Lee Scrimgeour and his wife Rochelle completed their business plan on a beach in Thailand. They’d started it a few days before on the flight from Australia where they’d been living for three years. The plan was to return to Lee’s native Cumbria, run his parents’ cattery and once that was profitable set up a smokehouse on the 10-acre smallholding. And so, with a little help from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Stonehouse Smokery at Moorhouse, near Carlisle, was born.

Six years on the business now sells chorizo, pancetta, coppa and smoked lamb, beef and venison direct to the public and also supplies award-winning restaurants across the North West. Lee, 41, is the first to admit that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. A chef for more than 20 years he’d always been interested in preserving and using traditional techniques. But first he had to put in the hard yards working in the cattery while his wife, known as Shelly, went out to work to bring in a regular salary. In his spare time he converted an outbuilding into a smokehouse with attached kitchen (their savings of £8,000 went towards paying for a walk-in fridge) and drying room, bought a sow called Rosie and 11 piglets and started to read everything he could about smoking meat.

“I’d never kept pigs or made charcuterie,” he said. “I had a good background knowledge of flavours but this is a lot more scientific.” At first they did hog roasts at weddings with plans to start creating charcuterie. “We use nose to tail, we do not waste anything,” said Lee, who now farms 40 Tamworth and Saddleback pigs.

Lee says it’s been a big learning curve, particularly the time it takes to create charcuterie. Most of his products take two years from breeding the pig to the finished product. “It’s a minimum of 10 weeks until you can taste something and adjust the spices and salts and then you wait another 10 weeks to try it…it’s different to just cooking stuff in a pan, it’s taken a lot of getting my head round it. There’s a lot to it, salami takes 10 weeks but whole cures six to eight months, then there’s lab checks, packaging, labelling. It’s never ending, but I absolutely love it!”

Part of the business plan was to do weddings to subsidise the charcuterie side of the business. The pandemic changed that. This year they won’t be taking on any more wedding commitments, apart from supplying sharing boards in collaboration with other local producers.

Lee said: “We have a limited number of pigs and we keep them for a year and a half so it’s a long process, we want to make the most money from it as we have limited supply.” They want to continue supplying a select range of restaurants and bars in Cumbria, including Michelin-starred Forest Side in Grasmere and also sell direct to the public at farmers markets and through online sales which grew during the pandemic.

“We are trying to supply a few nice places,” he said, adding that they used to supply Rogan & Co but couldn’t keep up with the quantities needed although they hope to link up with them again this year.

During the pandemic they also ook on their first member of staff who helps out three days a week and Lee also appeared on BBC’s Farmers Country Showdown programme. It aired last January and was repeated in the summer which led to a big increase in online sales.

“We want to expand but we do not want more pigs,” said Lee, who has been experimenting with smoked Herdwick lamb, venison and beef. He gets the lamb from his sister’s farm in Martindale and his dad’s farm at Wigton; beef from the Horned Beef Company who graze native breed cattle on the

Cumbrian fells all year round and the occasional red deer from a man who culls them for the Forestry Commission. They’re also looking into running courses and holding a few pop-up events in 2022.

At the core of the business is animal welfare which is key to this couple – they only eat fresh meat as an occasional treat – who say they only want to use meat reared outdoors and bred as naturally as possible. “Animal welfare is key. We breed the pigs and at the end we take them to the abattoir 10 minutes down the road so it’s as quick and stress-free for them as possible,” he said.

“I went into this with an idea of what I wanted to do and learnt a lot along the way. The business is more streamlined now, on paper when we were sitting on that beach it all looked doable and we have had to do what works best and what we are passionate about. It’s taken a long time but business is doing pretty good and the smokery has a good following.”