We are Will Knowles and Jeannie Morrissey, we farm in Stoodleigh, near Tiverton, breeding and rearing saddleback pigs on a small scale, to produce the very best pork for the table, from the sausage, to the finest joints and hams.
The project was in the making some 7 years ago when Will returned to the family farm when his father John knowles, sadly passed away. Prior to that he was in West Africa, where he was working as a pilot, and where he also set up a very successful flight school where he was a flight instructor, CPL and X examiner. Will retains his pilots licence today and flies a small plane from his own airstrip within the farm, and is looking to possibly teach flying again early in 2013. He was born at Hutswell farm in Oakford in 1960, and in 1962 Will's dad bought another farm in The Malverns in Herefordshire then in 1975 bought Stoodleigh Barton as a bigger farm was needed to stay viable. From a small child Will loved farming and the life around it, fitting in his farm work around school it was the best childhood ever.
Will developed a passion for flying at a very early age and consequently built his own plane from a kit and taught himself to fly in it at the age of sixteen. The plane which had taken him months to assemble was quickly disassembled when Will made a low fly pass over a friend moving cattle. In the process of hollering "Hellos" and waving he flew straight into a tree! Will's father, John, never left the ground, and his comment to Will was " dont do anymore flying untill we finish combining!" But flying was in Will's blood and so he became an instructor and X Examiner and also a commercial pilot and enjoyed a very successfull career in aviation and for nearly 30 years. Will's real love has been the sky and flying around the world , but at the end of the day Will is Devon born and bred, a farmers son and very proud of that so his love and passion for the country way of life breeding pigs and farming bought him back to his roots and as he says " so the next adventure begins "
Jeannie was brought up in the countryside and spent every free minute on a sheep and arable farm in the village of Puddington. A few years ago she kept a small number of wild boar for the freezer and from there developed a love of pigs. She met Will through her job at a small farm supplies outlet in June 2011 having sadly lost her partner earlier in the year. She sold her farm in Rackenford and they now live together on the farm at Stoodleigh.
Will's first pig, 6 years ago was a lovely sow known affectionately as "Twisty", from her Will kept two of her daughters, Hinge and Bracket, (whom the boys who are into motorbikes preferred to call Chain and Sprocket), and later two of their daughters, Hustle and Bustle. These were the famous five who laid down the foundations of what we produce today. Sadly Twisty is no longer with us but her legacy lives on through her offspring who are still with us today.
Another very important cog in the machinery, is Wendy Lucas who lives in Stoodleigh and without whose help we would not be where we are today. Wendy gave us our name and initially took charge of all the markets. She is a tremendous help in marketing and is great at keeping on top of emails, twitter and facebook for Pork Heaven. It is due to Wendy's unerring enthusiasm and faith in our pork that we have entered competitions, which we have excelled at and from which we are establishing a great reputation for quality.We have recently had a new website built which went live in October 2012 and to which we are adding to all the time: wwwporkheavenfromdevon.co.uk
It became evident very early on that a saddleback sow crossed with a saddleback boar produced a pig carrying far too much fat. Consequently, Will bought in a french breed of boar, a "Pietrain", renowned for being exceptionally lean, this was "Raffles" who has been the trademark of our success right up until today. It was with great sadness however, that we had Raffles put to sleep on October 15th 2012 due to an ongoing back problem that we were unable to cure. We will be replacing him with another Pietrain boar in the New Year.
Initially, we were having our pork butchered and processed off the farm, mainly for family and friends and the odd farmer's market, but we thought with a bit of help, we could do it ourselves. We spent two very enjoyable afternoons with our dear friend David Mair and his partner Sarah learning the art of sausage making. Their help and advice has proved invaluable and they are never more than a phone call away whenever we need advice. They made the whole thing look so easy.....it wasn't! That was 6 months ago, and we have never looked back. We now butcher and process all our own pigs from start to finish here on the farm .Everything is hand made on the farm where we carry out the entire process from pig to table. We are learning all the time, this has been the steepest learning curve, but we thoroughly enjoy what we do and are very proud of our achievements and progress over such a short space of time. The sausage making in particular has been a real challenge; we have produced some interesting specimens! At least now I can fit them into their trays without having to fold them in half! Will has finally mastered the hand wound sausage stuffer too, I can't get the hang of that process at all, it's a bit like the "patting your head while rubbing tummy" scenario!
We home cure all our bacon and hams, and have had great success with both, haven taken the Gold award with Food and Drink Devon and also with Taste of the West for our Sweet Dry Cure Back Bacon, plus a bronze award with ToTW for our Home Cider Cooked Ham, which is cooked by Will's 85 year old mum, June. It really is exquisite!
Recently, due mainly to customer requests and some advice from David, we decided to try our hand at Black puddings. There is a tremendous amount of work involved, the most tedious is dicing up the back fat; I haven't lost a finger yet but have had some close run-ins! This product has been incredibly popular, from only our second batch, a North Devon Hotelier described it as "Exemplary!". Will has worked out a relatively clean way of packing the casings using the sausage stuffer, which also helps to pack the mix really tight to stop it crumbling when cooked. It's also important to tie them off correctly to prevent leakage and burst casings when boiling, Will has got this stage off to a fine art, hence the last batch we produced were the best yet.
Currently we only have some 30 pigs at various stages of growth, during the next few months we need to double this in order to meet our orders and have enough for the farmers markets. We are both totally fascinated by pigs, they are incredibly intelligent and endearing creatures, and despite what people think, they are very clean. Consequently, one of my biggest problems is sending them off to the abattoir! At least I know that while they are with us our pigs are happy, very spoilt and very loved!
We rear our pigs predominantly outside in enormous pens of lush grass which they love to root around in, thus by moving them around the field as required we have a well ploughed and fertilised pasture using traditional farming methods. They are free range, sometimes more so than planned; we have often found the sows with their offspring hovering around outside our house, as did Raffles too on occasion. Luckily all our pigs are exceptionally amenable so will simply follow us back to their paddock without any problems at all.
We were immensely honoured to be asked to supply the belly pork for the main course at the Food & Drink Devon awards ceremony held at The Best Western Hotel in Tiverton. We are steadily building a good private customer base in the locality, supplying orders from a pack of sausages or bacon up to half a pig or even a whole one for hog roasts.
We produce the following items:-
Sausages - Pork & Leek
Pork & Mustard
Pork & Cracked Black Pepper
Gluten Free Butcher's Classic
West Country Cider Apple
Hot & Spicy
Burgers:- Pork & Apple
Hot & Spicy
Bacon:- Sweet Dry Cure Back
Sweet Dry Cure Streaky
Joints:- Leg / Collar / Belly / Pork Loin / Sweet Dry Cure Ham / Tenderloins
Spare Ribs - Plain or Chinese Style
Sausage meat for stuffings and sausage rolls
In the near future we are going to make our own faggots and maybe pork pies too! (Eat your heart out Sweeney Todd! ). We have also been asked to make hogs pudding and a "chorizo sausage", and we are also looking at building our own smoker, so there is much to do.
We can be found at the following farmers markets:-
Tiverton Pannier Market - Every Tuesday 8.30am - 2pm
Tiverton Pannier Market - Every Thursday 10am-2pm
Lynton Town Hall - 1st Saturday of every month
Minehead High St. - Every Friday 8.30am - 2pm
We have taken the following awards:
Gold - Sweet Dry Cure Back Bacon - Food & Drink Devon
Gold - Sweet Dry Cure Back Bacon - Taste of The West 2012
Gold- Butchers Classic Pork Sausage
Silver - Hot & Spicy Sausage - ToTW 2012
Bronze - Sweet Dry Cure Cider Cooked Ham
We went on to take the Gold of Golds for the Butchers Classic Pork Sausage, judged by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's head chef, Tim Maddems, who said it was a "Bloody good sausage"!!!
With all this encouragement we are looking forward to building on our reputation in the coming months, but we will be keeping it small to ensure we retain the quality. We have found the whole adventure very exciting and look to taking the venture onwards and upwards.
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