Deep in the heart of Hackney, London is where you will find charcutier Hugo Jeffreys of Blackhand Artisanal Charcuterie. He spends his days in his workshop, hand-making premium charcuterie in preparation for wholesale to restaurants and delis across the United Kingdom, as well as for direct sale to customers at food markets.
Born and bred in London, Jeffreys has always worked in food and hospitality. He began his career as a chef, but after four years he became disengaged and was searching for a change. He soon moved on, becoming a baker and finding himself with additional spare time. As a side project, he took up curing meats in his basement.
Preparing the pork for drying is a labor-intensive process, as I witnessed. Jeffreys, however, receives huge satisfaction when his customers share that they’ve used his products in their cooking. Because it can take up to six months to dry and cure, it is imperative that he forecasts how much product he will need in the coming months, always essentially working half a year ahead.
When I visit Jeffreys in his workshop, I have the chance to taste a sampling of his products. There is a spreadable salami that he recommends enjoying on toast with a drizzle of honey on top. Its consistency, I learned, is unlike typical salami because of its higher fat content. This particular salami originates from Calabria, Italy, and traditionally is very spicy. For his UK customers, however, Jeffreys has restrained his use of the chili.
“The hobby spun out of control. I have this huge library of books; I learned everything about this trade online,” says Jeffreys. He is purely self-taught, and is a fine example that with motivation and perseverance, learning any trade is possible.
Jeffreys’ new skill soon became a full-fledged business, one which has been in operation for just over twelve months. “I got into charcuterie because no one else at the time was doing it in London, except for one other company,” says Jeffreys. “It’s a niche market.”
Jeffreys offers eight varieties of cured meats that are pork-based and Italian in influence. He focuses on a few concentrated products, and on making them well. He chooses to use pig not only for its great flavor, but because he’s able to utilize the entire animal. “I can confidently make use of the whole pig, it is economical to do so and there is no wastage,” says Jeffreys.
“I make a premium product; it’s hand-made and the meat used is of high quality,” he explains. The pigs Jeffreys uses are rare breed Gloucester Old Spots, free-range and sourced from Essex and Yorkshire. He believes the welfare of the animal is very important, and ultimately results in great-tasting meat.
Another type of salami that I sample includes ear, tongue, and cheek. A pâté-like flavor, but with added texture, it was incredibly tasty. It’s a unique product to the UK and a technique original to Jeffreys himself; one of which he is proud to have developed.
With the burgeoning food scene in London, Jeffreys is one of many talented artisanal makers putting his new skill to work in securing the city’s spot on the map as a destination for food lovers.