Created on January 11, 2018
From part-time cake-maker to professional butcher and charcutier, Lisa Wheeler’s (right) career path has been far from conventional. While studying for an Advanced Diploma in Artisan Food Production at the School of Artisan Food in 2010, Lisa was inspired to make the move from baking to butchery. In 2016 she set up her own business, Norfolk Charcuterie.
“I discovered the School while on a family day out at Welbeck Abbey. At the time I was 30, making celebration cakes part-time and looking after my two children, and I thought I’d like a baking course as a Christmas present. But when I read about the diploma I knew that’s what I wanted to do and applied for the bursary. I can still remember the feeling of elation when I got the yes from the School.
“Being at the School is like going into Narnia, it is completely magical. I found myself surrounded by a great gang of people, of all ages from 19 to 60 plus and from very mixed backgrounds. For me, the course was life changing. I’d been out of education and a stay-at-home parent and it inspired me to learn again and gave me my confidence back. If I hadn’t been on the course I’d be in a very different place. I learnt skills that mean I’ll always be able to find a job. My life is infinitely better since I went to the School, both personally and professionally.
“Originally it was the baking element of the diploma that attracted me, but after our first week’s introduction to butchery run by tutors Ray and Mary I decided to switch my major to butchery. They were so brilliant, and I still keep them both up to date with everything I’m doing.
“The emphasis throughout the course was on learning how to do things properly. This has stood me in good stead in every butchery job I’ve had and is vital now I’m running my own business. I learnt if you take the time to do things right it will show in your end results. You get out of food what you put in and that’s why I now only use produce available on my doorstep in Norfolk to make my charcuterie.”
After graduating, Lisa worked as butcher in Nottinghamshire and Norfolk.
“Butchery is a male dominated profession and no part of it is for the fainthearted, even the banter! You need to be able to hold your own, but I grew up with three older brothers so that helps. I learnt a lot from everyone I worked with, but I knew I wanted to do my own thing.”
Lisa decided to set up Norfolk Charcuterie in 2016 while pregnant with her third child. Inspired by the fantastic produce available locally and the connections she’d made with neighbouring farmers and gamekeepers, she decided to build a meat shed in her garden and start making her own charcuterie. Selling to wholesalers and local shops and at farmers’ markets, Norfolk Charcuterie offers a range of handmade products, including salami, chorizo and lomo.
“It’s definitely not been easy; the first few months I was just keeping my head above water. It cost a lot of money to set up and there are lots of hoops you rightly need to jump through to ensure food safety. There have been a few times when something has gone wrong and I felt like giving up. You’re so invested in the business it can feel like the end of the world.
“My children are 13, 9 and 18 months old so I have to make the business fit around family. Thursdays are my making day when my husband looks after our little girl. I work 12 hours non-stop, making between 40 and 90 kilos of charcuterie. The packing happens whenever I can; some evenings everyone else is tucked up in front of the fire and I have to put my gear on and head down to my cold shed!”
“But then when things go well, it’s amazing. I’ve had Christmas markets where I have completely sold out of stock, there are shops putting in repeat orders and I’m building up a regular customer base of people who come back every month to farmer’s markets to buy my stuff. It’s going really well, so I know I must be doing something right!”
Find out more about Norfolk Charcuterie.
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