Charcuterie gets a kick start

Sometimes you need to kick start pigs to make them fly, which is what entrepreneur Tina Windsor had in mind when applying for Kickstarter funding to help grow her charcuterie.

The word charcuterie dates back to the first century and refers to a butcher shop devoted primarily to sausages, hams, bacons, pates and other prepared meats from pigs.

Windsor’s business, Picnic Charcuterie, is in Tofino, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“Picnic Charcuterie was founded on the basis of food security and sovereignty, a slow food culture and supporting local small-scale agriculture on Vancouver Island,” says her website.

“Our cured sausages are a labour of love, crafted by hand, the traditional way.”

Windsor buys hogs and some produce from 10 farmers on the island. She hopes that if the business expands, she’ll be able to channel more money into the local farm economy.

Kickstarter funds are an innovative way to help her achieve that.

Although her three-year-old business is thriving, it does suffer from growing pains. Windsor and her two-person staff produce all sausages and prepared meats in the original 420 sq. foot converted garage.

“It’s our production, storage and retail space,” says Windsor, adding that lack of space is affecting the bottom line.

When she heard about a crowd funding group called Kickstarter, she thought her business might qualify. While making her application, Windsor knew she was biting off a big chunk of project, which is why she titled the funding appeal “When Pigs Fly.”

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Her submission asks for $67,688, which will be used to buy new equipment, renovate the retail area, improve signage and build a state-of-the-art sausage aging room.

“If we get the Kickstarter funding, we’ll be able to expand by 50 percent,” she said. “We’ll add about 200 sq. feet. We’ll knock a hole through to another small attached building behind the garage. That will be our storage, walk-in cooler and aging room.”

Kickstarter rules state that every fund drive is an all-or-nothing deal. If the dollar goal is not reached, the whole deal is off and the people who had pledged money are notified to keep their cheques.

Windsor says if that’s what happens, it’s not a disaster. It’s just back to slow growth.

Her butcher shop is inspected for in-province retailing. She needs a higher level of inspection if she wants to sell across Canada.

“That’s a problem because the size of a test batch they require is basically a whole production batch for us. We produce sausages and meats in such small quantities that everything we produced would go to the test.”

What’s so special about Picnic Charcuterie sausages? Windsor says she uses whole spices ground on-site, along with locally sourced ingredients such as wild mushrooms, hemlock tips, wild juniper and asparagus.

“It’s very rare for sausages to be gluten free, but a lot of our sausages are. Not that we deliberately set out to serve that market, it just works out that way. We don’t use any binders, and that’s where the glutens are found.

“There are no preservatives in our smoked products. Our sausages are just meat and smoke and salt and spices. Our bacon is just salt and smoke.”

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Windsor has no plans to become organically certified.

“Not all my farm suppliers are organic. Even if they were, it’s so easy for a farmer to lose his organic certification. Then we’d have food in the system that is no longer organic. Meanwhile, we’d have customers expecting organic food. It’s just not worth it.

“I’m happy working with responsible farmers who are working on a small scale.”

The world is full of stories about people whose businesses outgrew them but Windsor says she isn’t worried.

“I’m not becoming a McDonald’s. We will not become a giant corporate food conglomerate.

“I’ve actually been approached by a couple large corporations wanting to distribute our products. But it’s a Catch-22. If we had access to a significantly large new market, we could buy more pork from small farms and foster growth of that sector.

“But then maybe those small farms would become big farms and we’d become a big food processing business, and that’s just not going to happen. Those big companies don’t share our values. That’s something I definitely struggle with.”

She says there’s a risk of being forced into being over-committed on orders, and that can lead to sacrificing quality.

“You really have to think about what you wanted to achieve at the outset. I started the shop on a shoestring, just to see if something like this can survive here in Tofino.

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“Now that we’ve proven that, I’m not going to cut any corners just for the sake of expansion. We plan to grow, but we’re sticking to our original mandate.”