As a chef, I always try and find out exactly where our meat, fish or vegetables come from, I like to find out the name of the farmer and his farm. I think it shows care and attention to what we do and that we don’t just cook for the sake of cooking. We care about what we do and we care about the standard of food. I think it is imperative that a chef buys the very best that they can afford.

Today I went to meet Mr Cafferty of Butterley Top Farm in Ashover accompanied by my Sous Chef Liz and Owen Taylor’s rep Alison, who has looked after me extremely well for some years now. I have had Mr Cafferty’s name on my menus for 4 or 5 years so it was great to finally put a face to the name. Instant impressions were that of a humble and genuine guy who had real passion for what he does. Constant smile on his face when talking about his pigs and cattle.

First thing I wanted to know is what breed the pigs were, the pigs are either Large White or Landrace sows which are crossbred with Pietrain pigs. The result is some of the best pork I have ever tasted. First we were shown to ‘the maternity ward’, which made us giggle. A row of 7 or 8 pigs who had just given birth to a litter of 11-18 piglets, all of which were scurrying around feeding as much as they could, little did I know that this is just the beginning of a huge, slick operation.

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I honestly thought that was all that was at the farm, before Paul (we were on first name terms now!) told us that he currently has 700 pigs and 80 cattle at the farm. He works alone 12 hours a day, 7 days a week! Other than a young lad who helps him some afternoons, staggering!!

There are around 6 separate parts of the farm, all of which have different stages of the pigs time there. I found it really interesting that a pigs pregnancy lasts for precisely 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days! I was surprised to hear that the pigs are artificially inseminated, I wondered why?! there are male pigs on the farm. The answer was simple, ‘so we can produce the absolute best pig that we possibly can‘.

There is an area where the piglets range from 4-7 weeks old, who are given an ultra diet of high protein, milk powder and all sorts of other products to ensure they begin life on the right track. It’s unbelievable to see how fast they grow, you can literally tell the difference between the 4 week old piglets and 6 week old ones.

The pigs are moved on a couple more times onto different stages of nutrition in different areas before being moved to main area where they are picked up to be taken to slaughter. In the 7 months they spend at the farm they are given 5 different stages of nutrition, an extremely complex diet which is designed by nutritionists and doctors, taking care to ensure the correct level of protein, carbs and fat intake is provided to get the absolute best out of the pig.

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Paul grows his own crop of barley, corn and wheat on his 250 acre land which is used for much of the pigs diet. Nothing is wasted. Even the pigs waste is gathered twice a year and spread back on the land which helps the crop grow again the next year.
There are certain specifications that Owen Taylor require from each pig and one of those is that the fat around the pig is between 12mm and 15mm to ensure perfect crackling, most supermarkets will have a specification of 10mm. It is little attention to detail like this which really does affect the flavour on the plate, I found this fascinating.

We were shown the 10-15kg suckling pigs which are sold on at a very young age and butchered in a certain way so that the head can be left on while it is slow cooked so it can be served as a centre piece at weddings or banquets. Off putting for some maybe! Also the 15-80kg barbecue pigs which are sold on to be put on the spit at hog roasts.

Just before we left we were shown their wind turbine, something they have bought to produce natural energy which has cut the bills of the farm by 2/3rds!!

Yes it is sad to see that at the end of their journey at the farm that they are taken to be killed but I can honestly say that the pigs seemed happy and healthy, they are treated with the utmost of respect by Paul and live in very good conditions.
The fact of the matter is that the pigs are there to be bred to sell for food purposes and I couldn’t do my job without the farmers out there! All in all, a really awe inspiring day with a really nice chap who is as passionate about what he does as I am about what I do. My motto in the kitchen is to always respect your ingredients. Days like today remind me of why I have always said that. I honestly believe that when you taste the food, you can taste the care and passion that the farmers, butchers and chefs have to make it possible for you to eat.

Head Chef, Chris Parry