Deftly preparing the carcass with her trusty six-inch paring knife, Rachel Hammond is an army of one. She quit the rat race of London for a rustic life in the Scottish Borders, and over the last three years she’s become a self-taught butcher and maker of exceptionally fine charcuterie. Rachel’s insistence on traceability, quality, and traditional methods has ensured that everything she sells is deliciously superior and a feast for the senses.
The Hammond Charcuterie curing space is drafty, dark, and damp, the ideal conditions helped by being located just 100 yards from Eyemouth harbor. Her sublime air-dried ham starts at a farm about six miles away, where she deliberately selects rare-breed pigs. “Tamworths are fantastic for bacon and pancetta and they make really good sausages from the front end, where they’ve got this lovely, dark, gamey meat,” she explains, “that’s had 18 months air drying, which means that it’s fully cured. Most hams are not cured to that extent, so they haven’t reached equilibrium.”
As the fat melts from the hanging hams, it slowly drips to the floor. As the protein and fats break down naturally inside, the ham becomes much more aromatic. The British restaurant critic Jay Rayner once said that the best foods have a faint whiff of death about them. “You can smell a good ham from the wafting aromas,” agrees Rachel. She is looking for well-worked muscle from aged beasts that have lived a stress-free life to the end, which is why she insists that the farmer takes to slaughter every animal she prepares.
As whisky drinkers, we are not intimidated by robust flavors in cured meats. The thick fat layer on her wild boar coppa tastes wonderful. Coppa is capocollo (the top of the collar), a marbled muscle cut from Boston butt, especially from an older animal. “It’s quite a hard-working part of the pig, so you get a fabulous depth of flavor,” says Rachel. It’s cured in sea salt, then hung and dried for four to five months, losing 30-40 percent in weight, which intensifies the flavor like a porcine angel’s share. “During that time it takes on that funky, part salami, part air-dried ham flavor with the addition of the melting air-dried fat. I put a fennel and pepper crust on it: very northern Italian.”
She is rightfully proud of her 100 percent pasture-fed, oak-smoked goose, raised just over a mile away from her curing space. The goose is rich and buttery. “They are dry cured with a bit of salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of star anise, which I like for bringing out the background flavors.”
Oak-smoked wild venison comes from roe deer shot on an estate a few miles away. She seam cuts it, French butchery style, splits out the muscles, then cures them individually before smoking them in a traditional smokehouse. Her Shetland Reestit mutton gigot can be fried like smoky mutton bacon or used in stews. It’s based on the regional specialty where Shetlanders would salt meat and hang it from a low ceiling over a peat fire.
Today, at the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market, she has a basket of thick, knobbly sticks of venison-and-pheasant salami that contain wild garlic and local beer to make it creamy. She has experimented with whisky too. “I’m a huge fan of Springbank and I have used it in sausages. I’ve made whisky-and-orange wild boar sausages at Christmas, as the quality of the wild boar here is just unbelievable. I would love to smoke meat with whisky barrels, if only I could get my hands on some.”
In the future, she hopes to run courses to teach consumers, chefs, and farmers how to make their own charcuterie, but meanwhile she’s quite content. “I absolutely love doing the butchery, that’s all I want to do.”
Pairing Whisky with Hammond Charcuterie
Rather than recommending whisky brands, Jonny offers some whisky style suggestions to help the salivating gourmand reach for the perfect pour.
Air-dried ham works beautifully with a sweeter Kentucky straight bourbon or a triple distilled Irish whiskey matured in American oak.
Pancetta Choose a refill sherried Speyside whisky to cut through the fat of the cured pork belly.
Oak-smoked goose requires a delicate touch, so pick out a light grain whisky or a young Lowland whisky. The trick is to avoid anything too sweet.
Oak–smoked venison Draw on a heavier first-fill sherry cask single malt or a subtle, smoky scotch blend.
Shetland Reestit gigot Avoid a peaty whisky here, and instead look for a rich, complex blend with a touch of sherry influence.
Venison-and-pheasant salami Select a dark sherried whisky, particularly one with pronounced chocolate notes on the nose and palate.
Wild boar coppa A good sherry cask Highland malt with a rich, textured mouthfeel will work wonders here.
Hammond Charcuterie is sold at Edinburgh and Alnwick Farmers’ Markets, on either side of the Scottish Border, and will soon open an online shop.