Because local isn’t enough

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Buy local?

 

There’s lots written about supporting local and independent businesses, particularly on the food front. And when you think that two thirds of food sold in the UK is sold through the supermarkets, and of the many food scandals of 2013, then I can most definitely understand the appeal.

But being a local food store isn’t enough, it doesn’t give the store the right to expect us in our droves to beat the path to their door. And then complain when we don’t turn up, or when we spend some of our money in the supermarkets class us as traitors to the cause. But if they don’t try to level the playing field where they can, then we can hardly be blamed for having make alternative choices occasionally.

I was thinking of some local businesses that I would frequent more. One I would definitely shop at more, never had a bad experience from there. And they’re open early every day. Which is probably great if you’re a local restaurant getting ready for service. But then they close at 5pm. And are not open on a Sunday. Or a Monday.

Or a lovely small deli and cafe that is perfect for after school coffees, even early tea. Except they close at 4.30 every day they are open, except a Friday. Oh, and they don’t open on a Sunday.

Or a delivery scheme that can’t be guaranteed to turn up.

Now I get the first two. If you want to make a lifestyle choice to run short hours then that’s fine, but it’s a choice you make. Opening hours are generally your choice, and you could choose to compete more with the big boys on this one. That said, there are amazing stores like Mmm and Glug in Newcastle who I am sure would open on a Sunday, but they can’t because of the restrictions of the location they are in.

Not turning up, or having sloppy approaches to customer care, is unforgiveable in any retailer, large or small. Eventually customers run out of patience, and there is always another choice they can make. And they will.

God knows, I know retail is hard work, I’ve worked in it most of my adult life. But it is never a case of build it and they will come. Or they might come once. But it’s up to you to give them reasons to come back regularly. Make the choice a no brainer for them. Then they will come. Or choose not to, and they won’t. No matter how local you are.

Because we all have choices.

 

Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr.

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Come to Leicester!

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Come and discover untold food treats in Leicester - an unexpected but rewarding break for a food lover

No, really! I know it’s not Ludlow or Abergavenney, but I love Leicester, particularly the market, which is a great traditional food market. This is not a chi chi farmers market, this is your “traditional” fruit and veg done really well, and reflecting Leicester’s position as the first UK city with no overall ethnic majority. This makes it the best place to go for really good unusual fruit and veg, offering a variety I’ve never seen in the supermarkets, and certainly at much better prices.

And from this Friday, there’ll be eating options on a Friday and Saturday to really reflect the rich culinary diversity of the county. Indian vegetarian food what you’re hankering after? Bobby’s will be there to meet that need. Need Italian style carbs? That’ll be Casa Romana’s job. Cup of decent coffee? One shot or two from Deli Flavour Delicatessen?

After a day of eating your way around the market, you might want somewhere great to stay, and I’d say give Hotel Maiyango a look. Maybe after a quick lie down, you’ll be ready to work your way through their dinner menu, not to mention the cocktail list, which is really quite something.

Do something different and discover the rich breadth of food on offer here in the Midlands. Just save me a space at Bobby’s, mine’s a Khandvi please!

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More than leeks and daffs

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More to Wales than...

 

How could I forget? Today is St David’s Day, which will see many expats come over all nostalgic for their homeland. There’ll be a bit of Bryn Terfel on, the legend of Gelert will be told, and no doubt a pint or two of Dark will be drunk. That said, there are a few other decent food and drink producers from Wales that they could be indulging in. Here’s a few to consider if you need a gift for an expat, or just a good food lover.

* You’ll probably need to start with some excellent Welsh lamb, so try the Organic Lamb Box from Slade Farm Organics. Prize winning, fed on their mother’s milk on organic clover pastures, this box will give you a fantastic selection of different cuts, including shoulder on and off the bone, leg and burgers. Enjoy some now, and some would make for great barbecuing when we get some warmer weather.

* For something smokey with great taste, try the Gourmet Hamper from the Black Mountains Smokery. Taking this beyond just good smoked salmon, they’d also get smoked chicken and duck breasts, smoked boned whole quail and smoked Welsh Dragon sausages amongst others. A real family business, producing great food with great taste.

* My next one was recommended by one of the world’s greatest Pimms drinkers, and she’s pretty good at brownies too! Kate Jenkins from Gower Cottage Brownies reckons Aerona is possibly even better than Pimms when mixed in a similar way. Made from Welsh Aronia berries, which I know nothing about, and the website will do nothing to enlighten you. I’ll take it on Kate’s recommendation that is worth a try for a lover of unusual drinks, or just a Welshman looking for an alternative to the Englishness of Pimms!

* For something a little different to spread on their toast, then how about the Blackcurrant and Liquorice Jam from Pant Glas Bach Preserves? A nostalgic taste, those sweets of childhood preserved in a jar. Will definitely liven up breakfast time!

* If you want a great Welsh hamper,then try either Y Bwrti Deli’s All Year Gift Hamper, or else I’m very fond of Bodlon. Their selections start at £9.50, and go up to a spectacular vintage apple crate of goodies at £150. Lovely though. Also a really good source for Welsh homewares as well. You could get them the Welsh national anthem tea towel, if you think they don’t know the words. I also really like the ceramics from Keith Brymer Jones, like the Cariad mugs. Lovely wedding gift for a lovely Welsh couple. Or perhaps a couple with links to Wales. Keith, get them to the Palace now!

There’s so much good food related stuff going on across Wales that you could criss-cross the country from now until next St David’s Day and you’d still be finding great stuff to eat and drink, great places to eat, and great places to stay. Just stay out of Chip Alley!

Photo by zoonabar on Flickr.

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Shame the local liars

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Liar liar, pants on fire - shaming those businesses trying to pretend they're local

This report made me really mad: a fifth of foods labelled “local” are making the claim falsely. The words band and wagon come to mind, and those companies and businesses that have been doing this really ought to be named and shamed.

I mean can you imagine, there you are trying to do the right thing, only to find that your Welsh lamb actually came from New Zealand, and your Devon ham from Denmark. Confused would be one thing to feel, pretty hacked off is another. Sadly, there is no legal definition for “local” right now, so there are limited powers to do anything.

What can we do? I would say ask lots of questions, get to know suppliers, ask some more questions, check them out. The internet is a powerful resource, for checking them out, for seeing what other people are saying, for making others aware if you think there’s something odd going on. Try Local Food Advisor, seems to be a good starting point, but nothing can beat your own nosiness!

Pants on Fire shot by Brad Gillette on Flickr.

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Hampers unhampered by bad taste

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Not all Christmas hampers are naff: great hamper gifts for food lovers with taste

Apologies to those who were reading my posts last year, as I did write something similar after the horror of finding the Kids Treat frozen food hamper, but hopefully a year on, a whole heap of other interesting options have materialised to write about.

The hampers I love are those that enable you to send someone something a bit different, or something they’d usually eat but a bit more unusual or premium than their usual. Here’s my choices for this year:

* I’ve already written about how wonderful the hamper was I received from The Spanish Food Company, but definitely worth a second mention, and having a look at. I certainly thought for £30 that it was a really good selection of things, and the quality is fantastic. We’re very sad to have come to the end of the chorizo, which is kind of the reaction that you’re going to want from any gift you send. (UPDATE: sadly The Spanish Food Company are no longer trading, try Brindisa for an alternative)

* Moving slightly further North and Bien Manger are a great source for French gourmet treats. Their little box of treats is more tin than hamper, but for just under £22 gives a French food lover some tasty morsels to tempt their tastebuds over the festive season. The fig chutney will be a fantastic accompaniment to the duck foie gras, and then there’s a ballotine of capon with saffron, that could be a whole Christmas meal in one! Which you can finish off with chocolate truffles or salted butter caramels.

* Lets not forget the brilliance of our own food producers, and BritishFineFoods.com is a great place to find beautiful produce. For something that brings together some great British additions to any pantry, then try their Christmas basket. Smoked salmon from Inverawe, some blue Wensleydale, and some great duck liver pate, and you could be snowed in on Christmas Day and not go hungry.

* Not so much a hamper, as a chest from the Fine Food Store, but packed with organic goodies to keep the organic food lover happy. Some good stuff from Duchy Organics like Lemon Curd and Blackcurrant Preserve, as well as some coffee and pate to keep you going. If you want, and have the budget, then you also have the option to add wine or champagne to this. Currently this will set you back £65, without the wine, from Fine Food Store.

* For something packed with sunshine flavours, then try Maroque for flavours of Morocco. The Little Yellow Cookbook Ingredients Collection gives you the key spices and ingredients for the dishes in the cookbook (which can be downloaded for free). All the key flavours are there: rose and orange water, tahina, paprika, saffron…like sunshine in a box. Could brighten up Boxing Day leftovers, that’s for sure!

* Somewhere not necessarily renowned for its sunshine, but does produce some fantastic produce is Wales.  I would suggest for homesick expats then you might want to send them the Luxury Welsh Hamper from Oil & More. Everything from Welsh tea to laverbread, plus more tasty fare like oatcakes and Penderyn whisky.

* Whisk are like the contemporary version of a hamper company, with some great choices. I wouldn’t object to finding my stocking stuffed with their Foodie Stocking Filler, which contains tasty treats such as spiced winter chutney, marmalade and a baby Christmas cake amongst other things. You could tuck into all of this before you even got out of bed on Christmas morning.

So I think it’s time to stop thinking of hampers as something a bit naff and old fashioned, and instead see them as a whole heap of fantastic foodie gift ideas all conveniently wrapped up in one box. Well, you’ve heard of bulk buying!

Festive food inspiration by Dano on Flickr.

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Getting ready for Christmas in the East Midlands

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I thought it was time to give a quick mention to some of the great food companies and farm shops here on the doorstep of FGH Towers, particularly as we, and they, are gearing up for Christmas.

First up would be W E Botterill and Son in Croxton Kerrial. It must be that eerily quiet time of year in Croxton, when the geese are no longer herded through the village, and a silence has fallen. If you’re looking for a free range goose, then this is a great place to shop for one, and am also very fond of their turkey. Their bronze turkey has graced the Christmas table here on several occasions, and very tasty and moist it was too. Also, whilst cost is not the only reason for choice, much more reasonable than a very large producer of good quality birds. Whilst I’m all for paying for quality, there wasn’t as big a gap in taste as the price gap might have led you to believe.

Heading west a bit to Melton and head into Brockleby’s, and I would be stocking up on pies, particularly of the pork variety. Brockleby’s Melton Mowbray pork pie is the only one made with free range meat, and also uses local flour from Whissendine Mill in the hot-water pastry. They’re also doing a wild game pie, perfect for a Boxing Day buffet without effort. And for something a bit different for the Christmas table then check out their own Hebridean lamb, a slow maturer that develops a richer, fuller flavour whilst retaining meat of great tenderness. Perfect turkey antidote!

Cross the border into Nottinghamshire, and I’d be on my way to Gonalston Farm Shop. This is a shop that has undergone huge expansion over the years we’ve been going there, and has a huge selection for you to pick from. Whilst there is a huge choice of meat, their fish counter is also really good, and always worth a stop by. Great smoked fish selection, particularly for salmon, so that’s Christmas morning scrambled eggs, bagels and smoked salmon sorted out. If you’re around on Wednesday 10 November, they’re holding their Festive Food Fayre between 11 and 6.30pm.

Last stop now, and pretty much on the doorstep, for Crossroads Farm Shop at Eastwell. Family run by the Hewsons, this is my stopping point (or actually dispatching Dr T point as time doesn’t allow) for pork and beef. The pork comes from their own reared Middle Whites and Berkshires, which you can go see in the farmyard. We’re having a rib of Lincoln Red for Christmas from them, which will have been well hung for 3 weeks.

It’s also a great stop for a quick coffee and some very delicious cake. I love that they do not just whole cakes to take home but suitable sizes for every household size or appetite. They’re also stockists for Great Food Leicestershire & Rutland magazine. You remember I said I would watch and see how this one got on? Well it’s on edition three, and seems to be doing very nicely. Although now got some dodgy local woman writing about food gifts for Christmas in the latest edition.

So wherever you are, get out and support your local food shops and producers, and remember if you treat them right, they’re for life, not just for Christmas!

Nervous turkey shot by richcianci on Flickr.

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Are farm shops cheaper?

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Really interesting piece over on BigBarn, about whether or not farm shops are cheaper than your local supermarket. There’s a bit of a split emerging in the comments, between “yes they are” and the “no” camp. And, to be honest, I’ve seen both sides of that argument in different farm shops locally.

There’s a very large, well developed farm shop that I’ve been known to frequent, but even I sometimes baulk at the pricing on non-essential lines, and some of the veg. My local farm shop is nothing smart (some people have been known to object to the amount of mud in the yard, but it is a shop on a farm for heavens sake). It may not have trendy food brands, but it has great local stuff, I can talk to him about what he’s just butchered (I could have gone to look it at various points in its lifecycle) and I’ll come away thinking I’ve paid a fair price.

And I think that’s the thing we lose sight of. It’s about paying what’s a fair price to everyone involved in the chain, not some huge corporation creaming off  a large profit whilst the farmer sees very little of that. Or the consumer not necessarily seeing much more for their cash.

I am sure as times get tougher over the months ahead, then everyone will need to look at their pricing, and those who deliver fair value will hopefully win through. And this may be the perfect year to think of buying food gifts, as we all may end up cutting back a bit on the luxuries, and isn’t that what Christmas is made for? Even better, go out and find interesting things from local food producers, and your local farm shop may be just the place to start.

Make your own hampers up of local jam, honey, beer, cordial…whatever takes your fancy from your local area. I always think hampers are great for older recipients, who often say they don’t want or need anything, but would still appreciate the gesture of something delicious. If you’ve not found a farm shop near you, BigBarn is a great resource for tracking them down and, if that fails, try their online marketplace. Remember, there is no reason at all that fair trade shouldn’t start at home.

Great atmospheric shot of the fight against the onslaught by Tomek Augustyn on Flickr.

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What I’d like to be taking to China

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Selected by Neals Yard to reflect some of the best in British Cheese

 

I’m off on a trip for the day job to China, which I’m really looking forward to. Love Chinese food and hoping to get some time out to try and get to eat some.

But there does come a point in a trip where I do suddenly crave a taste of home. On a trip to Japan, even though I’d been living on the most amazing sushi most of the week, I had a very memorable meal of chicken pie and chips washed down with half a pint of Guinness. And it was delicious.

So I do always tend to pack some tastes of home. But the one thing that is difficult to carry, but something I always end up wanting, is proper British cheese. I crave a proper piece of a decent Cheddar. If I could have it in a sandwich with some Branston I’d be even happier. Or a piece of Sparkenhoe Red Leicester with some crackers and butter.

I don’t think that the Chinese have a particularly long or big tradition of cheese making, so not sure there’ll be loads of local cheese tempting me. So if you fancy sending me an emergency parcel then let me know! Any of the great boxes from Pong would probably do the trick, thanks! And if you hear news of any unpleasantness at Shanghai airport involving impounding cheese…well, temptation is a strong thing!

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Belvoir Buzz or Manor House Honey?

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Our honey has gone on sale in our village shop today, so pretty low on food miles as the hive is approximately 100 metres from the shop as the crow, or bee flies.

It’s also gone in with a bit of a market research question, as the beekeepers can’t agree on a brand name! Do we go traditional, with Manor House Honey, or with the modern alliteration of Belvoir Buzz. Just bear in mind that round here Belvoir is pronounced beaver.

What would you go for?

What ever they call it, the honey is really delicious but with only one hive it really will be small scale production. I’ve a feeling they will be hunting for space for more hives for next summer, so I’ll be building up my collection of honey based recipes!

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You’re going to uni. Now what? A foodie perspective

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A’level results are out and so a whole new batch of students will be heading off into the world, ready to fend for themselves and cook their own dinners. So, what kind of foodie student are you dispatching to uni and what do they need to see them on their way? Depends on where they already are on their food journey. Here’s a few suggestions:

The non cooking student

Oh dear, they’ve got through at least 18 years with no cooking skill at all. Maybe best put them into halls of residence that provide everything. Otherwise suggest either you need to give them a very rapid crash course in basic cooking at home, or a copy of Delia’s How to Cook. And get down to IKEA and buy them one of those kitchen starter sets.

The novice student

So, they’ve done a bit of cooking and know how to turn the cooker on. They may have cooked you dinner. They may know one type of pasta from another. They at least know what pasta is. They could be very popular though, as being able to cook could make them a lot of friends on their floor! Here’s a few thoughts for them:

* Provide them with their favourite recipes from home. You could cook them with them a few times, write them out, put them in a Word document on their laptop, make videos and post on YouTube…any way you can think of to give them a taste of home.

* If you’ve got recipes that need specific mixes of herbs or spices then you could package them up for them, as herbs and spices might not be top of their spending list. Craving for mum’s cooking is what set the idea for Spicentice in motion. Or add a few of the Spicentice packs into their packing.

* They’ll need some kitchen stuff. I would suggest they will need a large saucepan (one that you could get a steamer in as well) for doing pasta, which they may do a lot of, and you could give them a non-stick frying pan for fry ups, omelettes, even stir frys. A small non stick pan for scrambled eggs or beans. And then I would add a decent casserole dish in. I’ve had a Le Creuset one for over 20 years, and it’s truly the best for one pot cooking. Throw in a chopping board, a few decent knives and something like the Joseph Joseph stacking set, and they can cook up a huge variety of dishes.

* Give them a great store cupboard to start off with. Let’s face it, with this lot, there are a great combo of meals that they could produce. I would pack them off with: several kinds of pasta, including fettucine or pappardelle and fusilli or penne; two olive oils, one extra virgin, one ordinary and a more bland oil like groundnut; pesto, tomato puree, olive paste, anything to add extra flavour to just about anything else, likewise soy sauce and a reasonable balsamic; tinned standbys like chickpeas, tuna, salmon, tomatoes; rice for risotto and biryanas, bulgar wheat for pilaf  and cous cous. That should keep them going until their first trip home!

* Freezer bags or boxes, so that nothing goes to waste.

The Gourmand Student

Oh, this one you’re going to have to frisk before they leave!

* Check out what bits of your kit they’ve been using regularly in your kitchen, and buy them their own. Face into it, if you’ve got decent knives, good pans or exciting kit, then they’ll be off before you can wave them goodbye.

* Stock them with the goodies they might have got used to like Frescobaldi Laudemio Extra Virgin Olive Oil or a chunk of black truffle. You could also just give them the same products I listed for the Novice Student but at the best available level.

* They’ll be the king or queen of seasonal cooking, so perhaps sign them up for an allotment. That way they can have fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, and grow varieties that even Waitrose don’t stock. Try Landshare to see what’s available near the uni, or register for a plot. Sign them up to the Heritage Seed Library or check out Sarah Raven and pack them off with a year’s worth of unusual seeds.

* Give them a list of all the local food markets and farmer’s markets, as they’ll be their natural food hunting ground. Get them a trolley to lug home their precious food treasures in.

My favourite tip is to pack them off with a large cake, or a whole lot of cupcakes. Things perfect for sharing with your new neighbours. Tea and cake, perfect for every kind of student. Unless the novice can’t boil water!

Tomorrow, going to cover alternatives to the student cookbooks that would still set them up to have a great repertoire without going into debt.

Leaving home shot by Leafar on Flickr

 

Off to university

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