There was much excitement in the pretty Shropshire market town of Ludlow when it was announced that the first British headquarters of the international Slow Food movement would open there in December 2006. It was stamp of approval for a town long considered the country’s Slow Food capital: it is already home to the UK branch of Cittaslow, the ‘slow town’ network. Every year, thousands of ‘foodies’ visit Ludlow’s annual festival (next will be held on September 7-9, 2007) to enjoy artisan chocolate, English wine, ales and cheeses from the area and fascinating ‘Taste’ workshops. All year round, the town’s three bakeries, four butchers, dells and restaurants offer fine local fare.
Slow Food originated in Italy but the British have taken to it in a big way. Last October, there were more than 60 British producers at Salone del Gusto – a biennial showcase of Slow Food producers held in Turin.
Created to counteract the onslaught ‘fast’ food, Slow Food is all about supporting artisan producers and safeguarding traditional regional specialities. Open to anyone with an interest in good food, the organization, created in 1989, has spread worldwide with 80,000 members. Convivia, regional groups of Slow Food members, are now being formed all over the UK. They are actively supporting and protecting local specialties and heritage verieties of grains, fruit, vegetable and livestock, all using environmentally sensitive methods: the end result is some of the country’s finest fare for both locals and visitors.
There are many Slow Foods to enjoy in Britain today; the following are justa few of the best outlets to look out for as you travel around.
True Perry, a unique drink made from heritage varieties of perry pears, has been a specialty of the West Midlands of England for over 400 years and is not supported by a Slow Food Praesidium – a local initiative to raise awareness of the product, safeguard its biodiversity and maintain traditional skills. This delicious drink is made by a small number of craft producers in the counties of Gloucester, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Worchestershire. Look for it in pubs and farm shops in the area, or visit one of the local cider and perry events to meet the producers.
About a hundred miles north-eastwards, Slow Food flavours of Derbyshire are showcased at the Soul Deli Café and Restaurant in Derby. Their specialties include burgers made from local rare breed beef, pasta with freshly picked field mushrooms and smoked salmon from the Derbyshire Smokery in the heart of the Peak District National Park. Owned by a Slow Food member it’s a cornucopia of local, seasonal, real food and their deli stocks everything for the ultimate picnic.
The Michelin starred Raymond Blanc’s le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons at Great Milton in Oxfordshire is one of the UK’s top restaurants and a venue for Slow Food events. Raymond has long been a passionate supporter of the movement, helping promote its message and importance. His vegetable garden at Le Manoir has full organic status and its produce makes the shortest possible journey from ‘field to plate’, in true Slow Food style.
In North-West England and the Lake District country of Cumbria, Peter Gott farms wild boar and rare breed pigs at Sillfield Farm. He produces wild boar air-dried salami, sausages and pies, dry-cured bacon and traditional Cumberland sausage. His products combine all that’s best in artisan food production and small-scale agriculture. Taste how special Sillfield Farm products are on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at The Market Hall in Barrow-in-Furness, or Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Borough Market, London. (Borough Market, near the South Bank of the Thames in Southwark, is a must for all food lovers in the capital.)
The Resort of Morecambe, Lancashire offers breathtaking views across the bay to the Lake District – and a local delicacy, Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps. A great favourite with the Victorians, local brown shrimps, cooled in butter and spices have a unique flavour and are still produced by hand, to an original recipe. The little pots of seafood can be round in restaurants and delis around Lancashire. Furness Fish from Ulverston in Cumbria bring stacks of pots every week to Borough Market and sell them from their fish and game stand.
His Royal Highness Prince Charles supports Slow Food to the extent that he’s given speeches on the subject. Visitors to the Scottish Highlands can share his pleasure in it, locally caught and freshly cooked by enjoying, as he has, seared King Prawns and King Scallops straight from the local fishing boats and cooked to order by the Fish and Chip Van on the Fisherman’s Pier, Tobermory, a picturesque harbour on the Isle of Mull.
Every Saturday dozens of local food and drink producers make their way to Edinburgh Castle for the Farmers’ Market. There’s everything for the perfect picnic with the pure taste of Slow Food: heather honey from nearby moors and hand made floury baps – soft rolls – to go with it; locally caught, and cooked, lobster in season, fresh, crisp salads, pore apple juice and mouth-watering confectionery.
In North Wales, locals and visitors alike look forward to October, when the annual Gwledd Conwy Feast held in Conwy, a medieval walled town dominated by its 13th century castle. A specialty here is the Bara Brith, a spicy fruit bread made to a traditional recipe, plus other delights such as find oak smoked nuts, seasalt and real ales, while chef master-classes and music are other attractions.
Back in England, the exceptional quality of native Colchester oysters was, according to legend, one of the reasons the Romans invaded Britain. Richard Haward’s family have been harvesting the gourmet shellfish from the marsh-fringed creeks by Mersea Island in Essex since 1792. Visit the Colchester Oyster Festival in June, or enjoy oysters in one of the many good fish restaurants in the area. If you’re feeling adventurous take your own vreak and drinks to Richard’s wife Heather’s fish shop, The Company Shed, and buy some of her fabulous seafood and native oysters to do with them.
A delicacy in the West Country, Cornish pilchards are another traditional Slow Food specialty. They have been a local delicacy for 400 years and exported to Italy since 1550 where they’re known as ‘Salacche Inglesi’. To make them requires traditional skills, they are prepared, as they have always been, using screw presses, and if you want to by lots of them they can still be layered in oak barrels. The Pilchard Works at Newlyn in Cornwall is the last remaining producer of salted pilchards and you can buy their produce from local shops or order direct.
No feature on Slow Food would be complete without mentioning British cheese. The Bourne family has been making award winning Cheshire cheese for more than a hundred years and it’s still produced in the traditional ‘hands-on’ way, using the milk from their own heard of pedigree Holstein Friesian sows. There’s creamy white, crumbly mature Cheshire; a delicately streaked blue, a deeply flavoured Oak Smoked. They sell their cheese at Borough Market, London, Liverpool Farmers Market and if you phone them first, direct from the farm.
Cheddar cheese is famous all over the world – and made, often in great bulk, in many different countries. But you can still enjoy the flavour of the original cheeses: artisan Cheddars are made in the rich dairy pastures around Cheddar, Somerset. Each cheese weighs between 50 and 60 pounds, is bandaged in muslin and aged for at least 11 months to have a unique depth flavour – a magic blend of caramel, hazelnuts and herbs. Ask for them by name, Westcombe, Montgomery’s and Kenne’s Cheddars have a depth of flavour and subtlety to savour.
Mouth-watering news on food and drink in Britain, including trails and forthcoming events, can be found on VisitBritain’s website.