The Bath Pig
The Bath Pig Company brings age-old Spanish recipes and quality home-grown produce together for a delicious range of British chorizo. EatSleepDrink speaks to Owner and Managing Director, Mr. Matthew ‘Mash’ Chiles, to find out more about this exciting and truly innovative company.
Having originally started out life as a small manufacturer of chorizo, supplying local farm-shops in the South West of England, The Bath Pig has come along way from its humble origins. Indeed, current production has increased to just over four tonnes, which represents a sizeable expansion from the few kilogrammes it was producing just two years ago. Today, the company is the largest chorizo producer and curer in the UK, a title that highlights just how far The Bath Pig has come.
Although synonymous with Spain, chorizo is becoming an increasingly popular meat in the UK – a trend that has undoubtedly benefited the growing operations of the aptly titled bath-based chorizo manufacturer, The Bath Pig. Indeed, Mr. Chiles is keen to explain the humble beginnings of the company that he started with Mr. Tim French a few years ago. “We actually started out in an airing cupboard, producing a few kilogrammes of chorizo as something of a hobby, but we soon realised that we were on to a winner and began working towards a large, scalable business,” he tells us. “Once we realised what we were on to, we decided to approach a specialist manufacturer in Yorkshire, which made biltong. They built special curing rooms and bought equipment, too, and that was basically how we began to expand our operations.”
The Bath Pig started off using pigs from a small farm in Ditteridge, Wiltshire, supplied by Mr. Clive Suggs but, as demand grew, they increased and used two local farms – today, business is so thriving that the company uses many different suppliers from across England. “All of these are RSPCA-monitored, outdoor-raised British Freedom Food pigs as the quality is absolutely integral to our operations,” as Mr. Chiles is keen to impress upon us.
Despite having always been a ‘foodie’, Mr. Chiles had no previous experience in the industry, as he is the first to admit. “In a previous life, I ran the design division at Sony Music Australia for six years – I met my wife over there and we decided to move back to the UK. Instead of London, we decided on the West Country as that was where I originally grew up. I took a job doing internet sales in Bath but, although I was there for three years, it was never really a passion. The idea for The Bath Pig came from a dinner party at Tim French’s house in September 2008 where he served chorizo – a meal that everybody thoroughly enjoyed. The next morning I was still thinking about how delicious it was and how popular it was becoming around the UK.”
Most importantly, perhaps, was Mr. Chiles’ realisation that all of the chorizo available in the UK was imported from Spain and that there was a gap in the market for a British producer. “It struck me that it would be a great thing if there was top-quality charcuterie to be had closer to home. I then began wondering what ingredients went into chorizo and how one would go about making it. Soon after, I met up with Tim for a pint and we had a chat about it and agreed that we should give it a go,” he affirms. “The great thing was that my background – very much in design, marketing and sales – and his as an oncologist, meant that although we were not in the food business, we had the scientific and creative skills necessary to give the business a real go. Because you’re dealing with a raw meat that you have to make safe without actually cooking it, Tim’s scientific awareness was absolutely fundamental to our fortunes.”
After a few ups-and-downs in the early stages of production, Mr. Tim French decided that he wanted to invest some money into the business but that Mr. Chiles would be responsible for running and marketing The Bath Pig. “I was delighted to run the company, which we split down-the-middle on a 50-50 basis. We sealed the doors, bought a humidifier and an air-conditioning unit and squeezed all of the equipment into the little room. We also bought some anti-fungal paint, a sausage slicing machine, stainless-steel hanging bars and laid lino down on the floor, so it was actually an incredibly functional and sterile environment, which gave us an excellent starting point.”
Practice makes perfect
With all of the equipment in place and a sterile environment in which to cure the meat, the
next step for Mr. Chiles was to learn the age-old curing process – something he approached in a truly twenty-first century spirit: by going online. “It was amazing how much information there was available online, so I read as much as I could and bought a chorizo-making kit. Although we weren’t that keen on the flavour – the paprika was pretty basic – we continued experimenting, while sourcing all of the curing salts and top-quality paprikas from Spain. Indeed, I went over to Spain and visited one of the very best jamón factories just outside Seville and expressed my interest in importing their products to the UK – I ended up paying around 80 euros for a kilogramme of jamón ibérico and it was simply incredible.”
While on this fact-finding mission, Mr. Chiles was able to glean invaluable information regarding curing temperatures and the best ingredients available, as he is eager to elaborate. “I think it took us around three months to perfect our recipe, in terms of texture and taste. From there, we played around with various flavours and additional ingredients, such as chilli and cayenne pepper. We found that the cayenne pepper didn’t overpower the flavour and gave it a lovely roundness, but that the chilli was very overpowering, so it was a fascinating and organic kind of process. Ultimately, we ended up with the three flavours that we have now: Original, Spicy and Garlic and Herb. The latter was an accident as we chucked in lots of garlic and rosemary but it came out with this lovely, mild and well-round flavour and has actually become incredibly popular at farmers markets around the country.”
With the three flavours established, the next step was to start selling; an obvious market was the farm-shops and farmers markets that Mr. Chiles was such a fan of, as he elucidates. “I’ve always been a big advocate of the farm-shops, so I wanted to see our products available there. It was always our intention that we would build our own factory, but we obviously needed large-scale investment for that. I applied for various business loans and even applied to a competition called The Pitch where the winner would receive a £50,000 grant, but we came second to a chewing gum manufacturer. We weren’t really getting anywhere, so Tim and I arranged a meeting with a friend of ours who happened to be a Managing Director at Pieminister to get some advice. Straight away, he suggested that instead of building our own factory we should approach a company in Yorkshire to produce the chorizo for us, particularly because of our lack of experience in the industry.”
Before long, The Bath Pig had a meeting with Mr. Gary Quinn and his wife, Mrs. Thomo Quinn, the owners of a very successful biltong factory – Bare Earth – in Yorkshire, as Mr. Chiles tells us. “As they are both trained food technologists, they were immediately on-board with our requirements for chorizo and had a bit of space in their factory. At this point, we really started to formulate a concrete business plan – Tim put in some additional funds and we went about setting up our sterile curing room in Bare Earth’s factory. We also bought some top-of-the-range clipping machines for the chorizo, as without clipping, the sausage meat unravels. From here, we were able to start production – I think we started building the curing rooms in January 2009 and had our first batch of chorizo by July 4th 2009, so it was quite a laborious process.”
Quite fittingly, The Bath Pig was commercially launched on Independence Day, as Mr. Chiles is keen to describe. “We had some paper packaging produced and nitrogen-sealed it to ensure freshness as oxygen causes food to oxidise and spoils its quality, which is obviously a major concern for us. A lot of chorizo is vacuum-sealed, which I’ve never been a fan of, so we wanted to do something a little bit different, and the result looked very appealing on the shelves. Very soon after, I resigned from my job and went out on the road, visiting farm-shops further-afield and by Christmas of that year, I had built our customer base to over 100 outlets.”
Come the new year, The Bath Pig exhibited at a trade show and got approached by Cotswold Fayre – a supplier and distributor of foods throughout the UK. As an ambient product, chorizo is a simple product to transport and can be left on a shelf or sent in the post, which allowed The Bath Pig to operate without incurring additional temperate-controlled transport costs. “We signed up with Cotswold Fayre in July 2010, so basically a year after launch we were supplying a distributor, which represented excellent progress for us,” Mr. Chiles affirms.
Fast-forward to present day and The Bath Pig continues to expand at a remarkable pace, as Mr. Chiles is understandably proud to explain. “This year, we were invited to the Guildhall to showcase our chorizo to 50 of the finest restaurants in the world, which was such an honour. The feedback was fantastic and we received many surprised comments that his chorizo was indeed British! Based on this kind of response, we have since supplied Raymond Blanc at his famed Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons restaurant in Oxfordshire, as well as Marx Hix’s chain of fine-dining eateries. Furthermore, we are currently in talks with Jamie Oliver’s chain of restaurants too.
“This summer we decided to venture beyond our traditional target audience and visited numerous music festivals, such as Glastonbury,” he notes. “Because we do not have the budget for advertising campaigns these kind of events allow us to promote our brand to a large demographic that we otherwise couldn’t afford to reach. Although the festivals do not generate a vast amount of money, the exposure more than compensates for it. We are now getting to the point where we are running at full-capacity in our curing rooms, so we are looking at ways to expand our production.”
Small and mighty
As business continues to expand at an impressive rate, Mr. Chiles is keen to introduce The Bath Pig’s brand-new ‘snack-pack’ range. “Ever since we launched, we always wanted to do a snack-sized chorizo for the pub market, instead of pork scratchings and peanuts. We went on another fact-finding mission to Spain to look into the possibility of shipping British pork to Spain for a manufacturer to produce a snack-sized chorizo for us. Our main ethos at The Bath Pig is to support British farmers and, in the same way that British supermarkets are prepared to support British beef and lamb, we want them to support British charcuterie. Although it would be fantastic to produce these in the UK, there simply isn’t the facility available, so Spain was our only choice. We have recently launched these ‘snack-packs’ to farm-shops and we are now in the position to really push them into the pub sector.”
Going forwards, The Bath Pig is looking to capitalise on its success in the delicatessen and farm-shop sector by expanding its product range, as Mr. Chiles confirms. “Two years in, we are just turning profit and the sector we are selling to enables us to just break-even. In order to really push ahead, we are teaming up with another company with experience in the sausage sector to produce a semi-cured chorizo, which is something that many restaurants favour, as softer chorizo is much easier to cook with. We are going to make a product with natural binding agents in, which we are very happy with and we have already been approached by a ready-meals company that is very interested in this semi-cured chorizo.”
Given the quality-conscious ethos of The Bath Pig it is unsurprising to learn that all of its chorizo is sourced from pork shoulder or neck, assuring the best possible taste and texture at all times. This kind of quality-conscious approach to business is a feature of the company that Mr. Chiles is justifiably eager to consolidate moving forwards. “In terms of the future, we are looking to expand our range to include sliced chorizo, as well as a Bath Pig bacon, which is truly unique. We are also going to produce a range of sausages and kabanos sausages too, so we are very excited about the future. Our main competition is from Spain, but we never went out to compete with them – we feel that we have made a product with top-class British ingredients that genuinely appeals to the British pallet,” he concludes.
As the British public becomes increasingly quality-conscious, The Bath Pig’s ethically-produced and great-tasting products are certainly in the right place at the right time. With a new range of exciting products in the pipeline, The Bath Pig looks set to continue its expansion for many years to come.