The block walls of Hawke’s Bay’s Holly Bacon’s cold smoker are steeped in generations of smoke from bacon dry-cured the traditional way - and it’s always been made using New Zealand born and raised pork.
Now owner manager Claire Vogtherr, whose great grandparents launched the Hastings company in 1914, is adding her voice to calls for clearer country-of-origin labelling for all pork products sold in New Zealand.
“The Government regulations allow manufacturers to advertise imported pork that has been further processed here, such as bacon or ham, as ‘made in New Zealand’, while listing in fine print a list of countries the pork may be sourced from,” says Claire.
“Countries could include ‘New Zealand’ even if pork farmed in New Zealand is only a very remote possibility. We believe that’s wrong.
“We only use New Zealand pork because we want to support local farmers and it also means we can guarantee the quality.
“We have very close long-standing relationships with our suppliers, there is a feedback loop and we can guarantee the quality and specify exactly what we need - we would not get that using imported pork.”
Claire says she isn’t opposed to imports - but does want consumers to be able to make informed choices.
“There are issues such as animal welfare - the welfare of the pigs from countries importing pork to New Zealand does not meet the requirements or the scrutiny of pig welfare in New Zealand.
“I buy imported fruit out of season but that is a choice I make. I am aware where it is from. I think shoppers want to be clear where their pork is from too. To just have the fact it’s made from imported products in the small print is disingenuous.”
Claire’s great grandparents Carl and Sophie Vogtherr were originally pork butchers in the south of Germany but emigrated to Sunderland, in the north east of England, in the late 1800s, before eventually moving to New Zealand.
They established the Elite Bacon factory in Hastings - along with a petrol station, fruit cool store and ice factory and then opened a delicatessen on Heretaunga Street in 1914 on the day World War One broke out.
“That was a difficult time for a German family,” says Claire. “There was not a German community here at that time. They had a crowd throwing stones but the local policeman came and told those people off.”
The business went on to become a much-loved local institution, and remains so more than a century later, still using the same hand-made brine techniques, natural wood smoking and drying processes passed on by Carl.
Carl and Sophie’s son Ernest took over the business in 1937, changing the name to the Hastings Bacon Company, and Claire’s father Gordon joined the business in1942.
The company moved to its current location on the corner of St Aubyn Street East and Warren Street in 1962. The name changed to Holly Bacon during the 1980s and Claire came on board in 1982.
Claire’s husband Neil, a retired refrigeration engineer, provides engineering advice and their daughters Lydia and Ellen both work with her. Ellen runs the factory and dispatch while Lydia, a trained chef, is in charge of the kitchen and catering operation.
Their range includes bacon, sugar cured ham, gammon, pork sausages, pork cuts and roasts, salami and ham shanks and speciality meats such as prosciutto - as well as non-pork products.
They supply Foodstuffs across the North Island, other stores, cafes, restaurants, caterers, and wholesalers and have a factory shop. They also run very popular sausage making, pork curing and butchering and bacon making day courses.
“We process everything here in Hastings,” says Claire. “We dry cure and we still use dry stacking and air drying so the bacon goes crisp when it is cooked. Most modern bacon curing processes take two days, ours takes two weeks.
“We cold smoke. When bacon is hot smoked, that seals water and additives in but it runs out when it hits the pan. Hot smoking is done in a machine cabinet heated to 60-65 Celsius. Cold smoking is done at an ambient temperature - we light afire in our amazing cold smoker, which is about 50 years old. For us, it’s about flavour, not sealing stuff in. Then we put it in air drying rooms.
“We are very selective about the carcasses we buy, with specific requirements to ensure consistent high quality every time. Buying New Zealand pork and having a close relationship with our supplier enables us to do that, and get exactly what we need.
“Our customers are passionate about what we do and they love the fact that our pork is 100 per cent New Zealand born and raised. They know they don’t even have to ask because it has always been that way and it always will be.”
Consumers can look out for NZPork’s ‘100 per cent New Zealand Pork’ labelling to be confident they are purchasing a product born and raised in New Zealand to high animal welfare standards.