PUBLISHED: 10:14 16 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:22 20 February 2013
Hannah and Duncan Nobbs show Anna Turns around Partridge Farm near Tiverton and share their passion for artisan meat products
Hannah and Duncan Nobbs show Devon Life around Partridge Farm, Tiverton
Husband-and-wife team Hannah and Duncan bought the 75-acre Partridge Farm in January 2010 where they produce their own meat from rare breeds. This summer they are expanding their butchery business, which sells fresh meat, bacon, sausages and gammon, with charcuterie. Their devotion to their animals and their obsession with fine foods are both evident as they talk about how Partridge Farm has changed their lives.
Previously both teachers back in London, Duncans family are farmers and Hannahs comes from a long line of butchers. We have both always had a huge enthusiasm for the outdoor traditional way of living and farming plus we love good food says Hannah, who enjoys being as self-sufficient as possible. Starting on a cottage industry scale five years ago, we first raised Gloucester Old Spots, butchering them ourselves, curing bacon, air-drying hams, salamis, sausages and black puddings all on the kitchen table. We started selling our produce to friends, which made us realise we could try and make a living out of this.
Hannah may be biased but she raves about Duncans home-cured ham, which is two years old, hung and dry, and very tasty. The meat was buried in salt for a month, then hung up and air-dried similar to Parma ham but from Tiverton instead of Italy. It was a complete lifestyle change but one they both now love and thrive on. There is always so much work to do with the animals, says Hannah. We check on everyone around the farm on our rounds, and its just the two of us doing the work so we cant disappear off on holiday. That seems to be just the way they like it though. Diversification is key for most farmers nowadays and Hannah and Duncan have certainly taken this onboard to run their dream farm as a business. As well as supplying mail-order customers with rare-breed meat, they deliver to delis, hotel and restaurants as a wholesale supplier, run a B&B and work as private tutors. They hope to produce their own vegetable boxes to sell alongside meat products, and make more of their beautiful old orchard. Perhaps one day we could put the sows in there to feed on the apples that drop, ponders Hannah.
As the couple show me around the farm, they explain proudly that all their meat is reared naturally and the animals have plenty of space to roam. We follow the ethos of the way farming should be, which is far from intensive.
Partridge Farm is a rare breeds farm 700ft above sea level where hardier grass makes for harder farming but is better for rare breeds. Were very keen to stick to rare breeds, because that is what makes us so unique, says Duncan. When they took over, livestock included Aberdeen Angus cattle, large black and saddleback pigs. Large blacks are the original Devon and Cornwall pig and are third on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist, he explains. It can be harder to get people to try black pig meat because although the meat is the same colour, the hairs are a different colour, but the flavour is far better.
Our Aberdeen Angus cattle including our bull, Vinnie Jones are pure British-bred, and because they are grass-fed (without any concentrates), they grow as slowly as any rare breed and the taste is the pinnacle of beef, says Hannah.
They have now also introduced Oxford Down sheep, which are Duncans personal favourite. Last summer he bought a beautiful new ram called Twinwood Boyce back from Northamptonshire to introduce a new bloodline to the flock. One day Id like to show our sheep, he says but well need to practise with them. Luckily our ram is easy to handle on a lead.
Wandering around the farm, you cant ignore the sounds of the three entertaining male alpacas, which are real individual characters. Hannahs background was in textiles and she recently got a spinning wheel so she hopes one day to start spinning their own alpaca fleece another string to her bow.
Hannah is particularly fond of the Gloucestershire old spot pigs which they now breed. We have always loved Gloucester old spots says Hannah and all our pigs have a wonderful life which makes the meat taste so much nicer. Partridge Farm pigs are eight or nine months old when they go to slaughter rather than 16 weeks as in commercial farming. We know each pig individually, especially the adults says Hannah who names the sows but is careful not to name the piglets which will one day go off to the abattoir. Our sows have piglets nearly twice a year, which gives them plenty of time to have a rest. One of our sows, Ermintrude, is a lovely mum and we get in the sty to have a cuddle with the piglets!
Hannah admits that most farmers probably think they are absolutely mad. The difference is that each animal is worth quite a bit of money to us, so we really value each individual. Each piglet and lamb has real value to us. And their friends do often think they are nuts. Some dont like the smell of a farm, but we love all the mud, and some friends love the novelty of coming to help out on the farm.
In Devon there are a few other rare breed meat producers, but charcuterie is really very unusual in England. Now the butchery and charcuterie is becoming a reality for Duncan and Hannah. We are so excited about making salamis, sausage making, dry curing and smoking. The charcuterie will attract new business to Partridge Farm, where meat is raised, cured and cut all in one place. It will take three months for salamis to cure in our big fridge, and Duncan will also be producing various chorizos, air-dried hams and different flavoured black pudding, to offer a whole range of charcuterie products to this niche market.