Price is getting it right after Great Taste success
Chilli specialist Michael Price only started making charcuterie as a ‘lockdown project’ but having won a Great Taste Golden Fork for his Chipotle Coppa last year, he is now launching a fully-fledged charcuterie brand
Over the course of his career, Michael Price has driven 7.5-tonne trucks, worked at an airport, written computer programmes for major retailers, developed manufacturing systems at Aston Martin and grown chillies commercially. So, it’s not wholly surprising that the latest entry on the Warwickshire-based producer’s CV is “award-winning charcutier”.
“Apart from being an astronaut or doing brain surgery, I’ve tried a hell of a lot of things,” says Price, who started making charcuterie in 2020 as “a bit of a lockdown project” to boost sales at his existing chilli products company Prices Spices.
Now the charcuterie is very much a business in its own right, and Price will be relaunching it and adding new lines under a separate brand, called Cureights.
In little over a year, he developed a number of whole-muscle products, including a chipotle coppa that won a 3-star in Great Taste 2021 and also took the Golden Fork for Best Charcuterie Product.
All of a sudden, this self-billed “jack of all trades” finds himself in esteemed company, with Capreolus, Trealy Farm and Great Glen among the handful of British charcuterie stalwarts that have won Golden Forks in the last decade.
But Price is about as far away from resting on a laurel as you could get. Less than a month after picking up his Golden Fork in mid-October, he was in Italy on an intensive charcuterie course, touring various producers and picking up as many techniques as his hosts would reveal.
When FFD catches up with him in early February, he has just been on a visit to a local farmer to look at some British Lop piglets that will soon grow into his raw ingredients. And this month will see him launch Cureights [see box], which will cover his current line-up of salumi as well as a new range of products including salamis and pancetta.
If you had to find a common thread running through all of Price’s various jobs over the years, it would be scientific curiosity. His enthusiasm for finding out how things work has seen him learn computer programming languages and refine automotive manufacturing processes, but it was his hobby of growing chillies that led him into food. After expanding his home greenhouse operation several times, he had such a glut of produce that he started making chilli jams and sauces as Prices Spices in 2013.
He quit the day job at Aston Martin in 2015 (“It was well paid but it didn’t interest me”) as he started to build up a following for his creations, like Haitian Sensation sauce and Reclus Red Chilli Jam, at consumer food events.
By 2017, he had a production unit and was growing chillies on land at nearby retailer The Farm Stratford and then during the pandemic relocated to a 90sq m production kitchen just outside Warwick.
Having the extra space allowed Price to diversify during lockdowns. He has put his chilli expertise to good use by offering heat-and-eat takeaway curries at weekends and then decided to add yet another new skill.
It all started with a bacon-making kit he received as a gift. Needless to say, following instructions and using pre-weighed ingredients was not enough for Price and he was soon buying out-of-print books, like Maynard Davies’s Secrets of a Bacon Curer and carrying out his own experiments. From there, he made batches of smoked salmon for Christmas and then started working with pork shoulder cuts – specifically Boston Butt – to produce the whole muscle charcuterie that has impressed food judges and consumers alike.
Citing publications like the Guild of Fine Food’s Charcuterie Code of Practice, Price is a voracious reader but he is also very hands-on when it comes to understanding the process of making charcuterie.
A case in point is the second-hand fridge he converted into his first maturation chamber.
“You can buy one of those cabinets for thousands of pounds but you can also do it yourself for 200 quid, as long as you know what you’re doing,” he says. “I’d rather see how a basic system works – and know all about adjusting the humidity and how long it takes for temperature to go up – before you just plug something in, punch in the numbers and let a machine do its thing.
“If something goes wrong, and you’ve done that process before, you know how to fix it.”
Although he is reassuringly preoccupied with the technical aspects of charcuterie (and regularly veers into quoting temperatures, nitrite levels and pH figures during conversation), Price is also very concerned with the flavours of his products.
“The one thing I’ve always been focused on when making products with chilli in, is not putting too much chilli in. Less is more.
“Some people whack way too much in and you lose all flavour.”
This would explain the rationale behind using a relatively mild smoked variety like chipotle in that much-vaunted coppa of his. While this ingredient works in “harmony” with the umami notes in the meat, it also affords the product a degree of marketability.
“You’ve got to work with something that somebody knows,” says Price. “If you use a chilli in a product and they’ve never heard of that variety, people are damn well not going to buy it.
“It’s not just about what’s got a good flavour profile, it’s about what people will understand.”
The same rationale is behind the creation of Gin Coppa, made with the waste botanicals from fellow local producer Shakespeare Distillery.
“It’s a bit like the fennel coppa but there’s far more depth of flavour in there,” he tells FFD. “You get a little bit from the rose and the citrus, so it’s quite an interesting one.”
He says it’s this kind of innovation that excites him, recalling how he was told off on the trip in Italy for preferring a lardo producer’s variations flavoured with Cognac over the original plain product.
Marrying classic Continental techniques with new flavours is something that Price feels the best British charcutiers excel at, and he is also embracing the lack of tradition in this country.
“Obviously I’ve not got my salumi hanging in a middle of a castle that’s got the sea breeze blowing in and my pigs aren’t from half a mile up the road, but I think: what can I do that is a local product and make it the best thing that I can?”
The idea of being a local business excites Price in every sense of the word, whether it’s the opportunity to really shape his raw ingredients with a nearby farm, or to represent Warwickshire as one of its very few (if only) charcutiers, or to sell to businesses in his area.
Keeping it local is very much the launch plan for his nascent charcuterie brand and he is targeting a sales split of 50:50 between retail and foodservice eventually. Initially, it is the latter he will look to drive because products like pancetta and guanciale lend themselves well to that sector.
Retail is on the cards too and Price’s hope is that retailers well sell prepacked formats as well as whole cuts for slicing to order on the counter. Retailers are looking at around £4 for a 500g salami, while whole muscle meats are sold at £30/kg and 60g packs cost £3.76.
However, he is under no illusion about the challenges faced by producers like him in an increasingly price-conscious world.
“Yes, you can go in Aldi and pick up a pack of something for £1.40. But if you want something that’s British-made, you’ve got to put your hand in your pocket,” he says, adding that decent Continental products carry a similar premium.
“You’re always going to have the people that just want to buy some crappy chorizo. The people that want high-end stuff, that’s your market.”
And if the current Cureights line-up doesn’t grab their attention, then Price says he is already developing a host of other ideas. This includes a still-in-development chorizo an and ‘nduja, which would befit his chilli background.
One thing is for certain, Michael Price is only just getting started.
“Perfection is never achieved. Even if I go on to win more Golden Forks, I’m not going to stop. The day I stop learning is the day you can put me in a box and cook me at 1,200°C.”
Michael Price will now be selling all of his charcuterie under a new brand called Cureights. Not only will the line-up include his Fennel Coppa and the Golden Fork-winning Chipotle Coppa but there will also be a new Gin Coppa, made with by-product from Shakespeare Distillery.
Price has developed a saucisson sec, which he says he has already trialled with French friends to great acclaim, and he has also produced his take on a Tuscan salami, which is lighter on the mace and nutmeg.
Completing the range is a pancetta and guanciale, the latter of which may be low on supply for the launch after a local Italian restaurant placed a big order for their Valentine’s Day carbonara.
The compound name of the brand is inspired by other British charcutiers, who reference their own processes and ingredients. The “cure” element speaks for itself but the “eights” is a nod to the seven prime cuts of pork used in charcuterie, with the eighth being the meat used in salamis.