Tamworth firm The Real Pork Crackling Company is making a name for itself
EVERYONE knows about the Tamworth Pig – but how many of you know about the town's other porcine claim to fame?
For in modest premises on the Lichfield Road Industrial Estate, operates one of Europe's biggest manufacturers of pork scratchings – The Real Pork Crackling Company.
"I love them. I eat a couple of packets a day – they're traditionally made, from natural ingredients and they're delicious! Bodybuilders often eat them before they go the gym," says managing director Lee Edwards.
Each week here in Tamworth, eight tonnes of pork rind are turned into crackling, scratchings and pork crunch with the finished products being destined for major supermarkets, for Fortnum and Mason, for Harrods, for Marks and Spencer – and for your local club or pub.
These are just a few of the customers of The Real Pork Crackling Company (formerly Green Top Snacks).
The company was formed by Lee's father John Edwards in the 1970s – almost by accident.
He said: "Dad was a butcher in Pelsall and one day in the 1970s a local club asked if he could make some pork scratchings for them.
"He'd never made them before and he did lots, but he couldn't get them right. Then one day his Saturday lad didn't turn up and he forgot about the scratchings he was cooking. When he finally remembered them, they were absolutely perfect.
"He noted how long they had been cooking for and at what temperature and that was it – he'd cracked it! The club sold out in one evening and it took off."
When his pork scratching enterprise became too big for the butcher's shop, John moved to Tamworth, first to premises in Sandy Way, Amington, then to Tame Valley and then, in 2001 to the current unit in Gagarin in Lichfield Road. Forty years later and business is booming.
Lee has been with the company for 24 years, the last 15 as MD. He was joined some 18 months ago by chief executive officer Chris Cunliffe and in the last 18 months the two have heavily invested in the company.
Chris said: "The market for pork snacks has really taken off over the last 18 months and we have invested heavily to grow the business.
"We have a turnover of £4 million, but we're looking to grow that to £7 million this year. These are demanding times for us, but very exciting times!"
The rind used for scratchings comes mostly from Large White and Durac pigs. Each piece is hand cut.
After a chat about the business, I don a white coat, safety boots, gloves and a hairnet and I'm fully equipped for a tour of the factory floor.
First we approach the freezer room where tonnes of pork rind are stored. Then to a huge guillotine machine where the frozen blocks are chopped into pieces.
The defrosted chunks are hand-cooked in huge vats of bubbling oil – for around an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters for pork scratchings (which are made with rind with a couple of millimetres of fat on it) to three hours for the pork crunch, which is made with the pared down rind.
Huge mounds of cooked scratchings are cooling on stainless steel tables. In one corner, the cooked pork rind is awaiting the final part of its cooking process where it will be fried by machine for two minutes, where it will become light and crispy.
Then it's back to working by hand. The seasoning room is brightly lit, as workers hand check piles of scratchings, keeping an eagle eye out for any pieces which don't meet the company's strict standards. Then the scratchings are seasoned by hand.
Various seasonings are used – some companies such as Marks and Spencer have their own seasoning – other scratchings are flavoured with different mixtures, including traditional roast pork flavour as well as newer ones such as hot and spicy or chilli.
The bagging area is a sight to behold – I am transported back to those magnificent machines in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' as the product is weighed and bagged in seconds.
A in-built metal detector shuts down the machine instantly if any metal is found in the process – but the machine is scarcely ever shut down, except occasionally by a burnt scratching which will set off the detector.
The company's longest serving employee is 66-year-old Russell Barney who lives in Baddesley.
He began working for John Edwards at that butcher's shop in the 1970s – and has been with the company ever since. He's a big fan of pork snacks too, although he's not sure which is his favourite "I like them all!" he laughs.
Thirteen million bags of pork snacks are produced here in Tamworth each year.
And although they are traditionally considered to be a pub snack – even celebrity chefs and posh restaurants are now getting in on the act – the Real Pork Crackling Company is currently working on a fennel flavoured pork crunch to be served with guacamole at a restaurant run by former masterchef winner Thomasina Miers.
The snack industry is big business – but when it comes to the crunch, Tamworth has some crackling good products.
What else is made in Tamworth? If you an independent manufacturer based in the town and would like to be featured in the Herald email helen.machin@cintamworth. co.uk