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Festival first for firm
1:30pm Wednesday 5th September 2012 in Farming
MICHELIN star chef Jean- Christophe Novelli has asked a local sausage maker to produce his own “chocolate”
He has given his secret recipe to Claire Watson Laney who runs her Northumberland Sausage Company in Wark, near Hexham, Northumberland.
The business quickly took off after she and her father, Lewis, opened the Wark Village Farm Store shop in April 2010.
It now employs 12 staff, and the sausages have 18 stockists and 70 catering clients. Half a tonne of sausages a week are produced – one tonne at peak times – and 50 different recipes are used.
“I’d heard and read all about the Alnwick Food Festival and we wanted to be part of an amazing weekend,”
said Claire. “We now look forward to meeting Jean-Christophe, who is returning to Alnwick for the second consecutive year.”
Claire, who has a doctorate in molecular science, as well as a masters and a PhD, entered farming by chance during a family visit to her grandparents in Newcastle during 2001.
The family visited Wark and decided to buy a 250- acre upland farm they saw advertised. Bowers Roses Farm is on the picturesque Kielder tourist route and the family fell in love with it and the area.
Since then Claire’s parents, Lewis and Susan, have run the practical side of the farm business. It was a steep learning curve, but one they considered highly rewarding.
The farm has since grown to 450 acres and carries more than 1,000 Texel cross Northumberland Blackface sheep.
Lewis and Susan are still involved on the farm as is Claire’s husband, Will, and lambing time certainly requires all the family’s participation.
Claire said: “It’s a roundthe- clock-operation and everyone gets to grips with the work. We lamb the ewes outside in two batches, starting in February.
“The ewes have decent shelter and there are a lot of stone walls. As soon as the lambs are born the ewes and lambs are immediately brought inside. The system works well, but requires our constant observation and a lot of attention to detail.”
Always interested in horses – she once made the British Junior Eventing team – she did a diploma and then degree in equine science.
She subsequently trained as a veterinary pathologist and took up a post with the Health Protection Agency – studying leprosy for the next four years.
Husband Will, was a gastro technician at Great Ormond Street Hospital until switching career and undertaking an apprenticeship course in upland farming at Kirkley Hall Agricultural College, Ponteland.
By then, Claire wanted to return to Northumberland and the move back to the family farm occurred in December 2009.
However, the 32-year-old continued commuting to London each week until August 2010, five months after buying the shop.
About the shop, she said: “We’d purchased a typical village butcher’s shop.
Adding value through homeproduced meat sales from the core-farm business was an obvious option, but I wanted to offer more.”
Diversifying into a wider range of goods has also helped other local businesses.
It stocks a range of gifts and local produce as well as confectionary.
The family still employs the original butchery staff and products are packaged in attractive boxes and sold through outlets including Fenwick’s and Brockbrushes Farm Shop, near Hexham.
The family take their animals for slaughter at Malcolm Nattrass & Sons, Consett, County Durham.
Claire said: “We take great care not to stress the animals and many food experts consider this also helps meat quality. Malcolm Nattrass was recommended as someone who takes great care with the animals.
“Malcolm delivers the dressed sheep back to us after slaughter and our own butchers create the products for the farm shop and other food outlets. Similarly, our goats go to Jewitt’s at Spennymoor and we’re delighted with both the provided services.
“Attending the festival will help promote our company brand to more than 30,000 visitors and allows customers to view and sample our farm produce.”