Words by Lucy Cornes
A free-range, family farm with animal welfare at its heart.
With modern diets changing rapidly, and a bewildering minefield of considerations to take into account when buying food, where does all this leave traditional pork producers such as Primrose Herd? The answer is, in a better position than ever.
Almost twenty years ago, Sally Lugg gave up her day-job as a Bank Manager in order to raise pigs. Luckily it wasn’t too much of a culture shock; Sally’s father had been a farmer and it was he who gifted Sally and her husband Bill their first two Gloucester Old Spots to keep as a hobby.
When Sally’s father sadly died suddenly, just after his farm had been put into Foot and Mouth Restrictions, the couple decided to take on the herd of Large Blacks themselves and – after the year-long quarantine period – they moved the pigs to their new home at Primrose Cottage.
It was a decision which set the Lugg family on course to become one of Cornwall’s most celebrated food producers; they would go on to win multiple regional and national awards, to be courted by celebrity chefs from Launceston to London, and the words ‘Primrose Herd Pork’ would become synonymous with the highest quality on menus right across the south west.
Top right and bottom right: © Ali Green
Much of their success lies in the fact that the model for caring for the pigs of Primrose Herd has changed very little since those early beginnings. Adhering to a non-intensive, outdoor reared approach encourages slow and natural growth, which in turn results in excellent marbling of the meat and great flavour. It’s basically an upscaling and streamlining of the traditional rearing of a few pigs on a smallholding or orchard, which explains why so many of Sally’s customers liken Primrose Herd meat to the pork they enjoyed during their rural childhood.
The majority of the herd is made up of Gloucester Old Spots, Large Blacks and British Saddlebacks. A TB scare 10 years ago means that no new livestock can be brought in so, to meet customer requirements, they buy in carcasses from Welsh, British Lop and Tamworth pigs from 10-12 local smallholders, which have been reared to the same exacting standards and slaughtered nearby.
Each sow (they now have around 20 on the farm) usually has two litters a year. The pigs are all free-range, kept on grass in arks, and farrow outside unless there is a problem, in which case they are brought into a large shed and bedded on straw. After six-to-eight weeks the piglets are weaned, staying in their fields and growing slowly and naturally. The farm itself is within a World Heritage Site near Redruth, equidistant from both Cornish coasts. Mine ruins dot the countryside – a constant reminder that a landscape which is now peaceful fields and hill farms was once the scene of intense industrial activity.
© Ali Green
At 28-30 weeks the pigs are brought inside and housed in large pens on barley straw, where they spend a few weeks reaching their finished weight. High welfare is important to the Luggs, and none of the piglets are castrated, tail docked or tooth-clipped. The only food miles are the final trip down the road - a mere 10 miles - before everything (the full carcasses are used) is returned to the on-farm butchery where the pork is butchered, cured, smoked and processed ready for sale. “It’s a lot of work but it means that we have complete control over the whole process,” explains Sally. “It’s ideal for maintaining the highest quality and consistency, something which is important to our chef customers particularly.”
One such customer is Ben Harmer of Penrose Kitchen, who uses Primrose Herd pork in his award-winning restaurant on the outskirts of Truro. “The meat always has an incredible flavour, and the balance between meat and fat is spot-on every time,” says Ben. “You just don’t get that quality, consistency and deep flavour with intensively-farmed pork. We get a lot of compliments about the pork, especially the joints we roast on a Sunday.”
© Ali Green
Ben Hawkins of Da Bara Bakery agrees, saying: “We use Primrose Herd pork in our bakeries and cafés for everything from bacon sandwiches to sausage rolls. A lot of people would scrimp on those ingredients but there’s no way we would; we put a lot of love into our artisan bread, so all of the other elements have to match those standards and Primrose Herd pork is the best we’ve come across.”
© Ali Green
Multiple food critics and expert judges have agreed with these sentiments over the years, and Primrose Herd have an impressive string of food and farming industry accolades to their name. They’ve also won praise for their multi-faceted approach to sales, as Sally explains: “We started selling at local farmers’ markets, and that feedback and personal connection with our customers was vital in encouraging growth in the business. So, even though the majority of our business is now to restaurants and through the website, we still regularly attend farmers’ markets across Cornwall and have those really important face-to-face conversations with our customers. I would always encourage people to buy direct from the producer wherever possible to help retain that traditional connection.”
© Ali Green
With producers such as Primrose Herd selling premium high-welfare pork online, delivered across the UK with regular discounts and incentives, there really is no excuse for buying poor quality intensively farmed meat these days. As Sally explains: “We’ve all seen those horror stories on TV and social media, of animals kept in appalling conditions with every aspect of their lives controlled simply to force faster growth and more profit. It’s inhumane and unnecessary – people need to get used to paying more for meat in order to support traditional farming.”
Is she worried about the rise of veganism? “No, I’m not,” says Sally. “Actually, what the whole debate has done is to raise the profile of producers like us. Consumers are a lot more aware of how important it is to know where their meat comes from, and what the ethical and environmental implications of that are.” She adds: “I hear anecdotally from a lot of people that they have reduced their meat consumption and are searching out producers like us because they know that their occasional joint or pack of bacon for the weekend will be the very best – both in terms of quality and provenance.”
The newest generation of Gloucester Old Spots
With their children and grandchildren interested in the family business, and an important part of life at Primrose Cottage, the future looks bright for this much-loved and respected Cornish pork producer.