Food: Scotch eggs from Teesside that have tickled royal tastebuds

  • Food: Scotch eggs from Teesside that have tickled royal tastebuds
  • Food: Scotch eggs from Teesside that have tickled royal tastebuds

Gourmet Scotch eggs from the region have tickled palace tastebuds. And the man who makes them still can't believe it

Everyone likes a Scotch egg. They're a staple for buffets and picnics. But not all Scotch eggs are equal. Some have royal approval.

The Queen's chef likes Scotch eggs from The Clucking Pig Company on Teesside, a huge honour for the company's founders David and Christine Laing. “I would never have believed my eggs would be in demand at Buckingham Palace in a million years," says retired policeman David.

It was Prince Andrew who first got a taste for the eggs at a networking event at Sunderland University earlier this year. "He walked over, had a taste and a chat, and two day later, names us as his Entrepreneur of the Week and ordered some of our eggs to be delivered direct to his home for a dinner party in Windsor," says David.

Subsequently, the couple were invited to another event at Nottingham called Pitch at the Palace, where small businesses were invited to network with potential mentors and backers. “The royal staff were buzzing around, tucking into some of our eggs, and one of them asked if it would be okay 'to pop some of these eggs in a bag please, as the helicopter’s waiting and we need to get back to BP'. By the time I realised she meant Buckingham Palace, the eggs were on their way.”

The Laings were still pinching themselves when they were invited to Buckingham Palace in March, the only foodies invited that day. "We’d been invited to meet some of the Palace’s main caterers and event managers - and we also learnt that the event was organised on a day when both ourselves and Prince Andrew were available to attend," says David. "It was an incredible day. Ken Dodd was being knighted and Nicola Adams was receiving her OBE in one room, and we were next door chatting with Prince Andrew and the Queen’s personal chef. There we were, Prince Andrew, the Queen’s personal chef and around 30 royal staff – all sitting around a table tucking into our Scotch eggs."

Before his career as a Scotch egg supremo, David was a policeman, starting out as a humble bobby-on-the-beat on the streets of Teesside. I started out as a police cadet straight from school," he says. "My first beat was walking the streets of Grangetown at the age of 18 in the late 1970s. I remember walking up and down Birchington Avenue as if it was yesterday. I was based at the old South Bank Police Station, and covered South Bank, Grangetown and Eston. They were fantastic communities. I loved every minute of working there and retired as a Detective Constable in 2002.”

David didn't have any grand plans. A friend suggested he send his CV to a few cruise lines, and a couple of phone interviews later, he found himself with a job as security manager with Disney Cruise Lines.

“It was the equivalent of being a Chief Constable at sea, with the added bonus of being Mickey Mouse’s personal bodyguard," he laughs. “Imagine a cross between The Love Boat, Carry on Cruising and Murder She Wrote, and you’ve got it absolutely spot on. It was an amazing three years, though, and we travelled through the Caribbean, LA, the Bahamas and Mexico, but Christine and I had just got married, and we decided to head back to dry land back and the home we both love.”

Home is Grewgrass Lodge, which David had bought when he retired in 2002. "It's an amazing place with a real sense of history," he says. "It was sold by Lord Zetland to Redcar Council in the 1920s, and there’s a clause buried somewhere in the deeds which states that a chicken should be kept on the land at all times – so it seems very apt for what we do now!"

The site became a fever hospital in 1925, and was then derelict until being used by the military in for bomb disposal in the Second World War. It was bought by a local family after the war. "I bought the land and a dilapidated bungalow for pretty much the price of a terraced street house," says David. The place hadn’t really been touched for around 75 years, so he and Christine set about transforming it. They got stuck in, cleared four acres of woodland and created a real sanctuary for themselves and a host of animals.

“At one time we had more than 200 rescued battery hens – and we still have plenty of chickens wandering around with an array of ducks, geese and a couple of rescue ponies," says Christine. "We both love animals, and it’s a real oasis for them here. If they were any more free-range, I’m sure they’d have their own skateboards.”

The couple started selling chicken, geese and duck eggs at Saltburn Farmers’ Market in 2011. “It’s a fantastic market, lots of lovely stallholders, a real family atmosphere around the whole place," says Christine. "We were looking to do something different, and market manager Lorna Jackson came up with the brilliant idea of gourmet scotch eggs. It absolutely flew from there.”

They proved an instant hit. The couple sold 70 scotch eggs at the first annual Saltburn Food Festival in 2013. Last year, at the same Food Festival, they sold more than 2,000 in less than three hours.

They are both passionate about good local food, and feel strongly about high standards of animal welfare. "We only work with good local food producers and suppliers who share our ethos – that includes our own free-range eggs and free-range meat from people, including Anna’s Happy Trotters at Howden, This Little Pig Company in Farndale, and Wreford’s Farm in Shotton Colliery, to name a few. Provenance is massively important to us. From a simple human and compassionate level, we think it’s vital that animals enjoy the best quality of life possible – and that attitude goes into everything we do.”

The range includes free-range pork with black pudding, free-range pork with leek, wild boar, venison, mixed game, and wild rabbit with black pudding, plus vegetarian options. “It’s almost impossible to find anything like this on the supermarket shelves. All of our Scotch eggs are hand-made here at home. From choosing the eggs, boiling them, prepping the meat and making the breadcrumbs, everything’s done with great care and attention to detail."

The reaction from shoppers at the markets speaks for itself. The couple have also had endorsements and support from a sprinkling of celebrities along the way. "Gregg Wallace from MasterChef, and Theo Paphitis from Dragon’s Den have both tweeted that they love our eggs," says David. Some of the bigger supermarkets have also expressed an interest.

"We'll see what happens," says David. "But we’d need to be 100 per cent sure they’d be happy to work within our own values. That means working with good local food producers who share our values of good local food and high animal welfare."

David and Christine are regular stallholders at several great foodie events across the region, including Saltburn Farmers’ Market, Saltburn Food Festival, Stokesley Farmers’ Market and Middlesbrough’s Orange Pip Market.


T: @thecluckingpig

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