Home producing shows no sign of slowing down, and we’re all the better for it.
They’re the ingredients thrown into the weekly shopping basket without haste. Jars of juiciness, vac-packed meaty bits and tins of deliciousness. But “how hard could it be…?” is a question most of us have pondered while facing a block of cheese, knob of butter, or a jar of chutney.
The element of getting back to basics, of absorbing knowledge that feels long lost between supermarket aisles and the pre-packaged is unmistakably appealing. They’re the product of our ancestry, made that little bit less romantic once you throw in mass production. But if you’re curious enough about food and have a particular interest, why wouldn’t you want to break down the smoke screen and find out how these techniques work?
For an age, bread was the classic no-go area. It was where off-the-shelf would always do. But the nation’s addiction to baking shows enabled a myth to be dispelled. It dusted off a nation of have-a-go-bakers to get the loaf tins out and flour onto the worktops.
Then we started getting into it a bit more. It became a thing to start curing your own bacon, smoking your own fish, brewing your own beer and making your own chocolate. All kinds of kits and boxes started coming out, with step-by-step guides and finely-tuned measures and contraptions to get you started.
“A lot of people are turning against the bland of the supermarket,” says Philip Wilton, a cheesemonger based in Tottenham, London. “Everything in a supermarket is made to specification – nobody hates or likes what you’re making. There’s a march towards producing food that’s local and has ethical value.”
Philip began making cheese in his kitchen around three years ago as a way of exploring a hobby. Though he had a “proper job with a steady income”, it became clearer that it wasn’t what he really wanted. “I started looking around for other hobbies and interests. I took a few courses – bread and cheese.” At first, he made cheese for friends and family. “It started as a hobby. I do like to bake, and make jams and chutneys. It took a while for the penny to drop that actually, just because we live in London doesn’t mean we can’t make cheese. We’d originally dismissed cheese because you immediately imagine rolling hills and cattle. But why can’t I do that? I could take something I enjoy doing and turn it into a business.” And most importantly, Philip is keen to separate the ideas of manufacturers and makers. “I’m never a manufacturer, always a food maker. I have a repertoire and make different types of cheese through the year,” he says.
Upscaling for business meant his hobby outgrew his kitchen. And so out of a space equivalent in size to a double garage, Philip’s business Wildes Cheese produces up to 50kg of cheese a week, his USP being it’s all made in London. “It surprises people that I insist on making it in Tottenham. It was important to me to stay here and be part of its regeneration.”
The back-to-basics idea is also very closely aligned with our increasing concern for keeping our food British, local, and supporting one another. And so it took a shrewd chap to pair his love of the French confit duck leg with the mission to support British produce. Kane Moore, founder of Confit Comme Ça, has satiated his love of a French delicacy that is hard to track down here in the UK and turned it into a business which started in his kitchen. Using British duck leg, Kane is confident his home-spun idea will appeal to fellow artisanal food-lovers and producers alike.
“I used to go to the Midi-Pyrénées in France a lot, and used to bring back tins of confit duck. I happened to be talking to a friend about two years ago about an idea to set up a food website. I’d always had the intention to start a business, even though my background isn’t in food,” he says.
Kane began holding tastings in his flat as he worked through the best and worst of cookbooks, trying to perfect the confit recipe. “I started off in a shared flat cooking about 100 duck legs, which annoyed my flat mates! But now I have my own place in Hackney,” (where he’s been bitten by the bug and is now building a cold smoker).
From kitchen counters to deli counters, there’s a positive perpetual spin occurring with local, artisnal food. The freedom of information, the brimming curiosity and the desire to understand is creating a movement that’s less about being a “foodie”, and more about appreciating and nurturing age-old techniques, which, while there’s never any danger in lost knowledge, there’s no harm in learning – just in case.