guancia, the Italian word for cheek, is an unsmoked bacon made from pig’s jowl or cheeks. The flavour is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. Guanciale is a delicacy of central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio, and is traditionally used in dishes like pasta all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara.
Winning the Great Taste Charcuterie Product of the Year at the Golden Fork Awards was an emotional experience for both of them. “I didn’t know it would matter so much,” Karen admits.
“I burst into tears.”
“The moment it was announced my heart almost stopped,” adds David. “It is such an enormous accolade for us.”
The Guanciale was one of four Great Taste three-star awards for the West Dorset business. The others were Smoked Mutton, Dorset Coppa and Chorizo. Capreolus also won two stars for their Dorset Air-dried Pork Loin, Uphall Farmhouse Air-dried Ham, and Rampisham Tingler Salami; and one star for Dorset Rosette Salami, and Wild Venison and Pork Pepperoni. That’s nine Great Taste Awards in a single year!
Their joy at the Golden Fork award was increased when they learned during the evening that the three-star Coppa was also among the top 18 products overall.
In 2019 the Great Taste Awards, run by the Dorset-based Guild of Fine Food, whose HQ is in Gillingham, judged 12,772 products in what is considered to be Europe’s leading food accreditation scheme. There were 208 three star winners, with 1,325 two stars and 3,409 with one. Only 1.6% of entries earned the right to mark their product with the distinctive black and gold Great Taste Awards 3-Star logo.
While David is the creative genius of the charcuterie at the Rampisham production unit, and Karen the marketing and admin brains, both stress that they couldn’t do it without their expert team, some of whom have been with them from the start. “None of this could happen without our fantastic staff. We all take great pride in what we do,” says Karen.
The other secrets of Capreolus’ success are simplicity, attention to detail – “We don’t cut corners,” says David – and the first class products from their suppliers, many of whom are local.
A perfect example of this is their main pig supplier, Sam Holloway from Locke Farm, Halstock (samspigs.co.uk). “Sam breeds free-range Oxford Sandy & Black pigs,” says Karen. “They happily forage in the woods for acorns and hazelnuts in the autumn and eat roots and grubs the rest of the year.” Sam also gives them GM-free pig nuts and supplements their diet with the milk whey from the Blue Vinny Cheese making process. “His pigs get high-grade protein and we get to work with the best pork available.”
David’s background is not in food but science. After taking three science A-levels, he read environmental biology at university. For 15 years he worked for an adhesives company, followed by another 15 years as sales manager for a lithium battery company. His last role was as sales director of a nanotechnology company, which closed about ten years ago.
Karen had her own small business in telecoms, but David’s redundancy was the trigger for them to change direction – literally – and move to rural Dorset. “I worked for 18 months on a building site, I was known as ‘Posh Dave’, driving dump-trucks and digging holes before my wife Karen and I started Capreolus Fine Foods in early 2009 in the kitchen of our house in Gillingham, Dorset.”
David, who is also an international shooter, and Karen set themselves the goal of producing world-class charcuterie. Their nascent business soon shifted from kitchen table to a converted calving shed which allowed them to develop their product range. Before long they were winning stacks of awards, and had a bulging order book, they needed bigger premises to keep up with demand and so they moved to their current HQ at Uphall Farmhouse in Rampisham near Dorchester.
Their centuries-old farmhouse overlooks peaceful and unspoiled countryside, and their walk to work is just a few yards to their production units in the former farm buildings. These are simply equipped with meats, spices, a maturing room, a fermentation room and a smoker, which are ably run by a small team of trusted staff with an equal passion for the products that are created here.
Entering these buildings is a heady experience – rich smells of slowly curing meat, and spices that zing with fresh aromas. Tasting the products confirms the promise in the air. These are subtle, multi-layered flavours, to be slowly savoured, enjoyed with a well-dressed green salad and a glass of fine wine –red or white, the choice is yours.
Their brand’s tenth anniversary has been marked not only by the Great Taste triumph, but by a redesigned website and a handsome new logo, inspired by a Jurassic Coast ammonite, created by designer Dan Bee.
The online name is also changing to the English Charcuterie Company – much easier to find than Capreolus, says Karen. But the company name will still be Capreolus Fine Foods; the name comes from the Latin name for roe deer, Capreolus capreolus.
The increasing demand for their products means the business has to grow – one of the production buildings is being extended, upwards to a second floor, doubling its size. “Yes, success will drive expansion,” says David. ”But the artisan process will remain the same and so will our products.”