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Scotland's Larder: Jan Jacob and Anja Baak from Great Glen Charcuterie

Anja and Jan Jacob Baak of Great Glen Charcuterie have been able to realise the potential of Scotland's wild larder with their range of red deer charcuterie.

Published: March 12, 2021
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The Monarch of the Glen is an iconic emblem of Scotland, but it took an enterprising Dutch couple, Anja and Jan Jacob Baak, to realise the potential for wild red deer charcuterie.

They run their business from the old butchers shop in the village of Roy Bridge, in the Highlands.

The couple moved here in 2000 when Jan Jacob was offered a job as an estate manager at Glenfintaig estate.

Anja Baak explained: "we had three little girls, under five so they were the perfect age to go on an a Scottish adventure."

The job also came with a house so they rented out their own home in the Netherlands and they said "let's go for it."

Great Glen wild venison charcuterie

Jan Jacob had been born in the city, The Hague, but his family moved to a rural area near Utrecht when he was a boy.

Speaking about this, he said: "I was really an outdoors kid so moving to the countryside really opened my eyes up to nature.

"It must have been the first or second week after we moved, I put on my boiler suit and went to the neighbouring farm and I just knocked on the door and said, Hello, I want a job." (he was six)

His father worked for the government in the Hague while his mother stayed at home and looked after the family.

Although not self sufficient, the family's ethos was to stock the cellar with preserved vegetables to last until the next season.

Wild at heart

As a teenager he was keen to earn extra money from his country pursuits, so he trapped Muskrat (which are an invasive species in the Netherlands) for which he was paid a premium.

He said: "whatever I caught I took home, and our kitchen table often doubled as a skinning platform. If you opened the bathroom door, the bath was filled with fish I had caught.

"Hunting and shooting, for me, was more about catching the animals by trying to get into their world and understanding them.

deer stalking

Traditional deer stalking is as old as the hills.

"If I caught something I was driven to make something useful from it. That to me was essential. If you caught an animal, just to dump it in a hole felt wrong."

After school, he studied biology and environmental sciences before going on to study veterinary science.

However, in his third year he developed glandular fever and was plagued by periods of chronic fatigue and was diagnosed with post viral syndrome.

As a result he had to abandon his studies, he said "I just couldn't do it any longer, it was devastating."

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He moved back to the countryside and continued working on farms, "I couldn't see a long term career, I was just doing interim farm work."

Great Glen Charcuterie

Great Glen Charcuterie

He had a keen interest in fish farming, so started his own business breeding Koi carp.

It was there that he met a customer that would change the family's life.

Highland adventure

Jan Jacob had told him all about his life and his dream of emigrating.

His customer explained that he had just bought an estate in Scotland and that he needed someone to look after it and asked if Jan Jacob would come and work for him.

The answer was yes, even before he had discussed it with his wife.

He said: "In two weeks I had dismantled the fish farm and sold all the fish."

Great Glen Charcuterie

Great Glen Charcuterie

"I had explained my health limitations. They were happy I could catch up when I was fit and my varied skillset made up for that. So that is how we ended up here."

What did the family think Scotland? Jan Jacob admitted: "Holland is flat so it took me a while to get accustomed to climbing. You definitely develop different muscles."

Anja added: "although we had lived in quite a rural part of the Netherlands, you only had to drive five minutes in the car and you'd find yourself  in a traffic jam, so it was not really like the wilderness you get here.

"We loved the space and freedom, it was great for the children as they could just roam and explore. We didn't have that in the Netherlands."

Great Glen Charcuterie

The couple had met at a friends wedding, and even though they went to the same high school they had never talked before.

Anja had a career as a primary school teacher, but left teaching when her second daughter was born.

However she comes from an enterprising family of business owners.

She explained, "there is an entrepreneurial spirit in me, even when the kids were small I made and sold clothes and organised flower arranging workshops. I like coming up with ideas."

But running an artisan charcuterie business was not something she had ever imagined she would be involved with, "it just happened" she said.

Nine to five

Jan Jacob's job included various tasks; building maintenance, forestry and wild deer management, so as a result they discovered delicious Scottish wild venison.

Jan Jacob explained that work, saying: "we had a steady supply of deer coming in to the estate, which we saw as a sort of menace."

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In the Netherlands there is a tradition of curing meats, in particular dried sausage. In Europe each country has got their different meat delicacy: salami in Italy, chorizo in Spain for example.

Jan Jacob said, "sometimes when you come to a different country, with an alternative experience of what people can do with meat, you see things differently from the locals and you can see an opportunity."

At the time venison wasn't as mainstream as it is now, so the price local estates would get for deer was low, although the retail price was high.

This disconnect between raw ingredient and end price set Jan Jacob thinking about how he could capitalise that.

The couple were both keen to find a way to add value and increase its shelf life, and to find a bigger market for it further a field.

Anja said, "although we didn't have a food background, Jan Jacob had planned to be a vet so he knew the anatomy of the animal and knew what muscles would work and which wouldn't."

Because of this, he began experimenting with the meat.

Figuring it out

The challenge of making tasty venison charcuterie triggered something in Jan Jacob, he said, " it was something that had to be solved. If I want to make something that could reach a wider audience I will had to crack this.

For three years he couldn't make it work,  he said, "it intrigued me, because there must be a way to make it nice."

Eventually he achieved charcuterie success he said, "but it wasn't a light bulb moment it was gradual process."

Anja Baak

Initially the business was just a side line for the couple, however Anja became more involved when their youngest child started school.

In 2010 Jan Jacob gave up his full time job, to concentrate on building, Great Glen Charcuterie.

By this stage the family had grown from three girls, Rosalieke, Pieternel, Anne-Marije, to six with the addition of three boys, Jochem, Walter and Lennard.

Game changer

Anja and Jan Jacob now work with a local game dealer, Simpson Game in Newtonmore because the team there know exactly what the couple are looking for.

They buy during the peak season and then freeze the meat so they can work from stock during the rest of the year.

Jan Jacob said, "it is always a bit of challenge to make sure we have enough to last all season. Every carcass and every deer is different, so we always adapt and work with that and look closely at the meat."

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Their most popular product is the multi-award winning pure venison salami, flavoured with green pepper.

It has won Three stars at The Great Taste Awards twice, as well as winning the Best Game Product at the British Charcuterie Awards.

Charcuterie

Venison salami

Anja said, "we don't add any pork to that one. That was one of the things Jon Jacob was adamant about, that we should make 100 per cent cured venison salami. A lot of people said you can't but we have succeeded."

They also have smoked venison bresaola, which uses different cuts and takes seven months to mature.

They also make different salamis, chorizos, some are made from pure venison and they also have some made from venison and a pork, "so a more traditional taste," Anja said.

Anja explains the process: The venison and fat are added to skins before being hung to dry.

The fermenting process needs to start so the venison cures properly, so that needs a certain temperature. Then the products are lightly smoked and then left to dry.

Anja said, "it just takes time, you need to reduce the water content to preserve it."

The future looks bright

The couple are in the process of expanding to create a new bigger premises closer to home, Anja said, "it is such a hands on process you have to check and adjust things, so you have to be there."

Jan Jacob Baak

The venison and fat are added to skins before being hung to dry.

They got their planning permission granted in the first week of the first lockdown.

Anja said, "it is very exciting but also very scary. We had to rewrite our business plan, but how do you write a business plan when you have no idea what is happening and every week is different?

"But we are hopefully something will be built this year."

The couple are wary of not to growing their business too fast. What is more important to them is utilising the excellent wild produce available on their doorstep and turning it into a high-end product that can be enjoyed by people all over the world.

During the pandemic online sales have increased in part due to the growth in businesses providing charcuterie boxes, like Sprehd in Edinburgh. 

Healthwise, the last few years have been tough for Jan Jacob, but the couple are still thoroughly enjoying their Highland adventure.

Great Glen Charcuterie

Great Glen Charcuterie

Old Butchers Shop
Roy Bridge
PH314AE

01397 712121

• READ MORE: Scotland’s larder: Chloe Oswald owner at Chocolatia, Perth

Scotland's larder: Chloe Oswald owner at Chocolatia, Perth

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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