Behind the scenes at Lancashire Crisps in Rufford
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 October 2013
Combining the flavours of black pudding and top grade Lancashire potatoes has created a culinary success story
When Robert Fiddler started farming the rich black soil of West Lancashire just after the second world war, it was hard manual labour but that didn’t stop him producing magnificent crops of potatoes. They were so good, he yearned to go into crisp production.
When he died five years ago his dream remained unfulfilled. His grandson John recalls: ‘As a kid growing up, every time I had a bag of crisps I got told the story about my granddad’s dream.
‘As I got older I didn’t get fed up with farming but I did want to also try something different so we decided to give grandfather’s plan a go.’ The result is Fiddler’s Lancashire Crisps, a premium brand created solely from the spuds they grow at Brick Kiln Farm in Rufford and created on the premises. ‘I supposed he’d be chuffed,’ said John. ‘But my dad reckons he’d also be saying “That was my bloody idea!”’
Taste, texture, potato quality and attention to detail in the cooking process have turned Fiddler’s into a Lancashire success story. It’s a story spread by word of mouth rather than grandiose advertising campaigns. They are currently producing 30,000 bags a week at the farmhouse kitchen - small compared to the factory-based big boys.
Teamwork is very much part of the Fiddler’s philosophy. While John and his wife, Judith, oversee the crisp business, his brother, Robert, and father, Robert Senior, operate the 200-acre farm. But when needs must, everyone, including John’s mum, Linda, pitches in to help both sides of the operation.
There’s a big difference between a desire to make crisps and actually going into production. ‘It’s practically chemistry,’ said John. ‘There’s more to it than simply frying a potato in a pan. It’s all about how much oil is soaked up, the quality and temperature of that oil, the thickness of the slicing and you have to keep a close eye on the sugar content of the potatoes. It makes a big difference to the cooking process and it can change day-by-day.’
Fiddler’s never buy in potatoes - they all come from the family’s fields. ‘That’s the beauty of the this type of operation - we are in total control from the field to the packet.’
There was three years of research before they launched the brand. ‘I spent a lot of time in the porch practising with different types of potato,’ added John. ‘The best varieties currently are Lady Rosetta and Lady Clare, but there are lots of new ones coming on stream. We have little plots on the farm where we run trials. We differ from the big boys in that being small we pay close attention to detail. This is one of the reasons why we are gaining customers all the time.’
All the flavour they use are natural and when you live in a county that’s famous for two culinary masterpieces – the potato and black pudding – combining them seem what the admen would call a no-brainer. Their Black Pudding and Mustard range have become a firm favourite. ‘We don’t use generic, off-the-shelf flavours – instead we go to local producers and have them made especially for us,’ said John
Fiddler’s, one of the sponsors of this year’s Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards, have deliberately kept away from the mass market, preferring specialist outlets to promote themselves as an up-market, exclusive brand that are worth the extra they charge.
They might not have a faded former England footballer to promote them with multi-million pound TV advertising, but they do have a slogan which proudly proclaims: ‘By ‘eck, you’ll find ‘em tasty!’ That’s one claim that won’t fall foul of the advertising watchdogs.