Producer of the Month: Ellie Savoury, Norfolk Quail
There is such an abundance of fantastic produce available in Norfolk that it is little wonder that the Norfolk Diet, where committed followers only eat food that has a strong Norfolk connection, is so popular. Norfolk can boast many things - fantastic foraging, crayfish, rare breed pork, blueberries and poultry from the Brecks; samphire, mussels, seabass, cod and the famous Cromer crab from the coast. One truly great and inspiring producer to come out of the county over the past couple of years is Norfolk Quail founded by husband and wife, John and Ellie Savory.
Quail, with its low cholesterol, is a perfect meat to cook and serve over the festive period. I first encountered quails eggs as a waitress, peeling them for drinks parties - one for the bowl, one for me. What could be better - moorish and healthy. But I didn't try quail meat, with its sweet, delicate texture until fairly recently. It is truly fantastic. It's like the yang to the grouse's ying. The first time I ate it, it had been roasted with some British bacon on top. We were served a bird each, although quite a few fellow diners commented that they could happily eat two in one sitting. That is not as gluttonous as it sounds; quail has extremely low skin fat and cholesterol value, whilst the eggs have at least three times more nutritional value than chicken eggs.
In fact, Ellie and John, both offspring of Norfolk farmers, had been producing organic chicken eggs for Waitrose since 1999. They went into quail production in 2011, spurred on by the fact that no-one in Britain was doing what they now do and because the majority of quail meat eaten in Britain was imported from France. They wanted to provide a local alternative to imported French cage produced quail meat.
They were initially awarded a contract with Clarence Court for their quail eggs in 2012 and the eggs can now be found in shops such as Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Fortnum & Masons and Harrods. They established their quail meat production in 2011 on a small local basis. Since then they have been awarded a Rural Economy Grant from the RDPE to build a brand new processing plant enabling them to expand their trading. They are set to launch their Norfolk Quail 'free to fly' quail meat nationally from January 2014.
- What do you enjoy most about rearing quails?
Quail are delightful little characters that busy themselves all day long, dust bathing in clean shavings and picking for their food. They are very quiet, much to most people's amazement, but enjoy talking to each other and to anyone that goes into the shed.
- What do you enjoy the least?
Daily mucking out! The only way to keep the quail and the eggs clean is to muck out the sheds every day, which is time consuming and hard work.
- Why should we buy British produce?
We all need to support British farmers to produce food. Buying locally not only helps to support the local economy, but it enables the consumer to trace where their food comes from. British farming has some of the highest food and animal welfare standards and conservation practices in the world. As the first producers of 'free to fly' quail meat in Great Britain we are passionate about animal welfare, food standards and sustainable farming practices.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
Being the first farmers in Britain (if not in Europe) to produce entirely 'free to fly' quail meat, this means that not only the birds used for quail meat and eggs are free to fly, but also the breeding flocks and chicks as well.
- What are your predictions for the future of British food and if you were Prime Minister what would you do to encourage more people to buy British?
In 2013 the UK only produced enough food to feed its population from 1 January to 14 August showing us how much we now rely on imports. If I were the Prime Minister, I would re-consider some of the energy crop subsidies and grants available to land owners and encourage more farmers to produce food rather than biofuels, which are not so environmentally sound due to the miles and miles that energy crops have to be transported for bio digestion. My prediction is already becoming a reality in that British farmers are diversifying their businesses to establish food processing facilities that will enable them to supply direct to their market, without the need for trading via wholesalers to supermarkets. Celebrity chefs are doing a fantastic job of encouraging people to source their food locally and cook from scratch, which is fantastic news for farmers, butchers and green grocers alike.
- Best budget tip?
Buy your meat directly from butchers (farms if they have the provision) and local farm shops. Not only is it far cheaper than supermarket meat, the quality is superior. Use the left overs of a Sunday joint such as a shoulder of lamb to create a mid-week supper of shepherds pie, for example.
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
British Food - the safest and best there is.
- What other British food producers do you rate?
I rate all British farmers that are producing quality food for our nation… for example the arable farmer that produces the corn to feed our poultry to our neighbour Uphouse Farm who have a large broiler flock of chickens produced intensively but to high welfare standards, my parents at Bagthorpe Farm, who produce top quality organic vegetables and beef for the higher end of the market and Jimmy's Farm who not only produce food, but also promote and support the best in British agriculture.
- What's on the menu this evening?
Boned quail stuffed with local sausage meat, devoured by our both our children –aged seven and four - and ourselves.
- How can people get hold of your produce?
You can order via our website www.norfolkquail.co.uk, via twitter @NorfolkQuail by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01328 829249
Some of our current customers include:
Morston Hall (Chef Richard Bainbridge and Galton Blackiston)
Titchwell Manor (Chef Eric Snaith)
Alimentum Restaurant (Chef Mark Poynton)
Jimmys Farm Restaurant (Chef Katie Rowles)
Midsummer House Restaurant Cambridge (Chef Daniel Clifford and Daniel Gill)
Flying Kiwi Inns Crown Hotel Wells (Chef Chris Coubrough)