The roads to Illtud Dunsford’s farm wind their way through the Gwendraeth Valley in the hills above the post-industrial port of Llanelli. It’s a convoluted path and one that seems kind of appropriate given the strange yet inspiring journey that the 36 year old has taken in the past decade.
In the end it led him right back to his roots – the family farm where his ancestors have been rearing animals for a couple of centuries at least – but the stopping-off points after a childhood in Cardiff have included training as a photographer and a long stint working for the Welsh Screen Commission scouting locations that successfully enticed the likes of a couple of Harry Potter films, Robin Hood and Doctor Who to Wales.
Doing the research is definitely a Dunsford thing. Having moved to live on the farm in 2004 - 'the place where I’m happiest' - he harboured a longing to start a business there, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he quit the day job and formed Charcutier Ltd. Working on a particular attachment to pigs and inspired by Fergus Henderson and his nose to tail eating philosophy he went in search of products that would make use of ‘everything but the squeal.’ 'That’s when the work really began,' he says. 'I spent the next 12 months researching processes, developing products and attending every kind of training event I could find.' That quest has taken him on an itinerary that includes Iowa, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil and China.
I spent so much time on this voyage of discovery that there were times when people questioned whether I’d ever have a sausage to sell.”
If you’re going to build something worthwhile it pays to have put the work into the foundations. This probably accounts for the rapid growth of the company he and his partner Liesel Taylor now preside over, both in terms of the range and scale of production and their burgeoning reputation as arguably the best producer of quality cured meats in the UK. A view backed up by the judges from the esteemed BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards who named Charcutier Ltd as Best Food Producer in 2016 with Yotam Ottolenghi cheerfully declaring he could 'happily eat Illtud Llyr Dunsford and Liesel Taylor’s sausages at any time of the day.'
If it sounds like there’s an international flavour to all this it might be more accurate to call it the seasoning. The heart of all this deliciousness beats to the rhythm of Wales. Be it bacon, black pudding, bratwurst, chorizo sausages or salami, all are produced from the Welsh Pedigree Pig breed that Illtud has done so much to champion. And, after all, curing was second nature to the Welsh farmhouse kitchen for centuries before its demise in recent decades. 'It's been an incredible journey but really all I’m doing is bringing it all back home.'
Not every sausage makes it to the party...
It’s hard to know what will emerge next from the chambers of Charcutier Ltd. A new offering might be months or even years in the preparation – hence the ‘No 23’ on the label of the black pudding that references the other 22 recipes that fell into the 'nice try but no sausage' category. Similar rigour has been applied across a meaty range that has seen the likes of polony, bratwurst, Texas hot links, frankfurters and chorizo make it onto the shelves. Not everything is sausage shaped in the world of Charcutier Ltd though. Traditionally cured bacons get equal billing with the treacle treated black collar bacon and a version of the French classic Ventrèche taking centre stage.