Historic Bites: Butterly Delicious

“With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child

For decades, butter has been demonised, labelled an artery-clogger contributing to high cholesterol and obesity, and replaced with low fat spreads and margarines.

An ingredient at the very heart of western cuisine for centuries, butter is one of the purest fats available, tastes ambrosial and now, rather wonderfully, is making a rather a grand comeback.

My Grandmother is 109 years old and has lived on a diet primarily composed of meat, butter, a little bread and potatoes all her life. She is fit as a fiddle, her blood pressure’s that of an 18 year old and her outlook extremely youthful. She starts every day with one slice of toast spread, very thickly, with butter. In Norwegian there is a lovely word ‘Tandsmør’ meaning ‘Tooth Butter’ – it is the amount, when spread on bread which leaves a toothmarks.

Etymologically, the word butter comes from the Greek βούτυρον (bouturon) meaning ‘cow or ox cheese’ and during the Middle Ages butter was burned in lamps, just like oil. Butter was a very important commodity and, throughout the UK, you’ll find ‘butter markets’ a legacy from a time when cheese and butter production was essential to the economy. In Rouen, in the north of France, the cathedral’s Butter Tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to the bishop who authorised the use of butter in lamps during lent when oil was scare.

There are several types of butter; sweet cream butter (pasteurised), salted butter, raw cream butter (unpasteurised), whey butter and cultured butter, all being made across Europe and North America, and of course, Ghee (which is a clarified butter) is used in Indian and eastern cooking, the removal of the milk solids, giving it the ability to keep in hot climates, and it’s more stable at higher cooking temperatures. Classic unsalted butter, or ‘sweet cream butter’, which was first made on a large scale, in the 19th century once pasteurisation allowed for extended longevity before fermentation, but there are some wonderful artisan producers making cultured and whey butters in this country, some of whom I’ll list below.

French butter is regarded as some of the world’s best, but it was also France which first gave us margarine, after a competition was launched by Napoleon III calling for somebody to invent a replacement for butter to feed the army and the poorer population . Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès created a product, in 1869, which he called Oleomargarine, made from beef tallow, salt, sodium sulphate and a small amount of cream, amongst others things – these were actually rather nutritious in their various parts…and from this monstrosity (vis the USA who had discovered that they could replace beef tallow with hydrogenated vegetable oil) eventually came the plasticised monstrosity we know today as margarine.

So, historically, the majority of butter would have been ‘cultured’ which is fermented to some degree and gives a delicious, individual flavour. This also allowed cream from several days’ milking to be used at once, by which time earlier milk would have fermented slightly. Also, butter would have been heavily salted to help preserve it in the days before refrigeration. Butter would also be regularly ‘washed’ and re-salted to keep it fresh. The British were well known in the medieval period for their love of butter on vegetables, something which I’m rather keen on today, or vegetables with their butter as is more often the case at my table.

Sourcing British Butter

Fenn Farm Dairy: Bungay Raw Cultured Butter from Suffolk. A real treat, certainly one to savour. Simply spread on fresh sourdough and enjoy.

Netherend Farm: Organic and Non-Organic butter, from Gloucestershire. As seen on many a celebrity table, made in the Severn Vale, salted and unsalted – the perfect cook’s butter.

Quicke’s : Whey Butter – a delicious and rare heritage recipe recognised by the Slow Food movement as one of the UK’s ‘Forgotten Foods’. Made in Devon. Melt over seasonal asparagus.

Hook and Son: Raw butter from East Sussex. Excellent all purpose butter, use to fry mushrooms with fresh parsley and black pepper for a classic English breakfast.

Cotswold Butter: Made in Worcestershire, a classic salted English butter with sea salt. Perfect for those toasted crumpets.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: the cheesecake of cheesecakes.

Many of us will look to that extra cheese course after Christmas lunch, and then there has to  be enough cheese in the house to take you through to the new year. I have already covered the history of stilton in my diaries but now I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite regional cheese, all of which rather handily stack to form a rather impressive centrepiece.

Many of the major supermarkets have offered real ‘cheese’ cakes this year but it’s with a little curation you can impress guests and indulge in some of the best British produce available – and don’t forget the port, although a Pedro Ximénez sherry is also rather excellent with soft blues and little beats a whisky with a sharp farmhouse cheddar.

So, with Christmas fast approaching, what can be conjured up from the supermarket shelves? Actually,  there’s an excellent choice, so here’s my personal pick.

IMG_6783

Smarts Single Gloucester and Daylesford Blue

The base of my perfect cheesecake has to be a good stilton, a small truckle of traditional farmhouse cheddar would then follow – I really enjoy clothed cheese, I much prefer the texture – the wax matured cheeses seem to retain that waxiness, they are fine for grating but I think a good farmhouse cheddar brought to room temperature nestled in its cloth is one of the loveliest of foods. This year I have also discovered the small cylindrical truckles of Lancashire cheese, available from Waitrose. One of these would also make an admirable layer for the cheesecake, the lemony sweetness adding another dimension. I would then pick a whole small (200g) British Camembert  and there has to be a goats’ or sheeps’ cheese, so a small Sussex Slipcote or Moody’s Rosary Ash would top it all off nicely.  Do remember the crackers, for preference I use charcoal wafers and digestives, then oatcakes with cheddar.

And, as all these cheeses are available in UK supermarkets, there’s no need to worry about mail order deadlines.


Win 2 Ticket to Abergavenny Food Festival’s Christmas Fair on Sunday 10th December

I have teamed up with the wonderful Abergavenny Food Festival Team to give my readers the chance to win a pair of wristbands for this year’s Abergavenny Christmas Fair, allowing access to the yuletide markets and demo stage in the Market Hall, for the whole day.

All the details are below so hop over to Twitter then like, follow and retweet to be entered into the draw.

Competition closes at 12pm GMT Friday 1st December

Good luck!

The Abergavenny Christmas Fair is coming to town!

HJ-ABER-8453 - credit Huw John, Cardiff.jpg

©HuwJohn

On Sunday 10th December from 10am till 5pm, the Market Hall in Abergavenny will be filled with the tastes and aromas of Christmas and a lot of festive cheer as the Abergavenny Christmas Fair comes to town. There will be over 85 stallholders with festive food and gifts for sale across the Market Hall, Upper Brewery Yard and the Priory. Back in the Market Hall there will also be Christmas decoration making fun for the kids and festive menu tips from a glittering demo stage line up of culinary experts including MasterChef quarter-finalist Imran Nathoo, top chef Tommy Heaney, Guardian gardening journalist Lia Leendertz, and expert forager Liz Knight. You can even jump in Santa’s horse and carriage at The Angel Hotel! Don’t miss tasting workshops at Homes of Elegance too – there’s more about tickets for these and info on the Christmas Fair on abergavennyfoodfestival.com.

HJ-ABER-8433 - credit Huw John, Cardiff.jpg

©HuwJohn

HJ-ABER-8180 - credit Huw John, Cardiff.jpg

©HuwJohn

 
Terms and Conditions from the Abergavenny Christmas Fair:
Wristbands are non transferable and only valid for the Abergavenny Christmas Fair in Abergavenny, Sunday 10th December 2017, between 10am – 5pm
There is no monetary alternative
Wristbands will need to be collected at the Box Office on the High Street (Red Square) in front of Neil Powell Butchers
Horse & carriage rides at The Angel Hotel are costed separately at £5 each and are available between 1pm-5pm on Sunday 10th December
Tickets for tasting workshops at Homes of Elegance need to be purchased separately
Children go free with a paying/winning adult (i.e. these competition wristbands can be used by 2 adults and 2 children can accompany for free)

Christmas Markets and Making Merry – All the fun of the festive fair!

This week heralds the beginning of the Christmas Market season and we are spoilt for IMG_5471choice in Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. I really enjoy visiting Christmas food festivals, they help get over the post Bonfire Night hump and provide the ideal excuse for a cheeky mulled wine or two, not to mention huge present shopping potential .

I have chosen five of my favourite (most) local festivals to take you through to the big day; already we have seen a couple of frosty mornings so here’s to winter and all it throws at us. These are not purely food festivals, many offer local crafts, musical entertainments and great street food; everything you need to get you into the festive spirit.

Abergavenny Christmas Fair  10th December 

IMG_7449The largest local Christmas Fair, Abergavenny Food Festival always holds the banner high when championing regional and artisanal produce. Two weeks before Christmas Day will find the Market Hall, and surroundings, packed with delectable festive delicacies, an excellent time to stock up on foodie gifts, drinks for those  Christmas Parties or nibbles for surprise guests. As always, expect the best of the best; it’s a great place to stock up on Christmas Sprits whilst putting you in the Christmas Spirit. There are several workshops and feasts taking place too, so please see the website for more details.

The Forest Showcase Christmas Food Festival 26th November 

This year’s Forest Showcase Christmas Festival is to be held at Beechenhurst Lodge in the IMG_7709heart of The Forest of Dean, a fairytale setting for any Christmassy event. There will be stalls, demonstrations, workshops, live music and children’s activities. Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2 for children, family tickets are also available. Expect local cider, festive bakes, local meats and cheeses and a plethora of yuletide goodies.

The Hereford Food and Advent Market Hereford Racecourse 2nd and 3rd December 

“The Hereford Food and Advent market will be a fun festive day out for all the family. Held at Hereford Racecourse on the 2nd and 3rd December 2017 from 10 am – 4pm. Cost £2 entry for adults and £1 for children . FREE parking.
We have a huge variety of food and drink suppliers and live music, where you can have lunch under a covered marquee area, and enjoy the German Christmas market atmosphere.
You can browse and purchase all sorts of Christmas gifts and visit Santa in his grotto. ( extra charge of £5 will apply )
Also available will be free craft workshops for adults and children, included in the entry price.
In addition we have a children’s creative workshop, run by The Creation Station where they can have fun with plate art, and Christmas baubles . Please visit the website and Facebook for details of The Christmas Keepsake Workshop.
Also available are fabulous Christmas wreath making workshops with Debbie from the Hibiscus rooms.”

Gloucester Quays Victorian Markets 16th-26th November, daily until 7pm

Gloucester Quays is a prime example of thoughtful regeneration. The docks, once one of fullsizeoutput_41athe busiest in England, went through a period of decay until being reborn as a fabulous tourist attraction offering everything from pubs, restaurants and bars through to designer shopping and even canal boat hire. The Victorian Christmas market is very beautiful, the little wooden booths offering gifts, regional foods, mulled wine, arts and crafts. It’s a lovely place to visit as dusk falls, when the Christmas lights reflect off the calm waters of the dock and, with a glass of mulled cider in hand you can explore this, most historic, of sites.

Taurus Crafts Christmas Markets  2,3,9,10,16,17th December Free Entry 

Taurus Crafts, near Lydney in Gloucestershire is part of The Camphill Village Trust, a charity which offers support and a community environment to people who may struggle with everyday challenges. Founded in Scotland, in 1939, the charity aims to help all, regardless of disability and its Taurus Crafts based community is a testament to its success. The Christmas Fair offers a holistic festive approach; food, drink, gifts, crafts and Christmas trees can all be found alongside music, choirs and activities. Full of little workshops and unusual, quirky stalls, Taurus Crafts is a really lovely place to pass a few hours being at one with Christmas, sipping hot chocolate and tucking into one of their delicious homemade cakes.