Richard Vaughan, Huntsham Farm, supplies Simon Rogan, L’Enclume, Fera and The French. Photograph: Harry Borden for Observer Food Monthly

Richard Vaughan, Huntsham Farm, supplies Simon Rogan, L’Enclume, Fera and The French. Photograph: Harry Borden for Observer Food Monthly

Bob Granleese


Sunday 21 February 2016 09.00 GMTLast modified on Sunday 21 February 2016 09.54 GMT

Richard Vaughan, Huntsham Farm, supplies Simon Rogan, L’Enclume, Fera and The French

Back in March 2009, Richard Vaughan of Huntsham Farm in Herefordshire made possibly the best decision of his professional life when he rocked up at Simon Rogan’s Cumbrian enclave, L’Enclume, hoping to sell some of his middle white pork to perhaps the most notoriously picky of all Britain’s Michelin-starred chefs. Seven years on, not only is Vaughan still selling his pigs to Rogan’s ever-expanding empire (the chef now also runs Fera in London and The French in Manchester), but the trade as a whole talks about Vaughan’s middle whites in quasi-reverential tones. “I haven’t a clue what makes our pork different from other people’s pork,” he says with a contented chuckle, “but that’s because I’ve got no idea how anyone else farms their pigs. I only know how we look after ours.”

Vaughan may claim not to know what sets his pigs apart, but Rogan certainly does: “Richard’s pork has incredible flavour and fat content and, as anyone who knows anything about cooking will tell you, the fat’s where all the good stuff is. I was aware of the British tradition for middle whites, and the quality of the meat, but they went out of fashion last century because of the rise in demand for bacon pigs, which are by necessity much leaner.”

When you’re cooking at the level Rogan is, you tend to deal only in world-class products, and he says wouldn’t hesitate to put Vaughan’s middle white in that category. “His are healthy, happy animals, and that really shows through in the end product. I’d go so far as to say he’s the blueprint for how any pig farmer should operate.”

Vaughan cheerfully admits that he doesn’t play by the pig-farming rulebook: “We slaughter our pigs at about five months, then hang them for 13 days, which is thought of as a bit wacky. ‘You don’t need to hang pork,’ they all say. Well, in my book, you do, because that’s how our customers like it. Any animals that are over-fat or over-lean go into sausages, which ensures we can deliver a very consistent pork pig. What’s kept me and Simon together so long is that, essentially, he likes what I do. I’m under no illusions that if I don’t keep my standards up, he’ll just look elsewhere.”

That doesn’t seem likely any time soon: Rogan’s attention to detail in his sourcing is such that he even has his own farm within spitting distance of L’Enclume, to supply the restaurant, and for a time they dabbled in rearing lop ears. “They were very high-maintenance,” he says, “and since the farm is run predominately by our chefs, we just can’t spare the time to manage pigs, too.”

To call Vaughan’s profession high-maintenance is a bit of an understatement, especially when you consider his latest groundbreaking wheeze, which was the happy byproduct of a failed experiment for Nuno Mendes. “A year or so ago, Nuno asked us to try hanging a carcass for him for 40 days – he was after something similar to the pigs they have in Portugal and Spain. I thought he was being daft, and told him so, but we gave it a go. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite right for him, but it got me thinking. I had an old fridge doing nothing, so decided to trial a 55-day-aged carcass. When we tasted it, everyone went “Wow!” – the meat was thicker, more unctuous. It’s not quite a ham, but it’s moving in that direction.”

The new product knocked Rogan’s socks off, too. “I’d put his dry-aged pork on a par with the best Iberico any day,” he says. “The fact that it’s British is just the icing on the cake.” He now has it on the menu at both Fera and the French.

For a small outfit that sells just 30 pigs a week in all, it’s innovations such as this that help keep Vaughan in with the serious operators such as Rogan. “I don’t get to speak with Simon as much as I used to,” he says just a little sadly. “But that’s because he’s such a big wheel these days. Mind you, for us every customer is – so long as they pay their bill on time.”