A little British cheesiness – saving tradition

Two years ago, I wrote a feature for Speciality Food Magazine about the British cheese industry. It was flourishing. World exports were increasing monthly, and the range of artisanal cheeses was wonderfully impressive; from the famous Fenn Farm Dairy’s Baron Bigod, in the far south, to the classic cheddars of Somerset and Devon, to the prize winning continental-inspired Welsh cheeses of Caws Teifi, not forgetting one of Britain’s most ‘marmite’ options, Gloucestershire’s Stinking Bishop. There were the creamy Wensleydales and Lancashires and the dozens of really small producers making elegant goats’ and sheeps’ cheese, not forgetting the UK’s own Mozarellas, Fetas and Halloumi style offerings.

And now, I appeal to you to help save the British artisanal cheese.

Now the time has come for us to do our bit for this exceptional industry. Hit hard by the economical effect of Coronavirus many have had to halt production, their wholesale orders dwindling to a fraction of the norm. Many are offering Mail Order services which is where we can help. Buying from these producers won’t only save businesses, but also traditions, it’s taken a quarter of a century to re-built the heritage (and contemporary) British cheese market – we have lost hundreds of varieties in the past few centuries and now, when the future was looking rosy for these producers, disaster has struck.

The most important thing is that we keep buying. Even when lockdown is over, and we can begin returning to some sort of normality, its important seek out local cheesemakers, make a day of it (many offer tours and farm shop purchases) and rediscover the taste of fabulous British cheese.

Here are a few of my favourites, all of whom are currently offering a mail order service.

Quickes Clothbound Cheddar

(cow and goats’ milk cheddars from Devon)

2. Farm Farm Dairy

(raw soft cheeses and butter from Sufolk)

3. White Lake Cheese

(sheep, cows and goats’ cheeses from Somerset)

4. Caws Teifi (Dutch-style cheese from West Wales)

5. Moydens Cheese

(British hard and soft cheeses from Shropshire)

6. Shepherds Purse

(Sheeps’ cheeses from Yorkshire)

7. Charles Martell & Son

(Gloucestershire cheeses, Single and Double Gloucester and Stinking Bishop)

8. Godsells Cheese

(Gloucestershire Cheeses, Single and Double)


Finding a new ‘normal’

I find myself writing my first post in extraordinary times on a  fine spring day, which Winnie the Pooh would undoubtedly declare ‘blustery’, but look at the trees…they have begun to unfurl their tiny leaves, the blossom is out and all is fighting against the elements…and winning. Just as we, the world, is fighting against a disease equally as unrelenting. We will hold out, just as the leaves, and it will not take our dignity or beauty away. We must adapt to a new normal and sometimes, forced adaption can be incredibly cathartic.

Just 8 weeks ago, if somebody had said that everybody in the UK would have to stay inside, not enjoy the freedoms and liberties our fore-fathers fought for, they would have been declared insane, and yet, here we are…so we must look to the good of this situation, the reconnecting with ourselves, reading books, playing games, getting out into the garden and growing our own food. All these things which were the ‘norm’ in our grandparents day, must soon be our ‘norm’ too. We have become teachers, councillors, gardeners, cleaners, caterers….time is standing still and allowing us to regress a little. Perhaps this regression is much needed in a world of relentless technology and busyness, from having to make time for things to having the time to enjoy things in a more leisurely way, to take pleasure in the little things like a pot of real tea or a home-cooked family meal. We have time to stop and think, and we are showing gratitude in a way not seen for decades.

In my little corner of the world, farming goes on, the milk tankers arrive morning and night to collect from the dairy herds, a few miles into Herefordshire the soft fruit is beginning to ripen, the fields are ploughed and sown and everything seems normal. However, these, often forgotten workers are now being thanked for keeping food supplies going, just as the NHS staff are for their life-saving work. Maybe new knowledge will come from this, perhaps children will began to know where milk comes from, people won’t take all supermarket produce for granted and maybe, just maybe, the world will began a quiet revolution. After all, it only takes two weeks to create a habit!


A weekend of Munching in Monmouthshire: Meeting The Sponsors @Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

Last weekend my sleepy little corner of South Wales saw over 35,000 visitors enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of good food and excellent drink. I always feel very proud of Monmouthshire when I’m walking through the stalls, battling the crowds and tasting my way through dozens of local supplier’s goodies. This year was no exception and I have to say, it was possibly the best yet!

 

In fact, I had only intended on visiting on Saturday but time ran away with me and I discovered, by 4.30, that I’d not managed to get around half of it…so a quick shifty of plans and I was back on Sunday, Little Chick in tow, to cover all bases.

When blogging about the festival, it’s very difficult to know just what to focus on. The speakers and demonstrations were all excellent; the feasts were magnificent…however, the real stars of the show were the producers; those who make a living day to day, year to year,  from their products. Abergavenny is their way of showcasing their individual, artisanal and unique produce and to introduce some of the more unfamiliar items to a wider audience, helping them thrive within an ever challenging political climate. DSCN0641.JPG

 

Politics, of course,  rarely fail to infiltrate anything ‘country’ related and this years festival was no exception. There seems to be a bit of fear (major panic) on the wind of the British Farming industry, the uncertainty of Brexit being one of the main concerns. In the Farming Matters zone of the festival there were many passionate speakers on all aspects of farming and the various interlinked industries; without doubt this will make a post on its own and (with a little more research) I hope to share my ‘take’ on the British farming industry with you all shortly.

But, back to the event itself; and where to begin?

I was extremely lucky to be invited on a short tour to meet with some of the main festival sponsors – this year’s sponsors included Riverford Organic Farmers, Belazu Ingredient Company and the  Chase Distillery.

For the first year ever the festival utilised Abergavenny’s Linda Vista Garden as a ‘wristband free’ venue – opening up more of the festival for free and allowing all visitors to share in the essence of Abergavenny Food Festival. The garden played host to our tour and proved to be a lovely, vibrant yet relaxing area and a credit to the festival.

I was extremely delighted to meet with Riverford founder Guy Watson and to discuss with him, not only Riverford’s origins but also its future as an employee run company – and of course its eco-credentials.

 

Guy is a man really passionate about veg as befits the pioneer of the organic veg box delivery system and the Riverford yurt was offering free vegetable themed cookery workshops throughout the weekend and the samples we were given were absolutely scrummy – and obviously really good for you too! Affordable, pesticide-free fruit and veg should be readily available to all and although still a little of the expensive side I hope that with greater future demand organic will become the norm, allowing our health to reap the benefits.

Next we met with one of Mediterranean deli product purveyors Belazu‘s founders,  and were given a little insight into the company which began as an olive import business over 25 years ago – Belazu has always featured in my larder. Their Rose Harissa is used in our household on a weekly basis so I was very interested to discover the lengths they go to to connect with suppliers and ensure that only the very best quality produce ends up with their Belazu branding – the demonstration by their in-house development chef was extremely interesting and the lettuce cups filled with Sea Bass tartare were not only delicious but beautiful to look at too – after all we do eat mostly with out eyes. My ancestors were very successful merchants in Georgian Bath, they sold virtually identical products to Belazu so perhaps my heart is with them on that front too!

Finally, the  Chase Distillery tasting was particularly welcome, especially as a little pick-me-up mid afternoon and I can now confirm that their Expresso Vodka is as I imagined, quite a revelation. I must visit the distillery soon and write an extended post (note to self; take a driver) but I managed to work my way through most of their current offerings and can report that the standard is still as high as ever. One of my favourite Gins of all time is the Chase Grapefruit  which can always introduce itself, through its citrus filled burst, from the other side of a crowded room – I also tried their signature Marmalade Mule, a blend of Marmalade Vodka, ginger ale and Angostura bitters; it was, as expected, sensational and something I’m definitely going to replicate at home. It always amuses me that the Single Estate Vodkas and Gins are made from Single Estate Potatoes, it seems to be the epitome of glamour and economy!

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Whilst I attended as a guest of Abergavenny Food Festival; all opinions are my own as are the images used above.

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The Pheasant Philosophises Part 1

I spent last Saturday on a bit of a foodie mission. I tried to prove that my theory about city folk having better access to organic and artisanal producers than we country folk (who make and farm said produce), was wrong. I have to admit that I was, in many ways, right.

I think that inherently the produce is there, but the accessibility isn’t. I started by trying to find organic vegetables. I know that Monmouth itself has one organic grower, and there are market gardens throughout the county, but how was I to get the produce, and in decent quantities. Farmer’s markets are all very well, but buying once a week or once a month, in many cases, just doesn’t offer the freshness. When I am at my house in France I can go out every day to a market and buy fruit and vegetables harvested from the fields that morning; often these are organic; sometimes they are misshapen, pesticide free and just as delicious but without the certification. This is something Britain also needs to address. Where is the middle ground produce? I know how difficult it is to get organic certification in the UK but I also think that pesticide free, naturally farmed foods should be more available; striking a balance between health and pocket.

If I wanted to do a weekly shop I would need to travel somewhere in the region of 30 miles round-and-about to collect my local meat, bread, fruit, veg and dairy. You can see why supermarkets have become so dominant in our society; it’s convenience. I believe that we supporters of local produce should rise up and demand centralised cooperatives in smaller towns, where we can buy everything under one roof,  everything being local. It would encourage new food businesses, help boost older ones and offer a choice between regional and ‘big corporation’, and support our Farming industry which is being threatened by the darkening doors of Brexit. If we choose to eat seasonally and regionally it should be available to us. I find it so disappointing that if I lived in London I could nip out to one market, Borough, for example, buy great produce and know where it comes from, whereas here, in the centre of our rural, farming industries I struggle.

People complain that ‘out of town’ stores cause small businesses to close; even Monmouth is currently campaigning against the development of land near the A40 Dixon roundabout. I agree that we don’t need Monmouth branded with international money grabbing chains. So, why not throw away the plans for chain restaurants or pet’s supermarkets and build a glorious local food centre –  a tribute to Monmouthshire and its agriculture and fill it with all the great foods from around us; if our produce is good enough to be served in top British restaurants why can’t we share it easily? Somewhere where we can find all we need with great credentials under one roof – we are, after all known as Wales’ foodie capitol – so lets capitalise!