The Star, Christchurch, 28 July 1894
More than any other document, it elucidates the history of mild cured bacon.
Interview with Mr Vecht.
Mr Vecht, of the Intermarine Supply Company, having just returned from a tour of the North Island, whither he had gone in order to make arrangements for a supply of pigs, in view of the opening of a bacon-curing factory at Hawke’s Bay, a representative of this journal called upon him yesterday, and had a chat concerning the bacon, industry and its future possibilities.
In reply to a question to whether the system of curing adopted by his company found general favour, Mr Vecht said that although he really had no personal interest in the matter, having parted with the right to the “mild-cure” process for Australia and New Zealand to the Christchurch Meat Company, he had made it his business to ascertain how his method of curing was regarded throughout the colony. He took special interest in the matter because he had been connected with the business in his youth, when the first attempts to introduce mild-cured hams and bacon into England were made. The conservative public was rather slow in showing its preference for the improved method, but after a struggle of about five years against the home-cured article, the “new cure,” as it was then called, virtually swept all other modes of curing from the field, and present there was scarcely any market for bacon cured on the old system. In this colony, where only the primitive methods of preserving had been followed before the advent of the Inter Marine-Supply Company, the same prejudice at first existed. The first people to recognise the value of the new product were those who had recently arrived from the Old Country and colonists who had visited some of the Old World centres. As a matter of fact many of those who had come to the colony with the intention of settling had brought hams and bacon with them, fearing that they would be unable to obtain any which had been preserved by the mild cure process, and he felt flattered at being able to say that, with the exception of such well known curers as Sinclair and one or two others, the bulk of what was brought bore the brand of the company with which he (Mr Vecht) had been connected.
A question as to how long the new process had been in existence was then asked.
Mr Vecht replied that bacon-curing, like most other things, had now been reduced to a science, and the present system was of very modern date. In bygone days farmers had cured their own bacon, and even citizens of towns in the northern hemisphere invariably bought in November a supply of live meat sufficient to last them till the following summer months. This they had killed and cured in the most primitive way. Farmers living within a short distance of the larger cities often cured more bacon than was required for their own use, and a good deal of that raised near London found its way to the Smithfield market and was distributed from there. This led ultimately to some farmers becoming very large curers of bacon, more especially in such places as Wiltshire, and bacon from this part soon became a feature in the London market, many people making it a point to buy sufficient Wiltshire sides to last them for the ensuing year. The mode of curing adopted in the early history of the movement did not appear to have been altered much for the better and consisted merely of salting, with the addition of a little sugar and saltpetre. This process of course made an article which was very nice as a relish, but the true nature of the nutritive qualities of bacon was only discovered some twenty years ago. In some expeditions sent out by the British Government as late as the sixties, many ships were provided with meat and bacon cured in the old-fashioned way and it was a well known fact that those who were compelled to live on it suffered from poorness of the blood, and in consequence scurvy followed in many cases. Scientific research proved that, notwithstanding the fact that these people did not suffer from lack of something to eat, the nutritive value of the food consumed was absolutely nil, for the simple reason that chloride of sodium (salt) possesses the quality of chemical affinity for albumen. Under the old method the salt and the albumen contained in the pork combine and make a pickle which runs away in the process of curing, taking away all the nutriment from the meat, and leaving only the fibrous system and the fat. The saltpetre also acts chemically upon the fibrous tissues of the meat, giving a high colour, unnatural to the flesh, and this high colour was often mistaken for goodness by the uninitiated. After this fact became generally known, scientists, foremost amongst whom was Professor Liebeg, set about to remedy the evil, so far as beef was concerned, by preserving in tins instead of salting, and also by extracting the albumen from the beef and bottling it. Of course, this referred to the time when freezing chambers were unknown. This process, of course, it was impossible to apply to bacon, because at that time pigs were fed to such a weight that by far the greater proportion of the carcase was composed of fat, and as fat is impervious to saltpetre and also to the action of salt, people continued to preserve pig’s flesh in tho old-fashioned way, and the world trade in the pig line was not interested to any extent in the new discovery, and bacon and ham still .continued to be used simply as a relish more than a sustaining food.
In reply to another question, Mr Vecht said the world had to thank the late Mr William Oake, an eminent chemist of Ulster, for the discovery of the new method of curing. This gentleman was related to one of the largest bacon-curers in that centre, and took considerable interest in the business. In the course of experiment he discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were to be found in Nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt), and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could therefore be avoided. This was really the key to the new system of curing. In the meantime the invention of cold-air storage had made it possible to deal with meat at any season of the year. As to the advantages possessed by the new style of treatment, Mr Vecht pointed out that bacon and hams treated by this process, although thoroughly cured with the very essence of salt, still retained all the albumen originally in the meat, although it would not, of course, be salty to the palate. The lean instead of being a secondary consideration, as under the old process, became at once the nutritious delicacy it was intended by nature to be.
Asked to explain the difference in colour between the bacon and ham cured by the old process and those treated by the new, Mr Vecht said that many people un- acquainted with the matter had at first objected to the new product on account of its colour. Those who had had experience in the old process were of course, familiar with the fact that softness in the lean of the meat was anything but desirable, and as the lean of the bacon cured by the new process was always soft and juicy many had condemned it at first sight on that score, thinking that it would not keep. This was a great mistake, which they soon found out, and after eating the bacon a very different opinion was given. It was not long before they discovered that the high colour given to the lean by the saltpetre in the old process was detrimental, as the saltpetre chemically coloured the bacon,while it extracted the albuminous juices causing thereby a loss in nutrition. The products of the Inter-Marine Supply Company really retained the natural colour, while the value of the meat as a nutritious food was not interfered with in the slightest. The proof of its keeping qualities was the fact that it had already been exported from various places where the cure had been adopted to all parts of the world and had successfully withstood many climates.
Asked as to whether any of chemicals were used in the curing process, Mr Vecht replied, most emphatically, “No; definitely not.” Though the bacon was subjected to the influence of the antiseptic which in salt does the curing, the product turned out by the new process was absolutely free from any chemicals whatsoever. The analyses obtained — amongst others that of Dr Tidy, public analyst for London had proven that bacon cured in this way retained all the albumen originally contained in the flesh, and that no deleterious matter whatever was found. In this colony, to meet the popular taste a little salt was added to the meat after it had undergone the curing process, but this was merely as flavouring and formed no part of the curing system. –
Mr Vecht, in reply to a question to how far the process had been adopted said that it was now in use in every centre of importance throughout the world. It was largely used in America having been adopted in Chicago by the Messrs Armour, whose name in the industry is a household word. A large factory was in operation at Toronto in Canada, and the syetem was greatly used in Holland, Denmark, and many parts of England. Five firms now possessed the right to use it one of which was the Intermarine Supply Company, which was also the patentee of the process at present in use at Islington and the bacon and bams sold here were exactly the same as those sent to the Home markets.
In reply to questions as to whether any independent authority had expressed any opinions upon the quality- of the company’s output Mr Vecht remarked that he thought he could not do better than state the opinion of Mr William Nelson, of Nelson Bros., the well-known frozen meat exporters. This gentleman had called upon him in Napier and had congratulated him upon the quality of the meat turned out by the company while only the previous day many residents of this city had done the same thing. He might also point out the fact that the company’s output was daily growing in favour, as evidenced by the increasing demand for its products in all parts of New Zealand and Australia, as well as by the large shipments which had already been taken at satisfactory prices in the Old Country. Mr Vechtalso pointed out the fact that ‘ the Christchurch Meat Company had gone to considerable expense in providing at the latest improvements in machinery for carrying on the colonial trade, though this must always be small as compared with the possibilities of the great markets of the world. There could be little doubt that the colonies would follow in this industry as they had followed in the other inventions, such as railways and electricity, and would decline to follow the modes of their ancestors in this matter. A great deal of labour was saved by the new process, and therefore the product could be turned out more cheaply, while the article now put on the market was much superior.
Born: 1852 and settled in England when quite a young man.
Deceased: 8 November 1908 in Antwerp, Belgium.
The Star, Christchurch, 28 July 1894