Monday, March 26, 2007
BURY BLACK PUDDING: GOODIE GOODIE YUM YUM.
If, like me, you are a person of a certain age, then the first time you probably encountered the words “ Black Pudding” was on The Goodies where Bill Oddie used them to lethal effect in that most devastating of marshal arts, Ecky Thump. With his skilfully wielded puds said Oddie ploughed his way through any number of Johnny foreigner type opponents until he actually was allowed to taste one by his flat cap wearing mentor.
I am convinced that is the main reason why so many people have an immediate and irrational dislike to God’s good pudding and wont even try them. They associate them with that grumpy git on T.V who hates people and loves birds. Oh, that and, of course, the fact that they are made primarily of pig’s blood and fat.
Me? I think they are one of the few things that convince me that we are watched over by a benevolent being who wants nothing but the best for us and that best involves blood, best back fat, spices and oatmeal in sausage form. He is indeed a loving God.
When I set out to plan EAT MY GLOBE and to “go everywhere and eat everything” it seemed entirely natural that I would first take the opportunity to see what foodie wonders we have in our own little part of the world and, the first thing I wrote on my note pad was “BLACK PUDDING” I wrote it just like that too, in large letters and in block capitals as if to remind myself that any trip that claimed to be eating the best the world had to offer which did not include blood sausages from everywhere they killed piggies would be almost worthless.
There are Boudin in France, Morcilla in Spain and the Blutwurst in Germany all of which will do at a pinch. But, none compares to a slice of Black Pudding fried in bacon fat. It is what made this nation great. It is what separates us from the mere beasts.
But, where was the best to be found? Well, Yorkshire makes a good stab and being brought up in Rotherham, I could have made a case for a visit there. Scotland has some damn fine examples too and I could have fitted that in with a few visits to a distillery. I could even have argued for a trip across the water to Ireland to extend my stay when I headed off to make cheese.
Nope, none of these. There is only one place you can go when the siren call of puddings hollers. Bury. That small Lancashire town that is rapidly becoming subsumed into a suburb on Manchester although the local citizens will deny this to their dying breath.
What Graceland was to Elvis, Bury is to the Black Pudding. It’s spiritual home from the time when every small town had innumerable pork butchers and abattoirs and needed a way to use all that blood to good and nutritious effect. Today even the famous Bury market still has two stalls vying for control of the Black Pudding Empire.
There is only one maker, however who still makes puddings in the borough of Bury itself and that is The Bury Black Pudding Company which grew out of a small butcher’s business run by Jack Morris whose puddings were so good the other butchers just stopped bothering and bought them from him instead.
Now, it is run from a specially created unit on the border with Rochdale by his son, Richard and the Managing Director, Debbie Pierce who, between them have succeeded in getting this most divisive of products on to supermarket shelves and the menus of high end restaurants by sheer determination to overcome this silly prejudice against the poor old pudding and damn me, I shall strive to my dying breath to aid them and not least because they gave me a huge carrier bag full of puddings to take away. More of that later.
A quick e-mail later followed by an enthusiastic reply from Debbie and my first trip of EAT MY GLOBE was in the book. I have seldom been more excited.
How excited? Well, my girlfriend is a most patient woman. She would have to be following me around as I traipse from restaurant to restaurant just to look at the menu or have her drive miles out of our way so we can find the best ingredients for supper. On this occasion she had to be patient enough to make St Theresa blush as I became increasingly excited as the day of the journey grew near.
She had, rather foolishly, I think she believes now, agreed to drive me to Bury as she had family close by and, we had to stop rather too often for what our American cousins call “comfort breaks” Much as I would like to put this down to sitting in a car for a long period or being middle aged, the reality was I was almost wetting myself in anticipation and our relationship almost ended in a puddle in her VW Golf. As I said, she is a most patient woman.
We had left London in the pitch black and by the time we got to Bury and our hotel the Sun was high in the, well no, of course it wasn’t, the sky was that steely grey that seems to be a legal requirement in Lancashire. It wasn’t raining but it was very cold so at least the locals had something to talk about. It certainly wasn’t the hotel which was one of those vile places which give themselves homely names like “The Village” which do little to hide corporate control, miserable staff and food offerings which a starving man would think twice about.
Still, it was only a few minutes walk from my meeting and while Dawn settled herself into our room and pondered over a range of facials from the health club, I pondered on the opportunity to be up to my arms in blood and guts.
I am not quite sure what I was anticipating, but The Bury Black Pudding Co is housed in a clean, bright unit with little indication of what is being made inside other than a delivery van with the number plate BB PUD.
In my wilder imaginings, I saw a conveyor belt going in one side of a grimy building with dark satanic chimneys billowing smoke into the grey sky. On the belt would be innocent, unsuspecting pigs unaware of the rotating knives and grinders that awaited them. As they entered the building, there would be a piercing series of squeals as they went from scampering creatures to packages labelled “Best Pork Products” and, out of the other side would come trays of sausages steaming and ready to eat. It says more about me than the Black Pudding business that I thought this might be quite a fun thing to see.
No such luck. It is of course, a modern efficient affair with sadly, not a pig in sight. There is plenty of blood, but as Richard and Debbie explained over a cup of builder’s tea, it is all dried these days not least because pigs urinate themselves when slaughtered which gets into the blood and probably creates a flavour that would not pass muster when on the menus of Gordon Ramsay or Gary Rhodes “ it eez Black Pudding, sir. It smells of peeez”
For such a traditional product, it is in fact a very international business. It has to be since they would not be able to depend on the consistency or quality of supply just from the UK. So, blood comes from Holland, dried and pre mixed with a range of traditional spices that have been used since Richard’s father began making puddings way back when. Of course, in the interest of investigative journalism, I had to ask him what the spices were. He gave me a look that made me wish I hadn’t.
The back fat comes from Danish pigs and is perfect for a Bury Black Pudding because it maintains a creamy white consistency even when cooked.
The oatmeal, well hurrah and huzzah, that comes from the UK but the last ingredient, the skins, made from beef intestine, come from Argentina.
What was also a surprise is that The Bury Black Pudding Company is a relatively new brand dating only from 2002 when Richard and Debbie created a name they thought could do for Black pudding what Melton Mowbray does for pork pies. “Geographical Protection” Debbie called it. Downright clever, I call it.
Despite the modern marketing and the international jet set life of the ingredients, this remains a very traditional product and the passion for perfection permeates through from Debbie and Richard through every member of staff I met. There is minimal mechanisation here as hand mixing is king. The final sausages are still linked by hand by Damien who proudly boasted that he had been doing it for as long as he could remember while shaping the sausages at a pace that even when shown in slow motion would be too fast to follow. They are still boiled for forty minutes rather than steamed to protect the texture and then given a final loving bath in soda crystals to create that delightful glisten that we, well I love so much.
After my introduction to the world of Black Pudding, it was time to get down and dirty. In fact, it was time to get down and spotlessly clean. There are two changing rooms, one for people working with raw ingredients, one for those working with the cooked product and never the twain shall meet. I am not sure Debbie appreciated my suggestion that she should create rivalry between them which could end in a pleasing Jets/Sharks like rumble over a mixing bowl of backfat.
After a quick tour of the raw section, I scrubbed up, and changed into my “white” gear for a chance to see the final product being boiled, and hung up to cool. Wellingtons replaced walking shoes, overalls replaced my overcoat and a hairnet covered up, well nothing but slapiness, but they still insisted I wear it. It is not the best look, but I like to think that I carried it off and, admit it ladies, the very thought of a man in uniform, even this one, makes you go a little bit weak at the knees, no?
In the storage area, there are thousands of the things ( well they do produce fourteen tonnes a week), hanging like miniature clown’s trousers over racks as they come down to temperature to be packed. Debbie selected one plump looking specimen and brought it out for me to sample.. I think I may have let out a girlish squeal. It was like eating bread out of the oven or a fish straight from the river and Debbie looked on as I devoured the best part of a whole pudding before coming up for breath to see what I am sure was a look of ever so slight disgust in her eyes. But, by heck, it were magic.
While the little boy in me was slightly disappointed that this was not a more gory process and one which I could have taken pictures of to annoy my girlfriend and a host of other females, make no mistake about it, this is a truly spectacular product. If this was served in France and given an appropriate name, men would tumesce and middle class women would fight over the last packet in the aisles of Carrefour. It is not French, however, it is a simple, British product (with a little help from our international and apparently, more consistent friends) that is made with a tangible amount of passion, a dedication to maintaining standards and tradition and, above all, a love of the product.
It is in fact, everything that EAT MY GLOBE is meant to be about.
As I left, Debbie filled a carrier bag to the brim with assorted Bury Black Pudding Co goodies and handed them to me as she waved me goodbye. She closed the door before I turned to leave, but, if she had stayed to watch me go, she would have seen me give a little skip and try to click my heels together.
COMPASS BOX WHISKY: GOING ON A BLENDER
Good whisky, it transpires, is like good pornography.
Both require good wood.
Any man who can use this analogy as an introduction to whisky is going to be A OK in my book and John Glaser is certainly A OK.
When I told people that my first trip of EAT MY GLOBE would be to an artisnal whisky maker, I am sure that their thoughts turned to the rolling moors of Speyside (does Speyside have rolling moors? Well, you get the picture) where there would, no doubt be a bit of stag hunting, a bit of salmon fishing and then home for scotch and rough hard sex with a local lassie of no fixed morals.
“Ah, Scotland” they intoned their eyes going all a misty even if they had never been further North, than Nottingham.
Well no, actually. Chiswick. That’s right, that bit of London that you have to crawl through on the way to Heathrow.
I will grant you, it is an unlikely place for a maverick (my words not his) to set up shop, but I can’t think of a better place to start than in the company of this passionate and hugely infectiously enthusiastic maker of some of the finest scotch I can ever recall tasting.
John describes himself as a “New World” scotch maker and he brings with him not only a background of nine years in the distilling industry but also years of experience in winemaking throughout the old and new worlds. These combine to challenge preconceptions about what scotch is, what it can be and who should be able to enjoy it and when.
His avowed aim is to remove it from its shroud of cut glass, before dinner mystique and open it up to a wider audience, a younger audience and an audience that does not automatically alienate 50 % of its potential by marketing itself as a drink only for men.
The best way to see what he means is, of course, to taste the stuff and I was there with knobs on, cup in hand and tongue rolling out of my mouth.
But first, there is always a but first is there? Dammit, A bit of a history lesson and the chance for John to challenge some popular misconceptions.
As history lessons go, it was one of the best. When I mentioned to people that Compass Box Whisky make boutique blended whisky, you could almost hear their lips curling in a sneer even though like me they have not clue number one what they are talking about. Like me, they probably associate blended whisky with the rubbish you can buy from the supermarkets for a tenner which can be, John tells me, about 5% malt whisky blended with 95% grain whisky.
Blends it seems, have a long and distinguished history beginning at the early part of the 19th century and “Blended Scotch Whisky” a mix of malt and grain can be a very fine thing indeed especially when, like John does, the maker uses a ratio of 40% malt whisky to 60% grain. The result in the case of Compass Box’s ASYLA whisky is a ripe rich drink which is complimented by but not over powered by whiff of vanilla from American Oak casks used in the ageing process.
The next is a “Blended Pure Malt” or a “Blended Vatted Malt” which are a mixture of single malts from a number of distilleries. In the case of “The Peat Monster”, a blend of malts from Islay where the barley is dried over peat giving that unmistakable smell of carbolic, softened with malts from two Speyside distilleries.
Finally, of course, Single malts which involve whisky from one distillery but not necessarily one year or indeed one barrel or type of barrel.
Ah, the wood. This is where the wood comes in. Who knew? Well, you probably did but I didn’t. Whisky distilleries in Scotland have been using whatever old used casks they can get their hands on for years. A result of an originally poor industry, they would take barrels from wherever they could no matter what their provenance. Barrels from France, Sherry barrels from Spain, Port barrels from Portugal and, increasingly, Bourbon barrels from the US where the law requires new oak to be used for each barrel.
The barrel both adds and subtracts from the final product. The oak, as in wine, adds flavours and the char or toast on the inside of the barrels acts as a carbon filter and filters out sulphur and other undesirables.
It’s a fascinating process and one added to by the changes in final product if the barrel has been not been used, used once or many times.
By this time, my head was spinning a bit with all the facts so John decided the best way to show me what he was on about was to let me taste not only a range of his whisky but also to see the variety of what came out of the distilleries, he and other companies use. This was a good idea (remember me? Glass in hand, tongue hanging out)
First of all, a range of four glasses which John had me sniff first and then cut with a little water before tasting. What struck me initially was that they were all incredibly pale. I assumed that this meant they were younger and had not taken any colour from the wood. Oh no. This is where evil corporate nonsense raises its head as John explained. He produced a small brown bottle on which he had lovingly drawn a scull & crossbones. Underneath his handiwork were the words “ EVIL SPIRIT CARAMEL” He opened it up and offered me a snort. Pure molasses. He explained that in 90% of commercial whisky, they use this stuff to create added colour and the illusion of age, people associating the deep dark hue with more time in the barrel as, indeed did I.
Utter piffle apparently, it all depends on what barrel is being used and how often it has been used. These four similar looking whiskies were all twelve years old. The first had come from a refill barrel that had been used over again. The second, American oak with more of those vanilla tones. The third from French Oak which had been used and the fourth from a brand new barrel.
The difference between them was, with guidance, discernable. John has the vocabulary off pat. Me? I threw around a few words like grapefruit and hoped he would not take me for a total oaf. If he did, he did not show it and I took the fact that he opened the small door at the back of his office to spit out the scotch he tasted as a sign that he did not want a shredded liver by the time he was fifty rather than my description of one of the glasses as “a bit dungy” putting him off.
Compass box has been going for six years and, in that time, it has been pushing against the boundaries of traditional whisky making in ways that sometimes bring them into conflict with the powers that be. John’s use of new oak staves in old barrels to create more depth being a case in point. It’s not traditional, so it’s just not done.
Let none of this imply however that Compass Box Whiskies are different for the sake of it. These are offerings that follow in the path of truly great blenders of ages past but developing scotch to open up this most miraculous of drinks to a wider audience.
John drinks whisky throughout a meal. 50/50 with water before hand and a little more neat as the evening progresses. Having tried it, I can see how that would work. Not just with the obvious choices like chocolate or cheese but with stews or even grilled fish.
Jim Murray, who is to whisky what Robert Parker is to wine, describes Compass Box Whisky as “So sexy you could almost make love to it” and the passion John Glaser and his chums put into every dram of their product comes through in each and every mouthful.
As I arrange the EAT MY GLOBE trip, what is coming through loud and clear is that what I am searching for is the chance to match my passion to "go everywhere and eat everything” with the passion people have for producing the food and drink they love.
If that is the case, I can have made no better choice for my first stop that Compass Box Whisky and John Glaser.
Go to your local bar and try some. If they don’t have it, demand that they buy some. It's that good.