As recipes go, charcuterie's a pretty straightforward one: "meat, salt and time". Those, according to charcutier Sean Cannon, are the only things required to make a truly great piece of cured meat. There's no secret, and there are no short-cuts.

You only need to bite into an Italian salami, or wait for the fat on a piece of Iberico ham to melt on your tongue, for the beautiful flavour of a high-quality piece of cured meat to make itself abundantly clear. Air-drying meat with preserving salts may have been a practice developed as a means of preserving food thousands of years ago, but it developed into one that can show a cut of meat at its tastiest and best – as Cannon puts it, "the ultimate celebration of a very, very high-quality piece of fresh meat".

So if it's that straightforward (if not necessarily easy) to make, and that delicious, why have we had to reach out to our friends in Spain, Italy and France to get our hands on it?

Fortunately we may not for much longer: closer to home, there's a salty, meaty revolution brewing. Or curing, I should say. As more and more of us realise the benefits of buying local, cutting out middle-men, and paying a few pounds more for the benefit of products whose provenance we can trace, there's a growing community of farmers and charcutiers that are working in harmony to produce some of the best and most exciting cured meat on the market, and flying the flag for British agriculture in the process.

Cannon is founder of Cannon & Cannon, a London-based producer and distributor of all-British charcuterie. As well as working with small-scale farms and producers around the country, it sells produce from stalls in Borough Market and around London.

Trot for teacher

As charcuterie enters the mainstream in Britain, it's not just the pros who can experiment with curing. Cannon & Cannon's Meat School, set up a few years ago, aims to teach consumers practical curing skills they can use at home, as well as giving them proper introductions to charcuterie through beer and wine pairing evenings. "I’m a lover of the end product", explains Cannon. "Give me a plate of salami and I'm a happy man. But if you go and see it made from slaughter to fermenting to air-drying, you gain this new level of love for the product and it takes on a whole new meaning to you, which is what I love about food – it's so far beyond just putting something in your mouth and chewing it. "It’s like when you're thinking about food or drink in the right way, it's a journey, or a philosophy, and you can get really emotional about it. We spend all of our days working with the producers, so we want to give our customers what we've been lucky enough to have – we want them to also get hands-on, to understand the stuff, to go on that journey that we've gone on." For more info:

Having grown up in Norfolk's agricultural heartland, Cannon set up the business after seeing the potential for a market that remained largely unexplored. "I'm very passionate about farming," he says, "and about our history of agriculture and food production in this country – and I wanted to get into the food industry at a time where I felt it needed help. I met a British farmer who was making salami, and he was telling me that to make the charcuterie he has to allow the pigs longer to grow, and has to feed them on better, organic feed, otherwise they don't create the right intramuscular fat.

"So I thought, 'This is great. We're actually having to change the way we rear these animals to make it.' He told me the reason he could afford to do it is because when you create a salami, it's a premium product, so it's more expensive. We don't always have that approach in Britain. The trend has always been 'cheaper, cheaper, cheaper' – grow them quicker, feed them crap food, fill them with antibiotics, make them into shit sausages."

Hugo Jeffreys, a former chef at Nuno Mendes's Viajante turned founder of Hackney-based charcutier Blackhand Foods, underlines this importance: "In charcuterie, the quality of the product is dependent on the animal's welfare." Tom Bell, owner of Clapton restaurant Verden, which specialises in charcuterie and sources much of it from Britain, agrees: "I think people are starting to realise that some of the farming practices that we adopted in order to get over post-war rationing are actually of no benefit to anyone, apart from being able to raise pigs in super-quick time.

"You're not raising a particularly good pig, it's not got much fat, no one's particularly happy about it in the end. People have started caring a lot more about where their food is coming from; there's been a greater focus on farming practices, for using native breeds, and allowing animals to grow for longer so they can build up more fat reserves, which are all things that have been going along with the three powerhouses of charcuterie – France, Italy and Spain – for many years."

"In Britain, we've got all these rare breeds of animal that are dying out [the Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists 63 breeds of livestock on its watchlist]," says Cannon, "and charcuterie's an industry that demands quality, rare-breed animals."

At the time Cannon was taking the first steps to setting up his company, he says there were 19 commercial charcuterie producers in Britain. "At last count, there were 93. That's in four years. It's absolutely exploding."

Hearteningly, and perhaps for the first time in decades, it appears to be quality, not convenience, that's pushing more and more producers to create charcuterie that's on a level – at the very least – with our continental neighbours: "If you think about the actual process," says Jeffreys, "it's taking a piece of meat and letting moisture dissipate, thereby intensifying the flavour. If you start off with a substandard piece of meat, it's only going to intensify what it lacks, rather than what it has."

Adam Heanen, who runs award-winning family butcher HG Walter (his father kept the existing name when he took it on in the 1970s) in Baron's Court, agrees: "If you're curing something like the hind legs of an animal for two, three years, what you want at the end is a very special product, and the quality really needs to stand up. Especially seeing as you're not slow-cooking it or serving it with sauce – you're eating it in its raw, natural state. I would go along with the argument that cured meats, in a way, are more reflective of the animal."

If you're curing something, the quality of the meat really needs to stand up

And it's not just the butchers and charcutiers getting in on the act; there's hardly a restaurant these days without a charcuterie board on its menu, and more and more are realising the benefit, economically and otherwise, of buying British, and of curing their own meats in-house. "I've noticed the foodie people I love working with have become more experimental; more interested in doing different things with the animal," Heanen says. "Most of the restaurants we serve are experimenting, on a regular basis, with doing their own curing."

Adam Byatt's Trinity in Clapham is one such restaurant – the team started out experimenting with curing, before it became an increasingly integral part of their operation.

"Adam had been doing a little bit here and there over the years," says chef Chris Bolan, who was recently tasked with leading duties on all the charcuterie operations in the restaurant. "Generally simple stuff, and the odd prosciutto when we had a leg of pork knocking around – so we were doing it very sporadically.

"Around a year ago, I started looking after it for him. I developed a salami recipe and that went really well, so we started testing different cuts of meat – two months ago we got in a whole Mangalitsa pig [a hairy European breed that's becoming more common in the UK] and cured it from nose to tail. That was six months in the making – sourcing the right producer, and researching how to tend to the different cuts of meat."

Meats air-drying at Trinity in Clapham

Meats air-drying at Trinity in Clapham

Which brings us to another string to the charcutier's bow: more value; less wastage, especially as pork is by a distance the most common meat for curing. "There's a lot more emphasis on the nose-to-nail concept," says Heanen, "and you can use cheaper, fattier cuts in charcuterie – neck fillet is fantastic in a coppa, and in salamis you can mince up all the back fat – a lot of the chefs we work with want to utilise the whole of the animal."

So we're playing curing catch-up to the rest of Europe. For one reason or another, we were slow on the uptake. But Cannon is effusive on the potential this provides for Britain's charcutiers, particularly in the relative lack of hoops to jump through in comparison with the continent: "There's total creative freedom, which is exciting," he says.

"With all of these great European products, be they wine or cured ham, there are, for good reason, rules and regulations that have come in to protect them over the years – they have to be created in certain ways. In Britain, there's nothing – so it's open season. That's really exciting, because it breeds innovation, and people who are young of mind, entrepreneurially, are excited by the fact that they can create anything. It's an open book."

People are really excited by the fact that they can create anything. It's an open book

From humble beginnings and light experimentation to a burgeoning industry in just a few years – there's the sense that there's never been a better time to be a British charcutier. "There are a couple of things that make me think British charcuterie has tremendous potential," Cannon says. "Our ability to innovate, and to produce and manufacture food, is second to none. When we get the bit between our teeth we do fantastic things. We're growing livestock really, really well. If you start with a great product, like you do with charcuterie, you're going to end up with a great product.

"So we've got the innovation on our side; we've got the quality of the fresh meat, which I believe is the best in the world; we've also got a consumer base who demand to know where their food comes from, who want to buy British and want to support British industry. Those three things just make for a very exciting time."