Nathan Wall’s story is inspiration for anyone who feels trapped in a rut. A native of Walton on Thames, he has gone from specialist London plasterer to rearing free range pigs and producing artisan pork products in West Cork.
Trained in Mechanical Engineering, Nathan specialised in ‘tanking’ plasterwork, (waterproofing underground floors of old buildings). “We were very busy, working in coal cellars and basements of big houses in London, to make wine cellars, bathrooms and storerooms,” Nathan explains.
In 2005, he and his wife Debbie holidayed in Skibbereen, West Cork. They loved it. “When we got home, we just thought no, we don’t want this rat race anymore.” They sold up and moved to West Cork in 2006 and Nathan worked with a local builder in Schull.
“The first thing I noticed after moving was that it used to take me half an hour to drive to work, but I never met a roundabout or a traffic jam!” Quite a difference to London. Another bonus was the chance to keep pigs – “I’d always fancied the idea of rearing a couple of pigs for our own consumption,” he laughs. All was good. Then recession hit. “Building work everywhere dried up. We started looking at the pigs and wondering if we could make a living from them.”
Nathan went to expert pig breeder Vaughn Byrne in Co. Down. Vaughn supplied pigs for UK television series Jimmy’s Farm, and often appeared on the show. “I learned more about pigs from Vaughn than I ever read in a book! We used to talk on the phone for hours,” Nathan says. “The record was six hours and they spoke about nothing but pigs!” added Debbie.
The first porkers in the herd were Gloucestershire Old Spots. “I bought two sows and a boar and the sows were already pregnant, so we soon had our first litters. It was tough financially building up the herd. I wasn’t working, and we had to feed the pigs, but we kept going.”
[quote_box_center]We started looking at the pigs and wondering if we could make a living from them[/quote_box_center]
Breeding was the easy part. Next came the business of doing something with the meat. “I’m extremely grateful to Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Smokehouse in Schull. He taught me how to cure bacon, make sausages, work out recipes and butcher my own meat.” This artisan networking is key to his success. The sharing of knowledge creates diversity, offering consumers choice , and sealing Ireland’s reputation as a country of quality produce.
The Old Spots were joined by Saddlebacks, and trading began as The Saddleback Pig Co and their first produce was tested on customers at Bandon Farmer’s Market. Nathan now rears a herd of free rangers, including mixed heritage breeds and Middle Whites, on his own land in Rath, Baltimore.
The business name recently changed to The Baltimore Pig, with production spread roughly 50-50 between products made with meat from Nathan’s own herd and that of non free range but locally sourced pork.
How have customers reacted? Far from diluting the brand, Nathan has found this two pronged approach works well. “We went down this road because we don’t have enough of our own pork to meet demand for our products. It’s very difficult to get extra free range pork. Our new product labelling makes it clear whether it’s our own free range or the locally sourced meat. I find as long as you are honest with people and tell them exactly what’s what, they’re happy. All products are made in exactly the same way, but the no
free range is cheaper for customers. I sell both ranges in farmer’s markets in Bandon in Clonakilty. Dealing with customers direct is brilliant. They’ll soon tell you if you are doing something wrong! Market shoppers tend to prefer free range, whereas non- free range is popular in local independent supermarkets, especially for people buying larger pieces of ham and bacon to feed the family.”
Baltimore Pig products include smoked and unsmoked bacon and hams, naturally dry cured with Atlantic Sea Salt, raw cane sugar and no additives. Nathan has also introduced his own unique recipe smoked black bacon, cured with black treacle. He makes sausages and sells fresh free range pork chops and rib racks in the farmers markets.
Debbie also works the markets, serving hot sausages in rolls and bacon sandwiches, as well as melt in the mouth tender pulled pork sandwiches, made with eleven hour cooked marinated free range pork. New in the coming weeks is a brand new hot food trailer, completion of new packaging and labelling, and ideally, a bit more land to raise more free rangers.
Would the Walls go back to their old way of life? “Nah, we love it here. The quality of life is a million miles away from what we left behind. After everything we’ve put into the business, I think we’re just starting to see things finally taking off. We just got named in John and Sally McKenna’s Top 100 for 2015 and we couldn’t be more pleased. It’s great to get the recognition after all the hard work.”
The Baltimore Pig currently supplies chefs in the local region and welcomes any enquiries. To find out more about The Baltimore Pig, visit their Facebook page.