All posts by Feast

A Picnic in The Chilterns

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.

Lacey’s Farm Shop

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

PE Mead & Sons

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.

Peterly Manor Farm

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

No 2 Pound Street

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

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.

The Barn at Turville Heath

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.

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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)

 

 

Chiltern Charcuterie

When I visited Chiltern Charcuterie a few weeks ago in the picturesque village of North Dean, they were hard at work making salami. It was an impressive operation as the team expertly tested flavours. John and Catherine launched their business in 2014, and what started as a small scale curing business in their kitchen has grown into an award winning brand and a leading player in the UK charcuterie market. In Autumn 2015, they moved to a dairy farm in the Hughendon valley. The additional space allowed them to improve consistency and create a more controlled curing process. They focus on using quality ingredients sourced from the local Chiltern area and 2016 saw them win two Great Taste Awards. John was kind enough to answer a few questions about his exciting Chiltern based food business.

Why did you decide to start a Charcuterie business based in the Chilterns? 

We wanted to start a business involving food that we loved to eat. We’re obsessive foodies with a passion for locally sourced meats made to a high quality and in a traditional way. All our meat comes from the Chilterns, so we named it Chiltern Charcuterie to reflect its origins.

Why is it important to you that your meat is sourced from the local area? 

Sourcing it locally means we’re supporting our local community and we can make sure its of a high quality and we know its provenance. We’re also doing our bit to save the food miles!

Do you think UK charcuterie is on the road to competing with charcuterie produced on the continent? How do you think the UK market can encourage supermarkets to stock their produce instead of importing from Europe?

We are definitely competing with our European cousins. Our Charcuterie is as good if not tastier. We as a business like to focus on deep flavours, using marinades as well as cures. We also like to explore new and interesting tastes, for example our Air dried lamb has been a real hit, but rarely seen in Europe. We also focus on beef and Venison, again unusual in Europe where Pork is the main meat used.

Supermarkets focus on price. UK Charcuterie is still more expensive then cheaper imports BUT we are a quality product. Our customer is more likely to shop in smaller retail outlets and specialty food shops.

I spotted some N’duja in the product room! What’s your process for producing this uniquely Calabrian sausage? 

Our N’duja is a mix of pork fat and Pork meat. The ratio of fat to meat is greater than in Salami. In this recipe we have made it hot & Spicy. (Chilli & paprika). It is made in the same way as Salami, minced and stuffed into a skin. Then hung and air-dried. But it is ready when soft.

Do you have a favourite product and how do you like to enjoy it? 

My favourite is the Air Dried Beef. Its rich and full flavoured, with the aroma of red wine & rosemary. I like to eat this with olives, pickles, nice bread and a rocket salad with lemon juice.

What has been the most exciting part of starting a Charcuterie business? 

As well as having fun experimenting, our most exciting part is to actually make a delicious product and have the satisfaction of other people liking it too. And then buying it!

Do you think the Chiltern food scene has changed over the last few years? 

The food scene has definitely changed. People are a lot more interested in knowing where their food has come from and are looking to support local businesses too. As we do. This has changed a lot since the financial crisis in 2008.

What does 2017 hold for Chiltern Charcuterie?

Hopefully 2017 will see us expand and grow our customer base. We would like to cement our place in Buckinghamshire as the leading Charcuterie producer in the region.

One of my particular favourites from Chiltern Charcuterie is the Coppa, which is made from the neck muscle of a pig. Their variety is deliciously flavoured with fennel and juniper berries. It works perfectly on flatbreads with sun-dried tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan.

Chiltern Coppa Flatbreads
(Makes 3 flatbreads)

Ingredients

150g self-raising flour
Baking powder
150g full fat Greek yoghurt
Pinch of salt
Chiltern Charcuterie Coppa
A handful of fresh rocket
A handful of sundried tomatoes
A few shavings of Parmesan
Drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar

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First make the dough. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and spoon in the greek yoghurt. Using the thin end of a wooden spoon mix together, eventually using your hands to bring it together into a ball. Add more yoghurt if it’s too dry and more flour if to wet. Turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until its nice and smooth.

Divide the dough into three, and roll each piece into rounds about half a centimetre in thickness.

Heat a large frying pan, waiting until its very hot before cooking the first flatbread. Cook for a few minutes, and when it starts to form bubbles, flip to the other side. Cook for a further minute then remove from the heat. Repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of dough.

Layer the warm flatbreads with the rocket, Coppa, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

 

Puddingstone Distillery

In early 2014, Kate Marston unexpectedly found herself in the Waterstones on Hampstead high street. Her husband Ben was in hospital nearby after a wrist operation and she needed to kill time while he recovered. Perusing the shelves she happened upon a copy of Difford’s Guide to Gin, and as a long time gin lover, it immediately struck a chord. A few hours later, she was still engrossed in its pages. Could this be the project and dream they had both been searching for? She left Waterstones that day with Difford’s Guide, The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, and a brave mission to start a gin distillery.

Since then Ben and Kate have hit the ground running. They’ve honed their skills, tasted over 100 gins, developed two stills and embarked on an ambitious crowd funding campaign. They needed £20,000 to start their business and crowd funding provided the perfect solution. The campaign garnered support from the local Chiltern community from the get go. As the first gin distillery in the area, locals were keen for it to be a success.

After nearly two years of searching the Chiltern Hills, they found the perfect location for their new business in an artisan block next to the PE Mead farmshop, just north of Tring. In November 2016 they officially launched Puddingstone Distillery and its flagship Campfire Gin. What makes it even more impressive is that they managed to do all of this while continuing their full time jobs. Kate runs her own graphic design business and Ben heads up marketing at the Tring Brewery.

At their launch party on the 11th November, it was all hands on deck as the turnout exceeded expectations. Initially anticipating around 150 people, nearly 400 supporters turned up eager to learn about this new local business and sample Campfire gin for themselves. Kate and Ben treated guests to Puddingstone Purls, a deliciously warm Autumnal cocktail of gin, apple juice, ginger and honey.

On a rainy day in February I visited Puddingstone Distillery, and despite the rain there was an air of optimism as Kate gave me a tour. After three years of careful planning, hard work and commitment, the dream had become a reality. Kate surveyed her immaculate distillery with satisfaction, and there was much for her to be proud of. Both Kate and Ben have been directly involved in every detail of building this inspiring business. From perfecting their gin, creating a brand, launching a website and nailing repurposed wooden panels onto the distillery walls; every part of Puddingstone Distillery is a direct reflection of their pioneering spirits. Their sense of creativity feeds into every element of the business.

It’s clear their passion is grounded in a love of the natural environment and the outdoors. Kate describes one of her happiest memories drinking gin around the campfire at a safari camp in East Africa. They wanted to create an artisanal gin that captures the spirit of adventure, naming their first stills after two famous female pioneers, Amelia Earhart and Isabella Bird.

On the wall hangs a copper plaque with the name of every person who contributed to crowd funding their business. Most of the supporters were from the local area. Eager to repay the favour and stay engaged in the community, Kate and Ben are determined to keep Puddingstone Distillery rooted in the Chilterns. The name ‘Puddingstone’ is after a rare type of rock found in Hertfordshire.

It seems that Kate and Ben are ahead of the trend. Experts coined 2016 the “year of gin”. Across the UK gin sales outstripped both wine and beer, with over 40 million bottles sold, and growing markets in Spain and America. This is the time to open a gin distillery. As drinking habits change, the premium gin market is one of the biggest winners, with sales growing by 16% last year. Provenance, authenticity and quality are becoming increasingly important to enthusiastic gin drinkers.

Kate and Ben have every reason to be optimistic. Campfire gin is receiving rave reviews and their business is steadily expanding. Over the summer they have exciting plans to host outdoor events, supperclubs and even a pop up cocktail bar. Their inspiring story is made more profound by the indisputable quality of the gin. Their perfectionism has seen them refine their process and create a seriously high-end product. Kate tells me of her dream that one day Campfire could be the gin of choice in the safari lodges that first inspired them, and that lucky guests will be enjoying their gin around a campfire after a long day in the bush.

Their shop is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays where you can purchase Campfire Gin. Two additional expressions, navy strength and wood aged, are planned for release in 2017, followed by a seasonal variation and some exciting collaborations.

It’s an inspirational story and I’ve definitely caught the Campfire bug. This pioneering husband and wife duo have combined their many creative talents and their long time love of gin to create a truly exceptional brand and product.

In the spirit of gin, I thought I’d share my all time favourite cocktail recipe for a Tom Collins. Traditionally it calls for lemons, but I rather fancy it with limes

Tom Collins

Ingredients

1 part Campfire Gin
Juice of 1 lime
2 parts soda Water
2 tsp caster sugar
crushed ice
lime wedge
sprig of mint
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In a cocktail shaker, add the freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar and campfire gin. Give it a quick shake, then add the crushed ice, and give it another shake.

Pour into a glass, top up with soda water and garnish with the lime wedge and mint

 

 

Foraging in The Chilterns

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the mesmerising Chiltern Hills. Tomorrow marks the start of the first ever Chiltern Food Festival and to celebrate I’ll be sharing a series of posts showcasing its vibrant food scene. From charcuterie to gin, this bucolic paradise is home to some of the most inspiring producers in the country. I’m kicking off the festivities with a couple of recipes using wild garlic foraged from the Chiltern Woodlands.

The Foraging phenomenon is having something of a renaissance, as the idea of food with provenance becomes the mainstay of the conscientious cook. Throughout the year hedgerows and woodlands offer an abundance of edible plants ready to be transformed into soups, jams, cordials and liqueurs. From old favourites like elderflowers and sloes, to the more unusual sorrel and fat hen, nature’s larder offers up a feast of possibilities. The advent of intrepid cooks, like Gill Meller and Rosie Birkett, has led to an insatiable urban foraging trend. But while hipsters swarm the Hackney marshes, why not venture further afield and sample the bounty of the Chiltern Hills. Barely forty minutes from London, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is rich in rivers and woodland. From Ashridge Estate to Wendover wood, enthusiastic foragers are spoilt for choice. Penn Wood, with its unique variety of fungus, has been ranked as one of the best foraging destinations in Britain. One is certain to emerge bright-eyed with a promising basket of woodland treasure.

While it’s often agreed that autumn, with its blackberries and mushrooms, is the favourite of many a seasoned forager; spring offers its own abundance. At this time of year the Chiltern woodlands come alive with dandelions, nettles and wild garlic. Those looking for a little guidance can accompany foraging aficionado, Fred Gillam (aka Fred the Forager), as he explores the rich pickings of spring. Fred has been foraging for over thirty years and knows exactly what can be safely picked and what to avoid. He also shares tips on how to forage sustainably, so that other creatures get their fair share of the pickings (Book here).

Foraging happily satisfies two of my abiding passions, seasonal eating and free food. Now that I’m officially a country bumpkin, the time is nigh to make my own foray in foraging. As something of a beginner, wild garlic is one of the best places to start. During the months of March to May, you’ll likely find it growing in any deciduous woodland. Armed with the warning that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish from the similar looking, but deadly poisonous, lily of the valley, I proceeded with just a little caution, but I needn’t have worried. When one is in the midst of wild garlic its unlikely you’ll question its authenticity. Its vibrant, almost obnoxious, garlic aroma is unmistakable. The smell is particularly pungent when the garlic flowers are over and the plant has run to seed.

Unlike many things that taste delicious, wild garlic has the benefit of being supremely good for you. Not just your average woodland ‘weed’, it’s particularly effective in reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol. From leaf to flower, every part of wild garlic is edible; but I would suggest avoiding the bulb, as on occasion it can lead to an unforgiving stomach upset. When focusing on the leaves, the possibilities are endless. It’s delicious tossed into salad or wilted in olive oil. Jamie Oliver suggests roasting it with jersey royals and the Chiltern Food Magazine shares a tasty recipe for Arancini. I decided to keep things simple with these two recipes that allow wild garlic to be the star of the show.

Wild Garlic Ravioli

Ingredients:

For the pasta:
150g ’00’ pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
1 egg and 2 yolks
1 tsp olive oil

For the filling:
200g wild garlic leaves, wilted in olive oil
30g parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
30g hazelnut
1tsp olive oil
A pinch of salt

To serve:
40g butter
20g hazelnuts
parmesan shavings
A handful of rocket

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Start by making the pasta. Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and olive oil. Using the thing end of a wooden spoon, mix the eggs and flour together, eventually bringing it together with your hands. If it’s a little dry, slowly add a little more egg.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes, until its nice and smooth. Don’t worry if its a little tough, as it will soften. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling. Place the wilted wild garlic, parmesan, hazelnuts and olive oil into a food processor, and blitz until it resembles a pesto. Add the ricotta and pulse the processor for a few seconds, until the ricotta is just combined with the pesto.

Remove the dough from the fridge, flatten it a little with your hands and feed it through the widest setting on the pasta machine.  Then fold the dough in three and feed through the pasta machine again. Continue to pass the dough through the machine, progressively narrowing the rollers each time. Once you get to the narrowest setting, pass the dough through twice.

Put the sheet of pasta onto a lightly floured surface, and using a large cookie cutter or jar top, cut the pasta into round disks, and place on a floured surface. You should have enough dough to make roughly 24 disks. Dollop a spoonful of filling onto the centre of 12 disks. Use your finger to tap water around each blob of filling. Cover with the remaining disks, carefully squeezing around the filling, making sure there are no air pockets. Pinch around the edges of each ravioli, making sure they are well sealed.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a medium heat, simmering until brown and nutty (about 3 minutes). Remove from the heat and put to one side. Cook the ravioli in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. When it’s ready remove with a slotted spoon and add to the melted butter.

Scatter over the shaved parmesan pieces, hazelnuts and rocket and serve immediately.

Wild Garlic Soup

Ingredients:

80g butter
1 white onion, chopped
1 large potato, approximately 400g
1 leak
600ml chicken stock
50 wild garlic leaves, washed
salt and pepper

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Heat 50g of the butter in a large Le Creuset style pot. Add the chopped onion and sweat for a few minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the leek and potato. Cook for a minute or so, then add the stock. Bring to a simmer, pop the lid on and leave to cook for 5-10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

 Meanwhile in a separate frying pan, heat the remaining butter and wilt the wild garlic until just softened. Place the wilted leaves in a food processor and pulse until it resembles a pesto.

Just as the potatoes are finished cooking, add the wild garlic to the stock mixture and remove from the heat. Let it cool slightly before pouring into a food processor and blending until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot, add the cream and heat through. If you feel the soup is a little thick, add more chicken stock until its the consistency you prefer. Season with salt and pepper

Serve hot with a drizzle of cream or a dollop of creme fraiche.