“Patience is the name of the game”, says Rick Higgins, fourth generation Irish butcher who teamed up with Italian friend and cured meat expert Antonio Princigallo to create Forage & Cure.
The business idea came three and a half years ago when Rick took over the family business and decided to work exclusively with free-range pork. “To make pay, we needed to make something different”, he says, and looking for ways to offer added value to this meat, he decided to develop a range of Irish charcuterie.
Soon after, he moved from importing salami to producing it with 100% Irish meat, most of which comes from Wicklow. To get it right, Rick traveled to Italy to learn more about curing meats with Antonio’s uncle, who owns a shop in which he offers artisan salami and other charcuterie products. He also went to Barcelona, Spain, where he worked with artisan chorizo producers.
“Antonio is teaching me, he has over twenty years of experience”, says Rick, who considers Forage & Cure to be “a mix of Irish ingredients and Italian tradition.” Nowadays, the products are not only sold at Higgins Family Butchers in Sutton -Rick’s family business- they are also offered in over two dozen selected SuperValus, are part of Larousse Foods’ portfolio, and feature in a growing number of Irish restaurants including Michelin star L’Ecrivain.
Technology and Determination
Contrary to many countries famous for their cured meats such as Italy, Spain and France; the weather in Ireland is relatively cold and undoubtedly humid, an extra challenge that Rick and Antonio have overcome by importing the right equipment. A drying and a curing chamber in particular help the duo to control the temperature, humidity and even wind speed to get the right result. They also have equipent for smoking, with which they’re experimenting at the moment.
But far from leaving it all to machines, they are constantly checking on the product. “We go to the factory everyday and we see, smell, touch and feel the products”, says Rick, who emphasises patience is key for his trade.
Are you a patient person?
“I am patient… Anxious, but patient. We can wait until it’s ready, but we do go everyday to see how things are doing”, says Rick after reflecting on it for a few seconds.
Antonio proudly adds that their salami are their “babies”, and that “once you see it, touch it and realise it’s ready… that’s great.” They both agree that only experience will tell you exactly when it’s the right time as “no two salami are the same.”
Regarding what makes Forage & Cure products special, Rick points out the quality of the meat, the fact that is free-range and their unique recipe. He also mentions that their products are gluten free. As they don’t compromise in materials nor are willing to take shortcuts to get the cured meats out before time; the result, while affordable, is not cheap. Despite that, many of the salami currently drying is already sold as they have plenty of pre-ordered products.
Variety for a Palate that Demands New Things
“The Irish palate has changed, people have traveled and they want to try new things”, explains Rick who adds that is not unusual to see even children and older customers enjoying Forage & Cure products at Higgins Family Butchers.
Antonio points out something that he finds very meaningful: Italians are giving them great feedback. “We often get Italian customers in the shop, they take our products home with them or even to Italy sometimes” he even mentions prestigious Italian chef Massimo Spigaroli, who “tasted Forage & Cure in Killenure and spoke very highly of our products.” Making such a good impression on the Michelin starred chef and Italian charcuterie connoisseur is a more than understandable source of pride for Antonio and Rick.
To get a compliment from Italian people is a big deal for us” says Antonio.
But despite the excellent reception so far, they don’t rush things. When asked about export plans in the near future, they explained that their goal is to focus first in the Irish market “for now”, as part of this objective, they have joined the respected group of producers that participate in SuperValu’s Food Academy and have now presence is over two dozen shops across Dublin.
They’ve currently three products on SuperValu’s shelves: Irish Chorizo, Irish Salami with Fennel and Black Pepper, and Irish Salami with Garlic and Herbs.
Food Academy has been very, very good. They’re very supportive of small businesses” says Rick.
Despite having been in the business for years with the family butchers, Rick highlights the knowledge and mentorship received through the program as very valuable. From the experience so far, he mentions that the three products seem to be doing equally well and that there’s not a clear favourite.
Some other products Forage & Cure products that you might find in Higgins Family Butchers include pancetta, lardons, coppa, prosciutto and culatello. Regarding innovations, Antonio and Rick mention that they’re working on a wild boar prosciutto and they’re also doing trials for a wild boar salami with Italian truffle.
Slow but steady wins the race
“Our plan is to take it nationwide” says Antonio, who is confident the products have the quality to compete with imported charcuterie. In fact he considers that the quality of Irish meat is “the best, ant that’s coming from an Italian.”
When asked where do they see themselves in five years, jokingly they say that the idea of relaxing in Panamá sounds great, but after a quick laugh they let a bit of their vision show: a big factory in Park West, with presence in the whole country and the UK and having their name associated with well respected retailers and restaurants.
At the pace their products are selling, that might become a reality sooner, but even though they could be tempted to churn out more products like sausages, they tell us how their prosciutto will only be ready next year and that it takes at least one year to make, but it gets better at 24 months. Forage & Cure is here for the long run and while Antonio and Rick can wait for their Irish cured meats to reach the ideal point, we nearly feel we can’t.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.