Tracing the history of meat producers Puddledub
Puddledub pork and buffalo are some of Fife's best known products
The name Puddledub has been prominent in the shaping of Fife’s food identity in the past decade, yet there may be no such place. Lynda Hamilton sets out to find it
Follow the long and winding road about half a mile outside Auchtertool, halfway between Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and you’ll come across what might be known as Fife’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’, because no matter how hard you look, you will never find the village of Puddledub.
Despite the road signs, just over a mile apart and pointing in opposite directions, there is no sign of the elusive spot.
Yet it’s this seemingly mythical place which inspired Tom and Camilla Mitchell of Clentrie Farm, just one and a half miles down the road, to brand their home-grown produce ‘Puddledub Pork’, and their coveted bacon, gammon and sausages have gone on to become a mainstay at farmers’ markets, also winning acclaim from the likes of chef Nick Nairn and the former Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown.
The Mitchell family has been farming the cusp of this mysterious location since about 1904, but their ancestors’ agricultural history in Fife dates back to the 18th century – something which came as a pleasant surprise as the Mitchells researched their family tree.
Learning about his family’s deep-rooted heritage in the area was a defining moment for Tom, who says it helped cement his connection with the surrounding land and reaffirm his sense of purpose as a farmer – as if confirming what he already knew in his heart.
Tom has since become a major player in championing Fife’s food movement over the past decade and has continued to diversify while times have been tough.
Tom’s farm might only be one hundred hectares, but he has grown the business from a two-man team to a complete farming and processing outfit employing 25 people. He’s also bucked the trend by keeping animals indoors during winter to avoid the water-logged land, which is steep and exposed, while preserving the grass until spring. He’s even been doing his bit to drive home the message that ‘farmers are the good guys’ and that, when it comes to the future of Fife’s food culture, education is the key.
‘When I started out in 1999, farming was a much sullied industry,’ says Tom. ‘Farmers were perceived to be destroyers of the environment and people didn’t trust us but, thankfully, things are changing.
‘The pressure to produce low-cost food is enormous but people are slowly beginning to realise that the farmers are the good guys. We’re enthusiastic, motivated and care about our animals – we’d just like to make more money!
‘But people’s perceptions are based on lack of knowledge and some have never been exposed to farms. That’s why we’ve been working with local high schools and inviting groups of pupils along for the Clentrie tour. Food education needs to be on the curriculum and will ultimately improve the health of the population.’
But Tom’s focus on the next generation doesn’t end there. Of course, he’s already paved the way for nephew Steven, who operates a distinctly different business on the same farm.
Steven, 29, specialises in beef and water buffalo – with as many as 400 cows on site at any one time. He, too, feels farming in his blood and has a distinct connection to the land surrounding Puddledub. But mainstream agriculture is not for him.
‘My main passion is cattle,’ he says. ‘I’ve been fascinated by them since I was a child. But, unlike us and farming, it’s so difficult to get the right bloodlines.
‘I wanted to do something unique so I branched out into buffalo, which contains only half the fat of beef and is lower in cholesterol. I think it’s great to have something on your plate with a story.
‘Buffalo also sells really well at events and I’m hoping to do T in the Park again this year. You can’t beat the instant feedback from a thumbs-up, wink or a smile.’
But Steven isn’t just a familiar face at festivals and farmers’ markets; he runs his own shop in Kennoway and has butchery counters at Craigie Farm and Blacketyside. In fact, he’s the largest supplier of buffalo meat in Scotland, being the only farmer to specialise in them as his core product.
He’s now keen to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and help to educate the next generation by taking on a further apprentice this year. And as for Puddledub?
‘There’s no such place,’ he laughs.
‘But legend has it that there’s a dip in the road at the back of nearby Templehall, which fills up with water. Maybe that’s it?’