dingley-dell

I was in a major meeting when my phone went off. The number was clearly a mobile but not one I knew. This happens often but what followed does not. I asked the meeting to allow me to answer and on doing so got the following:

“Hi Nick, It’s Mark Hayward from Dingley Dell, I’m in Hong Kong”. I apologised and said I was in a meeting and that I would call back. The whole thing was very peculiar in that I didn’t know Mark, had never heard of Dingley Dell and had no idea why Hong Kong would be significant

Despite this lack of knowledge I was intrigued and as soon as the meeting was over I phoned back. I am very glad I did. Mark is a bundle of energy on legs, charming, funny and driven by a passion very similar to ours in Loch Duart. Now I want to be a bit careful how I say this but his love is pigs. Dingley Dell Pork is the brainchild of Mark and his brother Paul, who run and work with a number of farms in Suffolk. Their dream is to rear pigs by the best method they can to create food for people that wows. Does this sound at all similar to any company we know?

It transpired that Dingley Dell had decided to export pork to Hong Kong, home of a huge Chinese community, which eats vast amounts of pork imported from China at a very cheap price. Why on earth would you want to do that and considering the level of competition that you would face? Well Mark’s answer is clear and to the point: “We want to establish a brand like Loch Duart’s, respected by chefs and renowned for quality around the world. We were contacted by people in Honk Kong so we decided we would go out to see if we could establish a market.” In conversation later Mark made the point that scares in supply from China probably encouraged the marketplace but that their presence with chefs in the UK probably underpinned the market demand.

So, having talked to Mark and having been hugely impressed by his energy and drive, I decided to go down and have a look at what they do and, boy, was it worth it! Whether it is the pigs in little herds running about amongst their mothers or the 3 day old piglet being held in the arms of a Robyn, the entire experience is captivating and enthusing. Mark and Paul are utterly charming and show the enthusiasm that is fast giving their brand one heck of a reputation.

I am not a great hand at making videos and nothing that I have taken could match the impression that I have. When walking up to one area, all you can see for a long way is sows and litters of piglets. The scene is somewhat surreal, there is an electric fence about half a metre high around each area containing several sows and their litters. This one strand of wire stops the sows from wandering but not the piglets, which form herds and run about having a wonderful time. I know I am often laughed at for my turn of phrase but the animals looked so genuinely happy that it was infectious.

Having left that area, we went to the farrowing area. For the uninitiated this is where the piglets are born. As in every stage at Dingley Dell, the pigs are born in small huts in the open air. Mark, Robyn and I went over to a hut very quietly and he reached into the hut, opening a flap at the back and took out a tiny bundle of pink. I will try not to wax too emotional but it was enchanting. We were told that, if it started to make unhappy noises, then we would have to return it to its mother quickly. Surprisingly this took quite a little time and it was happy enough to be held for some time.

After seeing the pigs in their environment and being in with them, we went to the British Larder, a wonderful pub-like restaurant with great beers {no I wasn’t driving} and extremely good food. I expected to learn about how to cook pork and I also expected to taste Dingley Dell in various guises and I did. Whether it was the scotch egg or the belly cooked for 24 hours at eighty four degrees, it was utterly delicious. But the surprise of the day came when we were served a plate of Loch Duart salmon cooked several ways as the British Larder regularly use our salmon. What a way to finish off a day

There are those in our industry that would criticise this trip as a frivolous waste of time to see something that is not relevant to what we do. Well from my point of view they are utterly wrong. Our job is to delight our customers so much that they remember who we are and what we do. It doesn’t matter whether you grow pigs, cattle, sheep or salmon, our job is the same. We are food suppliers and our focus should be on our customers and by that I mean the people who ultimately eat our products. Just like chefs and all of the people involved in bringing food to people who care about food, we are a group of fellow travellers and we can all learn from each other. Maybe in the future we will be able to work together to supply the best of British to restaurants all over the world. It may be a dream but our strength as producers lies in working together. Let’s hope!