To Market , to Market, to Buy a ... Lean Pig

PUBLISHED: 12:23 06 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 20 February 2013

David and Debbie Wilkinson with one of their sows

David and Debbie Wilkinson with one of their sows

Downland Pigs was one of the winners in the recent Taste of the West Awards.

Unlike other things in life, nursery rhymes don't adapt to the modern lifestyle and that's the trouble with this one at least - it was dreamed up in the days of old breeds when the fatter the pig the more people regarded them. Nowadays, fat pigs are anathema or, as David Wilkinson of Downland Pigs, says: "Although pork is a meat where all the fat is on the outside and you can cut it off easily, people buy with their eyes. If the meat doesn't look lean to start with they will lose interest." That's why, over the eight years or so that Downland Pigs has been operating in its present incarnation, David has developed his own breed of Large White/Landrace/Duroc cross, which combines the maximum flavour with the minimum fat. And doubtless that is the reason why Downland Pigs has won awards for the quality of its produce - most recently in the Taste of the West Awards 2008, where they took Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, the Silver Award for their pancetta, a product only recently developed.

"When I first started the business 27 years ago, we were large-scale producers with around 500 sows, producing pork commercially. We reared them, sent them to the abattoir for butchering, and that was the last we saw of them. But, along with others, we were hit very badly by the Foot and Mouth epidemic, and had to kill a lot of animals. "Overall, the UK lost 40% of its pig production, and you might have expected the price of pork to rise as a result; I had always felt that pig farmers never achieved the right reward for their efforts. However, that never happened. More foreign imports of pork came in - to a much lower quality than we produce - so I took a definite business decision to change focus. I downsized drastically, set up my own butchery, and started selling direct to the public through farmers' markets, hotels and restaurants." It seems that the company has never looked back since and it just goes to prove the old adage, 'small is beautiful'. David's animals would certainly think that. Free-ranging and fed naturally with locally sourced feeds, they live happy if short lives on a farm at Lacock that itself has idyllic surroundings.

"Depending on the season, it takes around 6-7 months to rear a pig to table," David told me. "We prefer to sell direct to the public because we are only a small operation. We do supply some supermarkets with hams but we couldn't guarantee regular supplies of bacon without making inroads into the domestic market. And, with a loyal band of customers, we wouldn't want to do that - our customers always come first." When the animals come back from the abattoir (David sends them there in the company's own transporter), they are butchered and prepared on the company's own premises. There is a butchery in one area and a preparation area in another where public are welcome to come and buy their weekend joint. From there they find their way to the company's major markets - in this case London, as it happens, although produce is sold locally too.

"We produce sausages, bacon and ham: I have my own oak smoker and smoke the bacon and ham on site. The bacon is dry-cured; I don't like to produce it with too much salt, and we are also developing new products. We introduced pancetta as an experiment a few months ago and actually took Silver Award for it at the 2008 Taste of the West Awards, which was very gratifying." David also took Gold for his Boerewors sausage and Bronze for oak-smoked ham at the same event. "It means a lot to a small company like ours to win awards. It means that we are right at the top of the tree in stiff competition from other producers, and makes all the hard work worthwhile." That said, perhaps the greatest accolade of all comes from the paying customers themselves who return time and time again to buy Downland Pigs' produce.

One of the areas that David is hoping to expand is a hog-roasting service. "We have our own hog-roasting machine that follows the farmers' markets, and that we hire out for special events such as weddings. We even had it at a shopping centre in Reading over the Christmas season last year, so that is an area that shows great promise. We produce the pigs here, so why not?"

Why not indeed? It's just one more facet of keeping everything tight and in-house, the way a small and successful company should be run. Small certainly is beautiful.

For further information on Downland Pigs, call (01249 730101) or visit

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