The Aperitif Guy
4:35 AM 30th October 2021
Award-winning Charcuterie From The North Of England
I’m sure many readers in West Yorkshire will have heard of Lishman’s butchers in Ilkley. The shop was already well known for quality when I moved to Yorkshire, nearly twenty years ago. More recently, they have been winning national awards for the quality of their charcuterie, too, and when I saw that they have opened a large, new facility for curing, drying and smoking in Skipton, I decided to get in contact and see if I could meet them.
Founder of the business is David Lishman, son of farmers and every inch what you would expect of a Yorkshire butcher: he’s tall, round and ruddy of face, straight-talking yet jovial. He trained as a butcher in Harrogate and bought his shop at the age of 21. Since then, he has expanded the shop into neighbouring premises, begun curing his own hams and bacon, added continental-style charcuterie to his range and launched into online sales. In the last few weeks, the business has been restructured, adding Production Manager Andrew Waterhouse and Retail Manager Joe Smith as partners, alongside David’s daughter, Emma, who became a partner in 2018.
Without being boastful, he is direct about his achievements. Where other independent butchers have struggled with the competition from supermarkets, Lishman’s has grown stronger. When I congratulate him on this, he simply replies: “Well, I ought to have something to show for 35 years’ work!”
The Covid-19 lockdown has been positive for the retail side of Lishman’s. David perceives that there is more interest now in good food. “Because people have had more time on their hands, they’ve had time to source out better products than they would normally put up with from the supermarkets.” There’s a fascinating research project there in that one sentence for anyone looking for a PhD subject! Of course, Lishman’s doesn’t only sell retail, and their trade with restaurants and bars has been badly hit. One must hope that people’s renewed interest in good quality foods translates to custom for the independent pubs, restaurants and bars of our region.
David took me to see some of the work of curing and drying that is still being done at the Ilkley shop. It enabled us to chat about his move into charcuterie, and about the processes involved. The production side of the business resembles a science lab as much as it does a food preparation facility. Everywhere, there are monitors displaying temperatures, weights, pH levels. Meat is salt-cured in the “wet room” until it has lost a third of its weight, before being allowed to stabilise, then air dried. Each ham or sausage bears a label detailing the date on which it was moved to its current state of production and its weight.
I was shown the temperature and moisture-controlled cabinet in which salamis are fermented. For all my experience in cooking and enjoying meats, it had never crossed my mind that meat could be cultured and fermented like cheese, wine, sauerkraut and pickles. It makes sense, of course: all those other fermented foods have incredible keeping qualities, and it is natural humans would develop ways of using the same process to preserve meat. Once again, I am reminded of the importance of science to David’s produce. In order to ensure proper fermentation, the salamis must be kept at a precise temperature and humidity in their stainless steel cell. The same equipment is used as a smoker for hams and Bath chaps, and the room retains a pleasant aroma of oak and beech smoke from its most recent operation.
I have noticed that several well-known butchers are starting to show more interest in continental-style charcuterie and I asked David why he thinks this is.
Without doubt, wider travel and more adventurous tastes have played a part, but David hints that British butchers have something special to offer. “I like to think of it as the same as when the New World started making wine. The winemakers had no preconceptions about what they ‘should’ do.” British curers have investigated continental recipes and techniques and applied them with care and purity. David calls it “following the books,” but I think he’s talking about attentiveness to detail, rather than robotic copying.
The winemaking analogy came up several times in our conversation, and it struck me how “terroir” is as important to butchery and curing as it is to winemaking. The manner of raising and feeding animals, the season of their slaughter and the climatic conditions in which the meat is kept and processed, all contribute to the taste of the final product. The word hovered unspoken about our conversation, especially when I asked David which was his favourite product. The hams are most strongly affected by these factors, and he enjoys the technical challenge of producing consistently good hams that retain the influence of breed, timing and feed. It must be very satisfying for a proper Yorkshireman such as David to taste the local soul in his products. “It makes life more interesting when you get a particularly good one,” he comments, with a warm smile that must have up-sold many a ham to Ilkley’s foodies.
L-R: David Lishman, Andrew Waterhouse, Joe Smith, Emma Lishman
Before I leave, David is insistent I draw attention to the excellence of his staff, especially the managers who have recently become partners: Andrew, Joe and Emma. Although I have no doubt that it is his drive and vision that have brought the business to its current success, he has not done so alone, and one gets the impression of a happy enterprise that encourages staff to improve and innovate. Together, they have navigated changes in customers’ expectations and habits, embraced technology and guided their particular ship safely through the Covid storm. It is clearly in safe hands.
Paul Fogarty, writing as The Aperitif Guy, maintains a popular food and drinks blog. He is also an accomplished speaker and trainer on food and beverage history and is available as a food & beverage events consultant. You can follow him on Twitter by searching @AperitifGuy, and his blog is at blog.theaperitifguy.co.uk