It may be characterised by high downland and wide valleys, by the ancient stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury and by the famous white horses carved into its hillsides, but Wiltshire is as famous for exceptional food and drink as it is for its stunning countryside.sampled the culinary delights of this West Country heaven for foodies
From the former railway town (and now buzzing modern metropolis) of Swindon to the Cathedral city of Salisbury and Wilton – the ancient capitol of Saxon Wessex – Wiltshire’s rolling hills, chalk plains and river valleys are home to a wealth of producers, offering food and drink of the utmost quality.
The county is awash with some stunning cheesemakers. At Loosehanger Farmhouse Cheeses in Redlynch, Ness and Gwyn Williams have developed an award-winning range of original recipes that capture the flavour and characteristics of the pure Ayrshire cows’ milk used as the basis for all of their cheeses. Old Sarum, a velvety cheese with blue-green veining and a natural grey rind, was crowned Best Blue Cheese at the 2007 British Cheese Awards, and many of the dairy’s other cheeses are equally highly praised.
In the village of Hamptworth, the shelves of Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers must be groaning under the weight of the dozens of awards their cheeses have garnered over the years. Situated on the very edge of the New Forest, Mike and Judy Smales make superb cheese, and the Old Winchester (described by The Sunday Telegraph as “delicious, strong and characterful”) and garlic and nettle varieties deserve space on any discerning cheeseboard.
Visit any farm shop or deli in the region and the chances are that you’ll come across a product or two from Highgrove Fine Foods, which has nothing to do with HRH’s Gloucestershire abode. The company’s ever-expanding range includes anything from goose fat (essential for the perfect roast spud) to clotted cream, casserole sauces and 100 per cent natural sea salt. You may also find some of the excellent English wines produced by a’Beckett’s Vineyard of Littleton Panell near Devizes. Earlier this year a’Beckett’s won gold for its Estate Rosé as well as taking the top trophy at the Wessex Vineyards Association Wine of the Year Competition.
There are plenty of other top-rated drinks suppliers in the region, such as Stonehenge Ales, which opened for business in 1984 in an old water-powered mill (and former electricity generator) in Netheravon. The brewery recently added to its distinguished list of accolades with a gold award at the SIBA South West Beer Competition 2008 for Danish Dynamite, a strong and fruity golden ale.
With products in more than 1200 speciality delicatessens, butchers and farm shops across the UK, another name you’ll find it hard to avoid is Tracklements, which produces award-winning chutneys, relishes (including the wonderful, gold award-winning Onion Marmalade) sauces and mustards. Founded in 1970 in Sherston by William Tullberg, the company is now run by his son, Guy, who heads up a team of about 50 staff. Each day they produce a phenomenal 10,000 jars from a range of more than 50 different products, using traditional methods and recipes. New for autumn is sweetcorn and crabapple relish, and they’ve a great selection of Christmas essentials too, from gift boxes to le parfait jars of cranberry and orange sauce with port.
Being one of the country’s most landlocked counties, you’re not going to find any locally caught seafood. However, Wiltshire is home to Trafalgar Fisheries, one of the longest-established commercial fish farms in the UK. For more than 30 years Trafalgar has been producing and processing rainbow, golden and brown trout and, in 1999, was awarded Soil Association certification for both their brown and rainbow trout. Over in Mere, Chris and Janet Wood of the Mere Fish Farm (01747 860461) raise and smoke their own rainbow trout, producing delicious terrines, smoked trout parcels and miniature roulades, which you can purchase from their stalls at the Salisbury and Warminster farmers’ markets or direct from their farm.
With acre upon acre of rolling green pasture, it stands to reason that Wiltshire houses some excellent meat producers. One that makes great use of its close proximity to the New Forest is Newhouse Venison, of Gill’s Hole Farm, Redlynch (01794 884543). The company supplies top quality wild venison and an excellent range of sausages: old English traditional venison, venison with port and redcurrant, wild boar with cider and apple and the unusual hot venison firecracker. Ted Clancy, a licensed game dealer from Mere (01747 860121), sells everything from venison to wild boar, pigeon, rabbit and even squirrel at many farmers’ markets in the area – subject to season of course.
Will and Dawn Hawking run Marshfield Ice Cream, one of only a handful of ice cream manufacturers in England based on a working farm. “We milk 200 Friesian cows to produce the organic milk we put in our ice cream,” says Dawn. “We do not use any artificial additives or colouring and try to source local ingredients where possible. The brownie we use in our Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream is made by Marshfield Bakery, less than half a mile from the farm.” This small family business tripled capacity last year, extending the factory into the adjacent stables, and they’re constantly improving their range. Earlier this year the newly launched Blackcurrants in Clotted Cream flavour took gold at its debut Great Taste Awards outing.
The aforementioned Marshfield Bakery was started in 1984 by Paul and Lynne White from the kitchen of their house in Marshfield High Street. The bakery offers a mouth-watering selection of handmade cakes and biscuits – including the West Country-inspired Heritage range. “A great favourite at Christmas time is our delicious mince pies,” says sales director, Ben White. “We make our own mincemeat, chopping up apples, oranges and lemons ourselves, and use handmade butter pastry rolled out by hand.
“Staying in Wiltshire has definitely been beneficial to our growth,” Ben adds. “By doing so we have been able to continue to use locally sourced ingredients and keep our loyal staff. Wiltshire has a great food identity and we are proud to be part of it.”