The West Country of England has one of the strongest food artisan communities in the world. Bringing together the heritage and artisanal skill of six counties, today’s West Country artisan food & drink producers excel in marrying culinary delights steeped in history with innovative food that excites the tastebuds and the imagination.
Cornwall – the Cornish pasty or ‘oggy’ is likely the first thing to spring to mind but, delicious as they are, Cornwall has a lot more besides, with over 60 types of cheese and a fascinating range of traditional delights, steeped in the county’s history. Not surprisingly, with its long stretches of stunning coastline, Cornwall has made a name for itself with fish and seafood – not least the peerless Newlyn crab. And to wash it down, your traditional Cornish tipple is likely to be a beer, ale, stout or perhaps a mead.
The county’s lush grasslands make it ideal for dairy farming and Cornwall can lay claim to outstanding clotted cream, fudge and ice-cream, made in its many creameries – and is home to the world’s largest producer of clotted cream, Rodda’s.
Cornwall has a wonderful range of traditional cakes and biscuits like the Hevva cake made with lard and the crunchy, buttery fairing biscuits. The pièce de résistance is the saffron bun – essentially a teacake with a sprinkling of the very expensive spice. Rumour has it that ancient Phoenicians first brought the saffron to Cornwall when they traded for tin.
Devon – high quality dairy and seafood are the hallmark of this county’s food and drink. Many top chefs have made this their home, attracted by a rich supply of fine, locally-sourced produce. Famous for its many dairy creameries – including Ambrosia – Devon has given birth to some of our favourite sweet-tooth treats.
Who can resist melt-in-the-mouth fudge, the richest of ice-cream or clotted cream teas (with jam on the top) accompanied with a Devonshire Split – a bread roll enriched with butter and a little sugar. Then there are the cheeses – the Curworthy, Sharpham, Beenleigh Blue, Vulscombe and the award-winning Devon Blue are all made in the county.
Devon also boasts an impressive array of artisans and local food producers from chilli and dairy farmers, coffee roasters and micro-brewers, to winemakers and blueberry farmers.
Dorset – this county is truly a gem with top-notch cheese, seafood, cider and ale. Not forgetting lamb from the Isle of Portland with its exceptionally high-quality, fine texture and wonderful flavour. Traditional Dorset food treats include an apple spice cake, made by Leakers in Bridport since the 1800s, and the Royal Portland pudding made with dried fruit and candied peel. Sweet indulgence can also be found in any one of the 30 different Purbeck ice-creams or the Cerne Abbas Giant shortbread cookie made by Fudge’s Bakery since the 1980s.
Then there are Dorset Knobs – a very hard savoury biscuit – only made in January and February by Moores Biscuits of Morcombelake. They’re so hard that the tradition is to soak them in tea. They’re also eaten with cheese and, on that front, Dorset really spoils you for choice.
Perhaps the most famous cheese is the Dorset Blue Vinney produced by Woodbridge Farm in Stock Gaylard since the 1980s after they resurrected a 300-year-old recipe, but it’s also worth checking out other varieties including hand-made cheeses by Woolsery in Dorchester.
You’re sure to find plenty to wash it all down. From the award-winning Badger ales by Hall & Woodhouse in Blandford Forum to the Mighty Hop – a family-owned micro-brewery, nestled in the heart of Lyme Regis.
Gloucestershire – there’s definitely a buzz about Gloucestershire and its strong artisan community, built on a long culinary heritage. Always innovative, this county has never been afraid to be different, preferring to use left-over meat and apples in its version of Squab Pie, and suet dough in its pancakes. And you can’t mention Gloucestershire food without talking about its cheeses, with some wonderfully named and tasty choices.
The world-famous Double Gloucester, with its mellow flavour, has been made in the Vale of Gloucester for over a thousand years. Then there’s the stand-out artisan cheese, Stinking Bishop, made by hand in a Dymock farm with milk from Fresian cows and the once-endangered Gloucestershire cattle.
Gloucestershire’s artisanal food scene is incredibly diverse, with award-winning producers like Stroud Brewery – producing organic and vegan beer from local ingredients – and Cheltenham’s gin makers, Sibling Distillery. Tubby Tom’s hand-made sauces from Gloucester are gaining national acclaim and Rave produces delightful speciality coffee, roasted and blended in Cirencester.
Somerset food and drink has so much to offer – from its famous West Country Farmhouse Cheddar cheese and Exmoor Whortleberry jam, to wine from internationally-acclaimed vineyards and cider sold in over 170 countries. The county is home to popular brands like Miles Tea & Coffee, Wyke Farms, Thatchers Cider, Butcombe Brewery and Yeo Valley, with a thriving Somerset food artisan community including many microbreweries, ice cream makers, organic farmers and award-winning cheese makers.
See behind the scenes of a working brewery at Perry’s Cider Museum or visit one of the few places in the country to still make Cheddar cheese by hand – The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company.
Wiltshire food has been heavily influenced by its pig farming heritage which has been the inspiration behind many of the county’s traditional culinary delights. Take the Lardy Cake – made with left over lard from the pig, bread dough, sugar and currants. Then there’s Bacon Fraise – bacon fried in batter – and Devizes Pie, made from pork, veal, tongue and boiled eggs.
Cheese has an equally long history as a staple Wiltshire food. Originally made in the north of the county from the milk of long horn cattle, Wiltshire cheese is matured for longer to produce an intense flavour.
The people of Wiltshire’s past certainly had a sweet-tooth and created an array of cakes and puddings – many are still eaten today. Take the Marlborough Cake, a sponge with caraway seeds, or Druids Cake made with apples, spices and mead, and then there’s the Malmesbury Pudding, with a suet paste, filled with butter, sugar and lemon.
Today, the artisanal food scene continues to thrill and amaze with its incredible variety of fine produce. From Wiltshire Chilli Farm and John Hurd’s organic watercress to Bush Farm Bison.