Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of buying locally grown and sourced food – reducing food miles, celebrating our gourmet greats and championing the producers in our midst. Here we take a closer look at some of our local food and drink heroes
If you appreciate well grown, produced, brewed and bred food, you’re living in a great part of the world to embrace it. Across the lush valleys of Wales, throughout the rich plains of Cheshire and across the fertile lands of Shropshire, the Shire patch is one of gourmet greatness.
Changing consumer preferences also make this a good time to be one of those aforementioned producers – as shoppers and eaters, we’re getting pickier and demanding more from our plate than the mass-produced supermarket fodder so many of us were brought up on.
‘Provenance and traceability have always been important to our customers, but we’re seeing a rising interest in this generally among food shoppers,’ says Jon Edwards, managing director of Ludlow Food Centre. ‘Food shoppers are also showing a greater interest in the impact that the production process of the food they buy has on the environment, from the ingredients the food contains and how it is sourced to the packaging it’s presented in.’
Changing times and tastes
‘Looking at the environmental impact of production and packaging is gaining momentum nationally, not just in the food industry but across the board – from toiletries and clothing to plastic-free towns,’ Jon continues. ‘The increasing media coverage of the demise of the high street and adverts from some of the big brands to encourage shoppers to shop locally are also inspiring shoppers to look at their buying habits.’
Now that everyone wants to know about their food provenance, members of the Shire team have been out and about, catching up with food producers around our area. Over the next few pages, we have flagged up some of the most interesting to help you make the most of what’s on offer near you.
Shopping, sampling and celebrating
Bypassing the big supermarkets in favour of more specific retail options is a great way to expand your food knowledge and seek out some rather special suppliers
Town markets offer a wealth of foodie treats and have been doing so for some time – Oswestry’s indoor and outdoor markets, for example, date back to the Middle Ages.
The market in the Shropshire town attracts traders from far and wide, who bring with them a range of bespoke services and goods. Foodies will particularly enjoy the artisan market that takes place on the last Friday of every month, which sells the best in local produce including fresh pies and pastries, meat and fish, cheeses and cakes, and more.
Another good way to find delicacies and get some great advice on seasonal treats is to visit a specialist, such as Porter’s Delicatessen in Llangollen. This family-run deli sources the very best cheese, charcuterie, gourmet foods and hard-to-find ingredients for the benefit of local and visiting shoppers. There is an ever-changing range and the team are always on the lookout for new and delicious gourmet foods.
From farm to fork
But if you want the freshest goods with the fewest possible food miles, it’s best to go direct – which is why farm shops are a great bet for foodies. Offering a mixture of home-grown and locally sourced specialities, a farm shop is a great day out as well as a brilliant way to shop, and there are lots to visit.
A great place to start is Lewis’s Farm Shop in Eyton, near Wrexham, which offers something for everyone all under one roof. Shoppers are welcome to visit the butchery and kitchen, as well as the shop floor, and the talented kitchen team bake an array of sweet and savoury goods daily, all prepared from scratch using the finest ingredients and traditional techniques. Most of its suppliers are right on the doorstep, with bread from Johnstown Bakery in Wrexham, eggs from Nant Ucha Farm in Trevor and a superb selection of cheese from Whitchurch.
Another great local choice is Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, where local producers are celebrated alongside on-site specialities. The main hub is set in 20 acres of farmed land in Flintshire, just 10 minutes’ drive from Chester. This is where shoppers can find the award-winning butchery and deli, a busy café, a food hall packed with independent producers, a smoke shack, adventure play area, and pick-your-own fruit and vegetables.
In Shropshire, one farm shop has become a beacon for local producers in the middle of the Albrighton Estate in Shrewsbury. Battlefield 1403 describes itself as being more than just a farm shop and it’s easy to see why. As well as being one of the best butcheries in the UK, it has a well-stocked deli counter, a shop full of speciality local goodies, an exhibition celebrating the Battle of Shrewsbury, a falconry centre and a café serving great homemade food.
At Ludlow Farmshop, even more food heroes are gathered together and championed by this pioneering site of specialist suppliers. The shop, which was established in 2007, is located in the heart of the Earl of Plymouth’s Oakly Park Estate. The working farm supplies the shop with beef, lamb, pork, venison, game, fresh fruit and vegetables, and fresh milk to make cheese and ice cream.
The team are constantly looking for ways to work with more growers, producers and farmers to support both the local economy and the beautiful countryside, and 80 per cent of what is on sale is either made on site or sourced from Shropshire and the surrounding counties.
Popular produce includes local honey, sirloin steaks, fillet of beef, rib of beef on the bone and traditional pork sausages. The team have accepted many awards for their handmade cheeses and homemade pies such as chicken, leek and tarragon pie, and the delicious Eccles cakes are always fast movers.
Another local favourite is Bellis Brothers Farm Shop, an independent family business located between Wrexham and Chester. The store supplies locally sourced produce and treats, from daily essentials to speciality goods such as flavoured oils and local beers.
Bellis Brothers really comes into its own in the summer, when families flock from miles around to pick their own fruit. Bellis Brothers has been growing strawberries in Holt since 1860. Today it grows strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, tayberries, loganberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, rhubarb, peas, beans and pumpkins, opening in mid-June for most fruits and ending the season with pumpkins in October.
Making the meat you eat a treat
A great steak or the perfect sausages can really make a meal – which is why we’re so lucky to have some of the best producers the UK has to offer right on our doorstep
There’s simply no need to import from far and wide to get the very best meat. From award-winning Welsh lamb to famous sausages and beautiful beef, the Shire region has a meat industry of which we should be immensely proud.
One man who knows this only too well is Jamie Ward, an award-winning butcher whose Wrexham-based business is going from strength to strength. Taking on the family business, which started making wholesale sausages and home-cured bacon, Jamie has now opened his first shop, Jamie Ward’s Butchers & Delicatessen, based at Bellis Brothers Farm Shop just outside the north Wales town in Holt.
Jamie is developing new product lines all the time, including venison burgers with red wine and cranberry sauce, which are not only perfect for the forthcoming barbecue season but are also gluten free. His team has also put together ready meals, including cottage pie and beef and pork meatballs with Italian herb and tomato sauce. All in all, there is no doubt that at Jamie Ward’s the standard of meat is definitely a treat.
This is also true at Edwards Of Conwy, where excellence comes as standard. The company’s roots lie in north Wales, where founder and master butcher Ieuan Edwards, one of three sons born on a family farm in Llanrwst, realised that the land wasn’t big enough for all three sons to farm it and became an apprentice butcher instead. What Ieuan learned while serving his apprenticeship in now deeply rooted in the core values of his company.
‘I learned a lot of valuable lessons, and one of the most important was consistency – making sure people who buy your product enjoy it and want come back again and again,’ says Ieuan. In 1984, Ieuan embarked on butchery courses in Switzerland and Holland, and was ready to open his own butcher’s shop at the age of 20. His determination has paid off and the shop has since been crowned Best Butcher’s Shop Of The Year in Wales three times and won the UK title in 2014.
Another treat for meat eaters is the range of produce available at Cheerbrook Farm Shop in Nantwich, Cheshire. The company’s basic philosophy has always been to provide good quality and great value homemade and local food.
Cheerbrook’s was once a pork farm, but decided to diversify in 2000 following a decline in pork prices. Over the past 19 years, through organic growth, the farm has developed into a multi-award-winning farm shop, deli and café, employing more than 50 local people and supporting a number of small local producers with similar roots to the team at Cheerbrook themselves.
Making a broad range of produce in the butchery, delicatessen, kitchen and café, the Cheerbrook Farm Shop team are proud to provide top-quality meat from Aberdeen Angus cattle raised on a family farm at the foot of Bickerton Hill in Cheshire, where the cows graze on pasture as well as on the hill’s natural heathland.
All Cheerbrook’s beef is supplied by Robert and David Bourne, who work closely with the National Trust to sustainably manage the natural environment and restore one of Cheshire’s few remaining heathlands, demonstrating another benefit to keeping it local.
We couldn’t focus on the fine food produced locally without looking at the delicious drinks to wash it down with. Here are some of the brewers, distilleries and drink producers nearby
When it comes to drink trends over the past few years, fewer beverages have seen a more meteoric rise than gin. The introduction of countless flavours and colours and a dizzying array of mixers means gin is all the rage.
As this publication is at the cutting edge of all things, there’s even a gin named after us. OK, so not really! The artisan Shire Gin, which is lovingly crafted by the Glynn family at its Shropshire distillery, uses a traditional copper pot still, 100 per cent wheat grain spirit and ethically sourced botanicals such as juniper, English coriander, orris and angelica to create smooth and balanced dry gins. We might not actually be named after it, but we’ll drink to that!
If gin isn’t your tipple of choice, you might like to try locally sourced and distilled Aber Falls Whisky. The distillery is one of only four in Wales, and the first in north Wales since the early 1900s, located within a stone’s throw of Rhaeadr Fawr, the famous Aber Falls waterfall. The firm’s whisky is distilled, bottled and matured on site, using ingredients from the surrounding area and traditional copper stills that produce refined, premium quality whisky.
Not far from the tree
A local tipple that has been produced in the area for generations is cider, and there are still great orchards and mills making it today. One cider that has scooped numerous awards is Rosie’s Triple D, brewed by Steve Hughes in Llandegla in north Wales. It might have taken Steve a while to perfect his recipe, but he’s now pumping out perfect perries and ciders on a regular basis.
‘For my first attempt, I collected fruit from our crab apple trees and added a few others from local sources. After nine hours’ work, I got five gallons of juice, which fermented naturally. Astonishingly, our four bottles of this first cider won gold awards with CAMRA!
‘That was in 2005 – we now have more than 1,000 standard apple trees made up of 69 different varieties.’
In Shropshire, a local producer spoiling us with specialist ciders is Hare Moon Cider, made from apples grown, pressed and bottled at Wigginton Farm in St Martin’s. Varieties including Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Browns, Langworthy and Kingston Black are grown free of sprays and fertiliser. The brown hare for which the cider is named is a resident of the orchard, enjoying the shelter and windfalls the apple trees provide.
Operated by Steve and Kerry Younger, the cider-making orchard is carefully managed. Once the apples are harvested, the whole fermenting and maturing process is slowed down to create a more traditional, deeper flavoured cider. There are sparkling sweet, sparkling dry and still dry varieties, and the three ciders are the perfect treat for anyone who appreciates a locally grown drink.