A gem in the Auvergne

Le Saloir de Mirabel (Mirabel curing factory) was the starting point for the expansion of the Bell Food Group in France. Today, it produces Auvergne raw ham PGI of the highest quality. And for the future, the management team of the company wants to achieve the same top quality as hams from the Iberian peninsula and from Parma.

 We are located at the foot of the Volcano National Park Auvergne. The Mirabel creek, which runs next to the factory and gave it its name, has its source up there. «A real gem in the midst of green nature», is how Julien Brionnet, technical director of Bell France, describes the Saloir de Mirabel curing factory, for whom it is like a second home.

He started there in 2000 as an employee in the dried sausage production. Located in the municipality of Riom, the factory belonged to Salaison Polette from 1974, before the Bell Food Group took over the company in 2008. «So this is the historic production site, and effectively the DNA of the Bell Food Group in France. This is where it all began. This is where we acquired all our experience and know-how, first in the field of dry sausage and then in the field of Auvergne cured ham. In the beginning, the sausages were dried on wooden sticks, the air flow control was not as modern as it is today, and there was a lot of manual work. Of course there were mistakes and problems that had to be solved, but this way we could constantly improve. »

In 2003 a new factory was built in Teilhède, a village about ten kilometres away. And Julien Brionnet was given the responsibility for setting up the production of Auvergne raw ham. «At first we didnʼt know how we were going to do it. But people trusted us and we were given a completely free hand.» Then Rodolphe Zou, who was 22 years old at the time, was hired. He remembers: «The five drying rooms were empty, and there were three of us. We gradually built up the production lines, adapting them as needed and adding machines when necessary. And so the company gradually developed, step by step.»

On the way to top quality

In the beginning Mirabel produced only raw ham without appellation. Today it produces exclusively Auvergne raw ham with a PGI label, which meets the strictest specifications. «We work day and night», comments Julien Brionnet. «We are developing an indigenous French product that is marketed in Germany and even in Asia thanks to the Bell Food Group distribution network. This is a clear sign of recognition that drives us to further improvements. We want to achieve top quality!»

Ten people currently work on the 3000 m2 site under the leadership of Rodolphe Zou, who has been production manager since 2015. Every week, 1600 hams arrive at the factory and remain there for at least 240 days; during this time they are salted (with the addition of dry garlic, which is the special feature of Auvergne raw ham PGI), matured, steamed, dried, greased and then refined.

Of the 450 tons of Auvergne ham PGI produced annually at Saloir de Mirabel, 95% comes from pigs from the region. «We could have bought it in Europe», explains Julien Brionnet, «but we deliberately opted for regional sourcing, even if the selection of our suppliers was not easy, bearing in mind the Bell Food Groupʼs quality standards, traceability, transparency and human resources management.»

The power duo has just completed the energy optimization of the production site with the installation of heat pumps and energy recovery: «We no longer consume fossil fuels and we no longer produce CO2.» It is also working on the production of an Auvergne raw ham PGI completely without preservatives and with a longer maturing period to achieve the quality of Parma and Iberian ham. «By tomorrow we will have only quality meat, salt, garlic and air. Nothing else!»

The development and quality of the products from the Saloir de Mirabel were awarded a medal at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris in 2017. The culmination of a positive development: «We see ourselves a little bit as the nano-enterprise of the Bell Food Group. The only thing that could force us to leave the Saloir de Mirabel would be if there were no more space to meet customer demand.»