Highland Charcuterie and Smoke House Ltd was established in 2014, although Isabelle and Richard Flannery have been making charcuterie and smoking food for their hotel’s restaurant since 2004. They moved to their present location near Oldshoremore in the very North of the highlands in 2016 and started producing a range of products full time.
1. Hi. First things first: where do you hail from?
Isabelle: I was born in Cognac, France.
Richard: I was born in Leeds Yorkshire.
2. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Isabelle: I still don’t know!! I did many different trainings and jobs during my life and enjoyed them all.
Richard: I had no idea what I wanted to be and was annoyed by all my uncles and aunts asking me that question. I started work at 11 washing glasses in a club and at eighteen I still did not know what I wanted to do.
3. How did you earn your living before making charcuterie?
Isabelle: from working in horse riding clubs in France and Italy, followed by a commercial pilot license in the US and France, surveyor qualification in France and work in the US (where I met Richard), owner and cook at our hotel-restaurant in the highlands of Scotland.
Richard: I went to Mineral and Mining College, I trained to be a mine surveyor and was loving it. Unfortunately, just as I qualified “Arthur meet Thatcher” and that was it. So I got a job as a surveyor with an Oil and Gas seismic exploration company in the Middle East and for the next 20 years I travelled the world. Then I met Isabelle in California, she was a new employee for the company I was working for as a manager. 2 years later we married and 2 years after that we had a son and after a year of taking him on jobs in America with us we decided it was time for all three of us settle down. So we bought a hotel on the North West Coast of Scotland. Isabelle was the Chef and I was, bar man and front of house. After 13 years it was time again to change our pace of life so we sold the hotel and started a full time Charcuterie business.
4. When, where and how did you learn to cure meat?
Isabelle: I first started because, being French but not living in France, I was really missing charcuteries!! So I started producing in my restaurant. I read lots of books for technical information but what I really wanted to do, is re-create flavours from my childhood and my travels…I started with pork Rillettes and kept on “playing” with seasonings until my own palate was satisfied (many batches!)
Then, my smoked salmon and haddock supplier, for the restaurant, stopped his business. I decided to try myself but first went on a short smoking training course in Scotland to learn the basics of fish smoking, bought a small smoker and started smoking and experimenting.
Of course now, I had a smoker!! And very good local meats to play with too. A meat grinder was the next mandatory tool and I started making hot smoked sausages using pork or venison. Again, lots of reading and experimenting. I started serving “Assiette de charcuterie” as a starter in my restaurant and had many compliments from our guests…The hotel being closed during winter, we started attending local Christmas markets and these were quite successful but something was missing from our range of products…air dried meats of course!! And I started with air dried ham! The first one went to the bin I recall. High humidity is a friend at the start of the process but it needs to decrease at some point! Not in Scotland. Oh yes, more reading, more equipment! And hams, coppa, bresaola, pancetta followed by Saucisse Seche and chorizo…About ten years passed from my first batch of Rillettes to my first Saucisse Seche, I keep learning, every day and I keep wanting to develop new recipes and flavours, this is my learning curve.
Richard: From Isabelle!
5. You can only choose one of your products to take to a desert island, which is it?
Isabelle: The Rillettes of course!
Richard: Venison, Elderberries and Whisky Pate.
6. Where do you source your meat for Highland Charcuterie products?
Free Range, rare breeds Scottish Pork from Berry hill croft Auckengill Caithness, Venison from The Ardgay Game Factory Ltd, Ardgay. Pheasant from Altyre, Forres. Scottish Beef from Dingwall.
7. What can British charcuterie producers learn from European producers?
Isabelle: Simplicity in flavour.
Richard: Patience and using only top quality ingredients.
8. Which of your products is most representative of your Scottish surroundings?
Isabelle: The Venison hot smoked sausage with Elderberries and Juniper.
Richard: The Venison Salami with Bog Myrtle and Scottish Blackcurrants
9. Finally, you’ve been told that for exceptional medical reasons you must turn vegan tomorrow – what’s on the menu for dinner tonight?
Isabelle: A bullet.
Richard: A frozen meat bullet.
You can get your hands on the fantastic pates and rillettes on our online shop here!