Scottish charcuterie business is a top ingredient for east PIZZAS

east PIZZAS have been part of Bonnie & Wild since our Food Hall opened its doors in July 2021. With their focus on handmade, 72-hour proven sourdough bases topped with the highest quality local ingredients, they’ve been a hit with guests since Day One.

While much of the magic is down to the sumptuous sourdough bases, another key ingredient is owner Roly Simpson’s commitment to working with local, artisanal suppliers, such as the renowned Great Glen Charcuterie, who were shortlisted for an award in the 2023 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards.

Here, we talk to Anja Baak of the Great Glen Charcuterie, which supplies Roly and the east PIZZAs team with the beautiful venison charcuterie with which they top their massively popular Meat Feast pizzas!

As Anja explains, like many entrepreneurs, she and partner Jan Jacob didn’t ever plan to build a small business. But when the opportunity came their way, much like their charcuterie, it was too good to resist.

As Anja says: “In 2000, Jan Jacob was offered a job on a Scottish Highland estate, and it seemed a great opportunity to move our family from the Netherlands and begin a new life in this remote and beautiful countryside of Scotland.

“Part of Jan Jacob’s job was the management of the wild deer population, and we fell in love with the delicious meat. Always full of new ideas, Jan Jacob started to experiment with the venison and built a wooden box in the garden to smoke the meat. There is a tradition of making dried sausages in the Netherlands and we wanted to do this with venison too. It was a bit of a challenge as venison is a very lean meat and does not contain much fat, however Jan Jacob soon worked out a recipe.

“Friends and family loved our experiments and encouraged us to start a business! A friend owned an old derelict butcher’s shop in Roy Bridge and we managed to get the lease. The building had lain empty for many years and so, after kitting it out into a state-of-the-art processing unit, in 2003 the Great Glen Charcuterie was born!”

Twenty years on, and Anja reveals that while the journey was far from easy, the quality of the products and the pursuit of innovation has ensured the business’s ongoing success.

Over the years we developed new recipes and Jan Jacob is always trying to improve the products. Great Glen Charcuterie now sells a range of salamis, chorizos, bresaola and smoked venison to independent retailers across the country. The charcuterie is also used by chefs and is on the menu of the country’s best restaurants, including of course east PIZZAS.”

In the early years of the company, Jan Jacob had to juggle his job on the estate and their young business. But with demand for their venison products growing and growing, in 2010 Jan Jacob took a leap of faith and gave up his estate job and went full time running Great Glen Charcuterie. Anja, who’d been running the business’s marketing and sales while also raising the couple’s six children, was able to go full time when the couple’s youngest started school. Now the business employs one other full-timer as well as a part-time employee who helps in the office. Over time, they’ve also invested in larger slicing and packaging machines, meaning they can do more with the same with the same number of staff.

Anja and Jan Jacob‘s hard work has paid off and the business has now grown so that Anja and Jan Jacob are currently building a new unit to give them more space which will allow them to increase output, although Anja remains wary of over-reaching.

“What is important to us is sustainably using the amazing wild produce available on our doorstep and turning it into a high-end product that can be enjoyed by people all over the world.”

Anja adds: “We have been supplying east PIZZAS since they opened their first restaurant in Leith. It’s been great to see Roly and the team grow and develop so much over the years. It’s also great to see their online retail offering taking off, with products such as our own salami packs now on sale, too.”

With a global reputation and 20 years’ of success behind them, the charcuterie business supplies to the likes of House of Bruar, Fortnum & Mason, and IJ Mellis cheesemonger to name a few, and Anja says she always gets a sense of pride when she sees “pictures of our charcuterie being used on social media”, adding: “It’s always a proud moment when you see your products being used by some of the top chefs in the country.”

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Like all of us in the hospitality sector, the impact of the Covid lockdown had a massive impact.

“We lost almost all of our trade sales overnight when lockdown was announced. This was a very scary time. Our chillers were full of charcuterie ready for a busy Easter period. Thankfully our products do have a long shelf life.”

Like many agile small businesses, Great Clen Charcuterie was able to adapt during this difficult time, despite the collapse of trade from restaurants and retailers. “Thankfully, our online sales exploded when no one could go shopping and people wanted to buy direct from the source. With everyone else on furlough, I was still able to process the online orders and managed to sell all the charcuterie in our chillers. People are much more aware of eating more locally and more sustainably. These are definite trends.”

Now, as the economy emerges from the Covid lockdown and the cost of living crisis, Anja says it’s up to small businesses to pave the way for a wider economic recovery.

“Small businesses are the cornerstone of society. Independent stores are not only a place to buy produce but also to meet people for a chat. In a society that is more and more removed from direct contact this is so important. Small businesses are run by real people you can speak to, and we love the connections we build with our customers. That’s one of the reasons I’m a big fan of east PIZZAS and also Bonnie & Wild – you have so much choice and can also speak to the chefs and see them all working and preparing your food.

“At the Food Hall, we have been in to eat with our family and everyone can choose which kind of food they would like to order. No more arguments of what restaurant to go to! With six children it is not always easy to please everyone but at Bonnie & Wild we never have that problem! We love the concept!”

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