Not being a busy fool is often cited as one of the most important lessons in business. The pandemic taught Isabelle and Richard Flannery this much.
Until March 2020, the couple behind Highland Charcuterie & Smoke House had been going to five markets a week. They stayed in hotels overnight and drove miles across Scotland to sell their selection of smoked sausages, salamis and pâtés. But when the markets closed, they were left with no choice.
“We put up flags on our driveway and brought out baskets of charcuterie to people,” says Cognac-born Isabelle Flannery. “To our amazement, we were soon doing better than we had been when we were doing all the markets.”
This year, the couple has garnered far more than just local attention, winning a Great Taste 3-star award and progressing to claim the Golden Fork for Charcuterie Product of the Year 2022 with their Peat-Smoked Wild Venison Salami.
It’s a product that typifies the Flannerys approach and the abundant local larder that surrounds their base in in Kinlochbervie, a scattered harbour village in the north-west of Sutherland, in the Scottish Highlands.
Their latest award-winning salami (available sliced in 80g packs, RRP £6) combines wild venison with local free-range pork backfat and a mixture of spices, herbs and juniper. After curing, the individually made salamis are gently smoked over Highland peat.
Even in this remote corner of the world, the charcutiers don’t have to travel far for inspiration or ingredients, using meats from local crofters, wild pheasant and venison, and foraged ingredients like wild garlic, bog myrtle, rosemary and chanterelles.
Making money has never been the driving force behind the venture, which they started from their kitchen in Kinlochbervie when they left the hotel trade in 2014. They only rely on each other to produce a range of very small-batch products. For interested trade buyers and consumers, the Highland Charcuterie website has a regularly updated list of what its owners are making.
When FFD goes to press, the list includes the Golden Fork winner as well as: Wild Venison Pate with Rowan Berries & Islay Whisky (330g, £7), Cold Smoked Scottish Cheddar (200g, £5) and Pork Salami with Fennel Seeds, Garlic & Gorse Flowers (80g, £6).
It’s because we do it on such a small scale that it tastes so good
Rillettes, smoked pheasant and snacking salamis, such as its pork & seaweed Highland Walking Sticks, are other regular fixtures in the rotating line-up.
“I like to do things myself,” says Isabelle Flannery. “I don’t want to turn into a factory.”
“People that buy our product comment very often, that it’s because we do it on such a small scale that it tastes so good.”
Despite the scale they work at, the Flannerys aren’t afraid of growing their business. They have applied for a grant from the Highlands & Islands Enterprise body and are actively seeking other opportunities to double their drying capacity.
“The fact is, we need some money to build a unit, a shed basically, and we need something very heavy because where we live is on top of a hill, there’s a lot of wind,” says Flannery. “We are a bit exposed to the elements, so we need something fairly solid and very well built.”
This would allow the business to service the customers they have to turn away and offer products to more independent retailers at a competitive price. As it stands, they sell to a handful of outlets, including a local distillery, where touring visitors are offered a tasting of the Highland Charcuterie products.
“We don’t have a huge difference between our retail price and our wholesale prices,” she says, “because, to us, a wholesale price would be for a whole batch, and it’s rare that somebody wants to buy a whole batch.
“If we were able to sell more, we could lower our prices, but we’re not there yet.”
Whatever they do next, she says, they will not compromise on their standards.
“On the contrary, I want to get better at what I’m doing,” says Flannery. “The point of this is to be able to live off it, of course, and to improve everything.”
By Lynda Searby
Additional reporting by Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox