At Country Creatures we carefully select all our suppliers to provide us with the very best of products: British companies with the highest regard for sustainability, animal welfare and attention to detail to produce the highest quality food, drink and everything else we use across our inns and pubs. We wanted to showcase some of these companies through our Country Creatures Supplier Series to share some of the highest level of producers engaging in non intensive and traditional techniques to create some of the best tasting and highest quality products around.
For Part 5 of our series we are shining a spotlight on Whittle and Flame – charcoal pioneers extraordinaire. I can assure there is nothing that these guys don’t know about forest management and charcoal production to create the very very best charcoal you will ever use. Forget cheap alternatives imported from all over the world. Whittle and Flame and developed the cleanest charcoal production methods to create a product with an infinite lifespan that gives the most intense flavour to anything that is cooked on it. With our cooking at The Double Red Duke almost entirely cooked over their charcoal or wood and our new outdoor grill up and running at The Swan we thought is amiss of us not to go and visit the Whittle and Flame ‘office’ to hear what all the fuss is about. We took the team and had a tour and full explanation of all the processes involved and were also able to ask Chris and Matt a few questions.
Over the Last 15 years, Matt Williams had decided to make the move from general woodsman and all round interesting man to charcoal maker. As Matt, at the time, lived in Wytham woods, which is part of Oxford University, he became friendly with many of the professors around there and started to develop new ideas of sustainable charcoal making from managed British woodlands. Over the years, Matt has become known as one of the country’s finest quality charcoal makers with a deep understanding of woodland ecology.
Chris Taylor has spent many years commercially cooking with fire and developing ways of using fire in cookery. Chris has spent the last 12 years becoming one of the leading experts in cooking on fire for TV cooking shows, working on many of the most popular BBC cookery shows as well as many fire cooking exhibitions and festivals such as meatopia and Feastival.
As Matt built his vision of quality and sustainably made charcoal along with ethical woodland management, he decided to partner up with Chris to start Whittle and Flame Charcoal. Whittle and Flame have since taken charcoal making to a new level of sustainability and ethical land treatment.
Sited on the largest privately owned woodland in England, Cornbury Park, W & F make lumpwood charcoal from timber that is taken from well managed, grown in Britain, certified woodlands. This is a forestry commision accredited method of using timber from our ancient woodland that both increases carbon sequestration and biodiversity. This means W&F only use timber that has come from within a couple of miles for all the lumpwood charcoal made on site. The W&F distillation kilns have been designed and developed by W&F and are the first of their kind. The W&F kilns run with none of the smoke that many other kiln designs produce, resulting in a much cleaner and efficient process. This results in a highly efficient system that recycles heat and produces wood vinegar, among other products for use in agriculture and gardening.
The process is also computer controlled, this enables W&F to produce charcoal to within 5C of the ideal temperature, ensuring consistency and quality throughout the product. The Lumpwood Charcoal W&F produce is all single species, so you can use different woods for different cooking methods. helping with slower grilling and fast grilling. Recently W&F have worked with the needs of Double Red Duke to create the only sustainable British briquette available on the market, bringing a new area of ecologically friendly cooking fuel to restaurants, this is known as the Purechar WhittleBrick.
This focus is everything W&F do. Our charcoal has a similar chain of custody to that of beef. We can’t tell you which animal the charcoal came from but we can tell you the quarter square mile of woodland the tree was coppiced from, this traceability is followed all the way from the forest to the bag of charcoal in your hand. This is shown with the batch numbers on every bag.
We are independently audited by Grown in Britain to show that we maintain our high standards of forestry.
Instead of carbonising our wood with fire, we use electricity to distil our wood to carefully controlled temperatures that enable us to retain a large amount of lignin within the charcoal. Lignin one of the main component parts of wood that gives wood that woody flavour, colour and shape. This means our charcoal has a beautiful flavour of the forest whilst still burning clean and hot.
Our charcoal is made in the UK and is therefore pure and unadulterated. This is because many imported charcoals are required to be laced with fire retardants for transportation and accelerants for helping you light them. This is why you should always let imported charcoal burn white before cooking on it, so you burn off all the dangerous chemicals.
We are huge fans of grilling green vegetables over the charcoal. This light char can add a really moreish flavour to a simple green vegetable. Root vegetables such as swede are also beautiful when cooked in the coals. This method of cooking them slowly under the ash will concentrate the flavour of the flesh and again impart that subtle smokey flavour.
Of course we love cooking any hunk of meat over the coals, the most exciting and challenging is roast whole animal over charcoal. This comes with the challenge of cooking different cuts to different temperatures and really teaches you the wonders of fire management.