It was way back in 2004 when Gayle and I and our then 2 year old son Joshua made the move from the north east of England to Andalucia. The choice of property was unusual being a dilapidated one hundred year old Spanish cave house, needless to say everyone thought we were slightly mad! The idea of setting up a Spanish delicatessen had not even crossed our minds with almost a years worth of renovations ahead. By December 2004 however we were in, living in a cave, a few months earlier than expected and the task of finding work in rural Andalucia began . . . Gayle being fluent in Spanish quickly established herself as a teacher, holding English classes for all age groups in Orce village. It was not until a few months later in the Spring of 2005 whilst enjoying some time off in a tapas bar that just like all good ideas the concept dawned upon us . . .
There must have been at least a dozen Spanish hams hanging in a small corner of this bar and after ordering a couple of short beers and an orange juice for junior these were quickly followed by a plate of thinly sliced Serrano ham accompanied with some bread and olive oil. Almost immediately a Spanish delicatessen was born. The following year or so saw some finishing touches on the cave house as well as some serious research into the wealth of cured Spanish hams and sausages available from family run producers in the local vicinity. Andaluces by their very nature are always happy to help which for us was half the battle so after setting ourselves up for a ‘muy buena’ education a business plan was put in place and the Orce Serrano Hams website finally became a reality in August 2006.
Although between us we had business management and obviously language skills nothing quite prepares you for setting up and running a business in Spain, it is certainly very different and challenging but one of the main messages we always and still do try to get across is the quality of the produce. Our minds had already been made up that no commercially produced Spanish hams or meats were ever to grace the website, simply artisan produce made by local butchers and family businesses in the region so with some fantastic products online our first order came in within a week of going live. Stage 1 complete!
The Orce Serrano Hams website has always been considered a growing entity and over the past five years there have certainly been some significant changes in both product and web design. We have also been very lucky to have worked with David Jenkins of Hub-UK.com since the very beginning. David, webmaster and someone who loves everything about food and cooking, has taken the reins on publishing Orce Serrano Hams and continues to help develop the site into what it is today and no doubt what it will become in the future leaving us to manage other aspects of the business from daily orders and logistics to sourcing new products.
Starting out five years ago was a bit of a challenge least not because it was our first taste of ecommerce and funds to invest in stock were almost non-existent. What we discovered almost by accident was that Spanish hams and other cured meats tasted infinitely better coming direct from Spain, you began to comment on this unique aspect and this practice has been maintained to this day with hams being chosen directly from their natural conditions in the curing house. Over the past five years various Spanish hams, chorizo’s and other locally produced specialities have become available and with every one taste tested the online deli now stocks what we believe to be some of the most authentic produce from rural Andalucia. Working with local butchers also creates the opportunity to delve into the unknown, for Christmas 2009 the Orce ‘150’ Reserva was launched, in the planning since July of the same year along with ‘La Carniceria de Julian’ the Orce Serrano ham was cured for an additional six months and proved so popular that customers tickets had to be placed on the ham (only 150 examples were reserved), now Julian’s ham is a permanent fixture on the online deli. Another regular feature on the deli is the ‘Orce Fire Chorizo’ again made by Julian who at first was a little bemused why the English like everything so hot! After a few experimental batches the fire chorizo recipe was just right and has since been served in restaurants, tapas bars and homes across the UK and EU. It is fair to say that time spent visiting, learning from and building relationships with Spanish producers like Julian has paved the way for some great new products and to a large degree has made the online deli what it is.
Developing Orce Serrano Hams has also been a great learning process for the whole family, junior is now learning to carve ham and with regular visits to curing houses there is always something to take on board. On the subject of photography when the Spanish delicatessen was first published we reluctantly made do with a borrowed digital camera which has to be said did not take very good pictures (nor did the man behind the camera, me!) what we needed was as near to ‘smellivision’ as possible so if you have noted that the over the years the photos have become slightly better then that is why, plus we want you to see your products as realistic as possible. Over the years we have also become dedicated Spanish food enthusiasts, Gayle’s first Spanish tortilla though was not perfect! (won’t mention my ham carving at this point) but with neighbours from Madrid, Barcelona, Asturias and many other regions recipes have been perfected and some of the ideas so interesting that customers can now discover literally hundreds of authentic tapas dishes, main meal ideas, Spanish barbeque cooking and vegetarian recipes – all published regularly on the website.
October 2010 saw the opening of the Orce Hams office in Orce village which has resulted in quicker turnaround times, new stock lines and also the opportunity for you to visit us. If you are tempted by a cave holiday in the region then why not consider Orce? If you are a business owner and would like to discover the area, its produce, how its all made and discuss your requirements in a friendly, relaxed and professional, English speaking environment then we can organise your accommodation as well as offer some unique insight into Spanish cured meat production. Should you simply be looking for some traditional Spanish cookery lessons or demonstrations then we have also teamed up with a local Spanish chef in Orce, originally from the north of the country who can produce a gastronomic blend of flavours to tantalise the taste buds with an outdoor paella, typical tapas and a whole range of other specialities from all over Spain.
Looking to the next five years we have some very exciting times ahead and of course, as with any business it is you, our customers that make it all possible – Gracias! Enjoy the photo gallery below and we look forward to serving you soon!