Born out of a passion for good food and exquisite Italian charcuterie, Norfolk-based Marsh Pig celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month. Founded by Jackie and Sarah Kennedy, Marsh Pig offers the very best in award-winning charcuterie, with new flavours launched each year. Samantha Mattocks speaks to the couple to find out more.
“When we began Marsh Pig, there were just 10 other charcuterie makers in the UK – now there are over 800,” explains Jackie. “It is amazing how big British charcuterie is now, each with their own distinct terroir and flora. There is room for everyone, and we love that.”
Jackie and Sarah moved to Norfolk just over 10 years ago. Jackie was a Cordon Bleu chef for many years, before switching completely to owning a headhunting firm for private and investment banking. Sarah, meanwhile, worked in HR, and both have a love and appreciation for good food and flavours. “I travelled throughout Europe with my job,” says Jackie. “I was greedy, and I like charcuterie and I tried lots. Sarah, meanwhile, didn’t come from a foodie background, but she loves good food and had a discerning palette.
“It was on a trip to Italy when we tried some finocchiona, fennel salami, and we just looked at each other. The flavour was fantastic, and we wondered whether we could make this ourselves using local free-range, rare-breed pork.”
In the UK at that time, there wasn’t much competition for British produced charcuterie. “Back then, there were two things that we always hated about salami – the bit that got stuck in your teeth, and the fatty feel it left in your mouth after eating. The simple answer is that fat is cheap, and meat is more expensive – so we turned it on its head and decided to use local, free-range, rare-breed meat with less fat and therefore a high meat content. For our pork salamis, for example, we use leg, rather than the traditional shoulder or the whole animal, resulting in a better flavour and taste experience for our customers. We have stuck to this decision, which also supports local British farmers and the community, and the results speak for themselves.”
With a concept in mind, the couple moved from Brighton to Marsh Barn in Norfolk – hence the name Marsh Pig – and Jackie transformed an old tractor shed into a curing room. “I went on a one-day training course and thought it would be magic!” laughs Jackie. “I thought I would put a sausage into my curing machine and out would come salami – but it didn’t quite work out like that! Instead, that was where hell began!”
The curing machine Jackie had ordered had to be kept upright, and the company delivering it had laid it down, meaning that it didn’t work properly. For the novice curer Jackie, the process was frustrating, but she persevered in her plan.
“I soon learned that to make salami is easy – to cure it is the difficult part! I went to the 10 other people making charcuterie to ask for advice, and you cannot print their reaction! It was awful; to their minds, they had a niche group, and they didn’t want anyone else to join it. Their response disgusted me, and that is when I decided to teach anyone who wanted to learn to make charcuterie how to do so. From year three of Marsh Pig, we have run 12 courses a year between January and October, and we have had amazing feedback from everyone who has attended. In addition to this, I have been a consultant for many others in world of charcuterie, helping other people set up their own commercial business, and I love to share my passion and knowledge.”
Back in 2012, Jackie made two original salamis – fennel, inspired by Italy and still the couples’ favourite to this day, and garlic and paprika. “10 months after we moved to Norfolk, we were ready to present Marsh Pig to the public,” continues Sarah. “It was September, and we booked ourselves into every food market and festival going, as well as going to all the delis, offering them samples and gauging their reaction.
“Jackie was tireless in going around everywhere. She was the trailblazer in the charcuterie market in East Anglia. Jacks would explain to deli owners that this wasn’t a salami for a sandwich, and while it was four or five times more expensive than the European equivalent, once people tried it they fell in love with Marsh Pig and understood what we were trying to do – that is, create a quality salami that you could take to your grandmother on a Sunday.
“From the word go, people have been incredibly supportive of us, and we have a wonderfully loyal fan base. Every time we bring out a new product, they try it to buy, for themselves and their friends. We are so thankful for the region’s food community, especially during the lockdowns when delis started doing home delivery, and people were buying our products to treat themselves at home.”
The Marsh Pig range has now grown, with Jackie telling me she didn’t want to copy other recipes.
“We both like red wine and we thought, what goes well with that? Thyme! So, we made a red wine and thyme salami. With my food background and Sarah’s impeccable taste, we have developed a range of flavours to appeal to everyone, meaning we launch roughly two new flavours a year.”
These flavours, as well as those mentioned already, include garlic and black pepper; rosemary and garlic; Kalamata black olive; hot chorizo; oak smoked chorizo; truffle; and venison and Black Shuck sloe gin. They also produce jerky and air dried pork and beef, all made from local produce.
“We have had so many highlights over the years,” says Jackie. “As well as the incredible support, we must mention Gold at the National Charcuterie Awards for our fennel salami. We have also won many Great Taste Awards, and also Best New Product at the Royal Norfolk Show for our truffle salami.
Asked about their 10th anniversary plans, Sarah tells me they are planning something special. “Jackie has just launched a new business, Black Allium, making black garlic in various guises, including a paste. As we speak, in the curing chamber is a black garlic salami, which won’t be ready for another month. We can’t wait to try it!”
“Looking back, I admit when we moved to Norfolk, I had this idea that this would be a cottage industry,” laughs Jackie. “I thought we’d work three days a week and have the rest of the time off! The reality is we work full time and employ six people!”
“I think the key is that we keep learning every day,” continues Sarah. “We are very lucky in that people have loved our products as much as we have loved making them. From the word go, we said we would not compromise on quality, and we have never wavered on that. We had confidence in our ideas, and success has followed. We have so much to be grateful for – and all because of a slice of finocchiona.”