What’s so good about handmade & artisan?

If you have any interest in food, drink, crafts, jewellery or even cosmetics, you will no doubt have heard hundreds of producers boasting about their handmade products and small-scale methods. The terms “artisan” and “small-batch” have almost become clichés along with the claim that the business owner is “passionate” about the production of sandwiches/facecream/lampshades.

Huntly Herbs is no different – check our website and you will see our descriptions of small-scale, handmade, small batch jams and chutneys…but what does it all mean, and why should you care about how big my chutney pan is?

In the world of preserves at least, batch size affects flavour. For jams and jellies, the more quickly a batch can be cooked, the more of the fruit flavour is retained. If a pan of jam has to boil for ages, it loses much of the distinctive flavour of the particular fruit and results in a sweet and generically fruity preserve. The larger the batch, the longer it takes for the preserve to reach setting point, and the poorer the flavour. Large producers get around this issue by adding extra pectin (the setting agent which occurs naturally in fruit), or even thickeners which allow the jams to be finished more quickly – but it’s at the expense of texture and tends to result in a slightly rubbery or pasty jam.

Chutneys are slightly different in that they actually benefit from a long, slow cook which allows the many flavours to meld together. However, the evaporation of moisture from the surface of the chutney and the intense heat at the bottom of the pan both contribute to the “boiling-down”, the intensification of flavours and the thickening of the chutney. For larger producers, the most efficient way to cook a big batch of chutney is in an enclosed vat or pan, often with a steam jacket to avoid the risk of burning from direct heat at the bottom. But the enclosed cooking technique means there’s no evaporation, so they must start off with a less liquid recipe, which means they miss out on the intensification of flavours as the moisture evaporates. In terms of texture, you might notice that small scale producers tend to have slightly chunkier chutneys – this is because the chutney is usually poured by hand into the jars. On a larger scale, if the chutney has to be fed through a bottling machine, it has to be a smoother, more finely chopped texture – which is not necessarily better or worse, but it’s certainly different.

So next time you are wondering why some small scale producer is banging on about small batches, hand chopped ingredients or hand poured jars, you can rest assured that it’s not (necessarily) just artisan hipster pretention!