I had been in love with Emmett’s Store in Peasenhall at a distance for many years. I had never visited or even seen it, but I had a sort of image of what it should look like, unassuming but confidently old-fashioned, a long window fronting the street with white-painted frame and brightly lit and piled high with hams and bacon and cheeses and goodies of all kinds, and there it was, in Peasenhall, exactly like that, lighting up the murk of a late afternoon not long before Christmas.
Let me explain. I have been buying hams from Emmett’s for Christmas, birthdays and other celebrations for a good many years. I can’t remember why I started to do so, why I latched onto Emmetts. It had something to do with the name which has character. It suggests certain values that rather appeal to me, where the produce is all sourced through a network of relatives or friends, where there’s a proper old fashioned bacon slicer and rashers are wrapped in brown paper by kindly people wearing white butchers’ aprons and cheeses are aged in cellars below stairs.
The prime mover behind Emmett’s Store is not a kindly old codger in a butcher’s apron, but a young, energetic ex-buyer and food manager for Harrods, Mark Thomas, another improbably youthful gastro-entrepreneur. And alongside the hams and the bacon and the bacon slicer are great porcelain bowls of olives and dates from Israel, cured meats from Spain, piles of slivers of orange peel coated in dark chocolate, wines from France, extra-virgin olive oils from all over, the tasty titbits that even a store in the middle of the Suffolk countryside can stock and sell.
Out the back, however, little seems to have changed since the place was built. The smoke house is 150 years old if it is a day, leaking fragrant oak smoke out into the blustery, late-afternoon air. There’s an outhouse packed with huge plastic tubs in which hams and flitches of bacon, stained dark from pools of cider and molasses or of port and molasses, sit like the trunks and branches of some mangrove swamp. They stay here for three weeks before they are smoked or cooked or just dried out, vacuum-packed and sent off to connoisseurs of porky products all over the place.
The quality of Emmett’s hams that always impresses me is the balance between the sweetness of the meat and the flavouring of the marinade. They have a light but adequate ruff of fat, and the slices peel away from the thin-bladed ham knife pink as coral and glistening, firm and tender at the same time. Did I buy one? Of course I did.