Edinburgh, though best known for its Fringe Festival has an incredibly vibrant food scene. In the main city centre there's a focus on high dining experiences but venture into the outer areas and you'll find inventive independent food ventures.
The area of Leith has undergone massive changes in the last 15 years. Best known as the setting of Trainspotting, Leith has established itself as a growing artisan hub and leading the charge in using food to create community is East Coast Cured. What started as a hobby is now the go-to charcuterie place for chefs and locals alike.
This week we sat down with business and life partners Susie and Stephen Anderson to discuss growing East Coast Cured from a passion project, adapting traditional recipes and why keeping it local has been the key to their success.
What made you decide to open East Coast Cured?
Stephen: I’ve always been into food but I was more of an enthusiast than a professional. I was actually a brewer. I got into the craft brewery industry back in 2007/2008 when it was just picking up here and worked for four years as a brewer. I was making charcuterie at home for a couple of years up in the attic and I think we got most of the rookie mistakes out of the way during that period. We could see that there were places similar to this in London and other parts of England and they’d all be set up to be producing and were upcoming. It’s kind of the way craft beer was ten years ago, we could see that there was a demand. The fact that there wasn’t any one else doing something similar in the area despite the prevalence of good livestock, Susie’s skill set in terms of running a business and making things look good, it all came together. We both agreed to just do it and never look back.
Where do you source your meat?
Stephen: Puddledub Farm in Fife. I had spoken to the guys up there and they were all very encouraging of what we were doing. Going back to the traditional way of doing charcuterie, you’d start off with the whole pig and make a product with every part of the pig, there wouldn’t be any wastage. That’s the way I like to do it, instead of just making salami you’re making something from the loin or making ham from the back leg, so that was the kind of starting point for me. Puddledub Farm was one of the places where you could tell them 'I’m coming along to get a whole pig'.
Where did you learn charcuterie techniques?
Stephen: Books, forums and really just planning. The thing is with this and beer brewing, you start with a recipe but you’re not going to know what it tastes like for a month or a few weeks. It’s different to cooking where the amount of resources that go into that, you can’t just swap out. You have to move carefully with what you are about to do. That what you’ve planned is what you’ve put in place. It’s similar to this of asking, I didn’t quite like the taste of that, why didn’t I not like it, what can I do to make it different, are you sure that this is going to work this time, that sort of thing. So I think that fine tuning recipes is important because you might get a recipe from a person who is working with a very different product - he’s not getting his pigs from over in Fife (Fife is an hour drive from Leith). It’s always going to taste different and that’s part of the beauty of Scottish charcuterie.
How is Scottish charcuterie different?
Stephen: In Europe they tend to grow pigs for longer than they do here. You often end up with a lot more fat. Larger cuts like hams and things which you’re going to cure for a longer time - like 12 months, over a year, it helps to have quite a lot of fat not just on the end but throughout the muscle itself to help retain the moisture. In terms of flavour, it’s difficult to say as the way they often make saucisson in France is different to how we do it here. A lot of theirs is made out in the open in country France and there’s no way you could do that here. That also has an effect on how it tastes. So much of our Scottish beef cattle is fed on distillers dark grains which is actually something I used to make at my old job. It’s a great product, kind of a Marmite that is leftover after the process. It’s very sweet - it’s got a high protein content and is great for marbling. I think it has a massive influence on how Scottish beef is as good as it is but it’s not something that’s sung about, which is something I think we can change in the future. I think we should be shouting about the connection between the whiskey industry and meat producing.
How important was learning charcuterie as a hobby first?
Stephen: In terms of our product, some of the rookie mistakes I made at home, if I’d been making them here that would’ve been so disheartening - I might have just given up. When you want to try again you have to wait another five weeks. If your guesses aren’t that educated you’re going to spend a year making stuff that isn’t that good before you get it right and that is a lot of money and time. Chorizo was one where I thought it would be such an easy thing to get right. This was because you’re relying on the taste from the spice mixture so where the animals grow up isn’t going to have that big of an impact because it's so heavily spiced. But I couldn’t make anything that tasted like a real chorizo, it just tasted like a slightly spicy salami. It turns out that a great deal of that is where you get your spices. They have to be really high quality for it to taste good. Eventually it got to a point where it did taste like a Spanish chorizo except I don’t want to make a Spanish chorizo because that’s what you get in a Spanish deli so what can we do that’s going to make it different but equally nice that will make people want to try it? We experimented with Jack Daniels and more South American influences - spices like cumin and oregano. Trying to fuse things so that it does taste like a chorizo but has difference.
Is that inventiveness and bringing something new a big selling point? (Note: East Coast Cured are working on a number of secret curing collaborations, follow their Instagram for the latest updates)
Susie: Definitely, on the continent there would be generations who have used the same recipe whereas we don’t have that so we are free to do whatever we want.
Stephen: The first market we did, the chorizo was just labelled ‘Chorizo’ and I thought if I could get talking to people about it, I’ll tell people it’s got bourbon in it and the difference spices. We didn’t sell any. We thought, maybe we’re unselling it. The next day we labelled it ‘Bourbon and Cascabel Chillies’, which is what it is and we sold out. People want exclusivity and something different. You can get chorizo anywhere but you haven’t had bourbon and cascabel chilli chorizo so it’s about communicating that difference. With the nduja (a spicy Italian sausage traditionally made from pig liver, fat and lung) we smoked it over whiskey oak. That’s never been done before and gives it a unique twist. It’s things like that, you have an idea, you do it and it actually tastes great. It’s the best thing. Venison and smoked gin, it sounds like a great idea, I don’t know if it’s going to work but it should with the sweetness from the berries mixed with venison.
There doesn’t seem to be any other shop front / basement charcuterie places in Edinburgh - where did the idea come from?
Stephen: The original idea was that we would go to an industrial unit and produce just for trade but then we saw this place with a big basement and a little shop upstairs. Then the idea changed to us making it downstairs and having a little nice overall deli upstairs.
Susie: Part of the inspiration for this project was when we were in Madrid, there was the Museo del Jamon - speaks for itself really. It was a bar/deli where you could go after work, get a beer, some tapas, meats and cheese and things for the weekend and off you’d go. You’d go in for half an hour, chat to your pals and come back with stuff.
Stephen: With our generation, it’s so much cheaper to get on a flight and explore Europe and get a taste of the food culture that they have there. You don’t go to places like Paris, Toulouse, Barcelona, Madrid without coming across places like Museo del Jamon or local eateries, then coming home and noticing the void of that.
Why did you decide to live in Leith and grow a business here?
Stephen: To be able to do what we do, we could have never rented a place in Morningside (an inner city suburb of Edinburgh) where you might expect to see something like this more. The price of the salami would be ridiculous, if you had to factor in the rent of mortgage. That’s part of the reason why we can afford to take the risks in a place like this in Leith, in a place that’s up and coming, in a place like this that had been on the market for more than a year. It’s a space where no one knew what to do with it, not quite an office but can’t be turned into a residential space, it might work for this. Leith’s lively community and spirit never left but I feel it’s coming back now as more and more people are moving down here. There’s a lot happening with small places like this. We live a three minute walk from the shop. My grandad managed the shop just at the top of the road, so most of his life he walked from that street to this road and it does feel really nice that we’re doing that. There’s a woman that lives at the end of our street, Margaret, she’s in her 80’s and she’s lived there her whole life. She remembers me, my brother and sister when we were young, she knew my grandad and she knew my parents. It’s nice to feel a part of that, that community.
How has the response been from the community?
Stephen: I actually got a call the other day from a number I didn’t recognise and it was Margaret! She said “Stephen I just want to let you know that I was having lunch up in The Honours the other day and came across your charcuterie and Martin Wishart (Michelin starred Edinburgh chef) came out to talk to me and told me all about your set up. I told him that I knew you and I just wanted to let you know it was the best charcuterie I’ve ever had.” It was great! It was so nice of her to think of us and the fact that Martin told her about us, she knows us, we live on her street.
Where do you see the future of East Coast Cured?
Stephen: There’s so many avenues that this could go down. I think the possibility for dry curing to become not just a niche, fancy treat but something that is just another way of preparing food. It’s also less energy intensive and you’re not actually cooking as such, you’re not using as much energy and power to get the job done. As the demand rises and we think we’re making the same thing to meet demand every week, eventually I would want to take that somewhere else, somewhere bigger but I’d always want to keep this place for more experimental, new recipes, different products, trying things, potentially training people as well, potentially having people in to spend the day making charcuterie, making events out of it. I’d always want to keep this place but I could see us expanding out of here as well.