With every tousled country lane and picturesque hamlet, the Chilterns capture a little more of my heart. Covering around 324 square miles and stretching from Berkshire to Hertfordshire, the chalky Chiltern Hills are one of 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK. People have been farming here for thousands of years, shaping the landscape we see today. Once described as the “Larder of London”, farmland still covers nearly two thirds of the area and the network of local food producers is thriving.
The Chilterns boast one of the most vibrant food scenes in the country. From innovative restaurants to pioneering producers, it’s evident the surrounding landscape is central to their success. Meeting some of the inspiring business owners at work has filled me with optimism for the future of British cuisine. With a passion for process and quality ingredients, these independent producers mix traditional methods with innovative styles.
It’s home to an array of Michelin Starred restaurants, with the culinary village of Bray boasting no fewer than four: The Fat Duck, The Crown, The Hinds Head and The Waterside Inn. Nor is there a shortage of idyllic country pubs. I particularly enjoyed The Mash Inn in Radnage, where chef John Parry cooks everything over an open fire in the garden.
To round off my series of posts dedicated to the Chiltern food scene, I planned a springtime picnic on Coombe Hill using produce from the local area. Rather than this limiting my basket, I was spoilt for choice. From delicious pork pies to locally made chocolate, there is an abundance of Chiltern produce to make the perfect picnic hamper.
While I chose Coombe Hill, there are a number of idyllic spots to set up for the day. From the Bradenham Estate to Watlington Hill, the rolling landscape and chalk grasslands won’t disappoint. (You can find more inspirational picnic spots and walks on these sites: www.chilternsaonb.org and www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chilterns-countryside)
Just a forty-minute drive or train ride from London, this unique area offers a charming day out for those looking to escape the humdrum of the city. With four railway lines, 20 stations and even an underground line, the Chilterns is easily accessible.
I headed to some of the most popular farmshops and delis in the area to pick up treats for my springtime picnic.
The Lacey family have been farming in the area of seven generations. It’s primarily a dairy farm based on a pedigree herd of 120 Guernsey cows. The chalky Chiltern soil is perfectly suited to the cows and contributes to their award winning creamy milk. The cows are milked twice a day, every day. The milk is flash pasteurised and unhomogenised for a more natural and creamier flavour and texture. The Lacey’s also make their own delicious ice cream, and I couldn’t resist popping a tub of the vanilla into my picnic basket. They’ve recently launched their farm shop and butcher, taking care to only source meat from the local area. I plumped for a big pork pie and a few of their homemade sausages.
“Laceys is the only dairy farm in the country to win Great Taste awards for milk and cream, so we take pride in what we do. We’re all about traditional, sustainable farming – hopefully we can be around for another seven generations taking care of this land.” Ed Lacey
This iconic local farm shop just north of Tring specialises in home-produced and locally sourced food. You’ll find a wide variety of local produce including their own beef and lamb, local sausages and Chiltern charcuterie. Along with pickles, preserves, fresh fruit and vegetables, they also stock their own popular Chiltern Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil. I couldn’t resist their mayonnaise, which I used in a potato salad for my picnic. I also picked up some locally made chocolate, Auberge du Chocolat. P E Mead & Sons have recently built a collection of artisan units to encourage local business. One of these houses the Puddingtone Distillery, where Campfire Gin is made.
The Brill family have been farming at Peterley for over 30 years and have gradually built a thriving Farm Shop, Pick Your Own, Cafe, Nursery and Christmas tree farm. Despite having come a long way from its humble farm gate sales, the traditional features of the original shop have been retained. It was recently awarded Farm Shop of the Year by Berkshire Life
Based in the quaint Market town of Wendover, this is primarily a wine shop, but the deli counter is jam-packed with local treats as well. The shop launched six years ago with a focus on creating a friendly environment to enjoy wine. Right from the start the team has actively supported the local community of producers. They manage their own food festival for a week in July and they recently hosted a ‘meet the producer’ event as part of the Chiltern Food and Drink Festival. After a while perusing the shelves I opted for some local honey, Darling Spuds crisps, some enticing rosemary biscuits from Just Biscuits By Jilly and a few Tring Brewery Ales.
The Field Kitchen is a café and deli based in the pretty village of Nettlebed. They make delicious salads and pastries and stock a variety of produce from the surrounding area. Their raisin brioche was out of this world and I’m excited to try the frittata on my next visit. This is the perfect spot to wile away a Saturday morning, chatting with friends and enjoying quality food, but it’s also great for lunch on the go. The deli is well stocked and I picked up a Nettlebed Creamery soft cheese for my picnic.
This quirky no-car café is only accessible on foot. Set near the scenic village of Turville, It’s the perfect pit stop for walkers and cyclists. Turville Heath Farm has been in the Harman family for generations and you’ll find an inspiring range of home-grown and locally-sourced food in the barn. It’s open seven days a week with full café service over the weekend.
The last few weeks exploring this unique area have been filled with delicious food, interesting people and beautiful scenery. The Chilterns will forever be a place that I continue to visit and I’ll always follow the exciting developments in the local food scene.
From the eco-friendly to the ultra luxurious, the self-catering to the classic country Inn, I’ve included a brief directory of places to stay if you want to extend your Chiltern adventure beyond a day.
The Chilterns View: Luxury Eco- Lodges near the village of Ewelme in Oxfordshire (01491 836 353)
Ashridge Estate Campsite: A well-equipped campsite on the idyllic National Trust Ashridge Estate (01442851227).
The Mash Inn: A chic country pub with rooms in the small hamlet of Radnage (01494482440)
Perch and Pike: a beautiful old English country pub situated in the picturesque village of South Stoke in Oxfordshire (01491 872415)
Cliveden House Hotel: A luxurious Hotel and Spa set in tranquil gardens (01628 607107)