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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Lobsters, Crabs, Eels and Oysters




2009 marks the 50th anniversary of one of Suffolk's (if not the country's) great seafood establishments, Pinney's of Orford. Recently Food Safari took a group of intrepid seafarers to find out more. Along they way we found dozens of lobsters, numerous crabs and a few lively eels.

We kicked off the day with a trip up the River Ore; with the 2nd World War military buildings of Orfordness on one side and impressive Henry II era castle on the other. Peter, our skipper and guide explained that he'd laid lobster pots and an eel net in various spots. Nothing was guaranteed but he hoped we'd have a good catch.

Moving from spot to spot, Peter pulled pots filled with numerous treasures, including various sizes of lobsters, common shore crabs, eels, whelks, sea urchins and jellyfish eggs. Peter showed us how to identify male and female lobsters (the swimmerets, the small feather appendages on the underside of the tail on male lobster (cock) are hard, whereas on a female (hen) lobster, they are soft and feathery). Peter reminded us that you are not allowed to fish for lobster unless you have a valid permit and you must return the lobsters to the sea that are below the legal 10cm size, that is measuring from the eye’s to where the tail is attached to the body. But we were lucky enough to find a few lobsters which were large enough to keep and a couple of lucky people were able to take one to prepare at home.

Positively the most lively find of the day were a few eels, whose writhing, snake-like bodies caused shrieks of horror from some of us on board, including me! Determined that we shouldn't have the opportunity to prove how hard they are to kill, these eels would not be stopped, and frequently managed to wriggle their way out of the crate onto the floor of the boat and rather too close to our unsuspecting feet!

Back on dry land, and with the lobsters safely stowed in the fridge, we set off to Butley Creek, home of Pinney's of Orford. At the tail end of the second world war, Richard Pinney, fed up with London life took to the Suffolk coast and began looking for ways to make a living. His first enterprise was cutting rushes from local dikes and rivers, drying and platting them into mats and carpets. He then turned his attention to the river and set about restoring the derelict oyster beds in Butley Creek. Despite being warned by local people that if he wanted to lose all his money, oysters were a good way to do it, he started laying down oysters from Portugal, which grew and fattened very well.

At the same time, being a keen fisherman, he began to look for new things to do with his catch, he began to experiment with smoking in a disused compartment at the end of his cottage. The results were so good that he decided to buy some salmon and the smoking business grew from there. He developed a unique system of burning whole oak logs - a system which has been refined but hardly changed to this day.
We were welcomed by Bill Pinney, founder Richard's son, who went out to dredge for oysters before our eyes. While partner, Harvey Allen, told us the history of Pinney's. Bill explained how his father discovered that Butley Creek's combination of natural plankton's, salinity and clean waters, was an excellent oyster fattening ground. The oysters grown now are bought in from the hatcheries at a very small size and laid on our beds for 2-3 years before being harvested.

While at Butley Creek, I spotted both samphire and sea purslane growing on the banks of the river, a bonus for everyone concerned who harvested some to take home.


The amazing smells coming from the smokehouse lured us over, and I asked Harvey if he ever tired of the delicious smell. His answer was, of course, "no". In the smokehouse, we saw how the fish are first salted or brined, and then hung in the smokehouse where they are then flavoured and preserved by smoke that is produced by gently smouldering whole oak logs in a specially designed smokebox. Trout, mackerel, sprats, eels, cod roe etc are hung for a few hours before being hot smoked (cooked over the open fire) while salmon is cured over a period of about 48 hour.

By this time our tummies were beginning to rumble and we headed pack to the Pinney family's restaurant, The Butley Orford Oysterage, in Orford's pretty Market Hill. The restaurant and shop were opened in the 60s and as well as serving Butley Oysters, and smoked fish we also found other fish landed daily by the family's boat. Suitably revived by a glass of Muscadet and one too many smoked prawns, we were treated to a demonstration of how to carve a whole smoked salmon and how to open oysters, before all have a go ourselves. The group was something of a team now and calls of encouragement and generous rounds of applause rewarded everyone's efforts.


Finally we settled down to enjoy a delicious seafood platter of some of Pinney's finest produce - oysters and smoked salmon of course, but also rollmops, angels on horseback, and scallops, all the more enjoyable for knowing exactly where they had come from.

For more information about joining Seafood in a Day visit: www.foodsafari.co.uk

The fantastic photographs in this blog are courtesy of Emma Kindred of eightOne.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival Fringe

Over 70 farmers, local food producers, farm shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants have contributed to a jam-packed programme of farm and wildlife walks, cookery and butchery demonstrations, dinners and behind-the-scenes events for the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival Fringe.

You can see the full programme of Fringe Events on the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival web site


The Fringe Festival runs from September 26 - October 4 and has been generously funded by Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

We are particularly grateful to Jason Gathorne-Hardy and his Alde Valley Food Adventures in association with White House Farm. Once again Jason is making a major contribution to the Food & Drink Fesitival Fringe with a series of unique events at White House Farm, Great Glemham in the upper Alde Valley. These events include:


Amazing Grazing in the Alde Valley
A two week exhibition in the Lambing Barns at White House Farm. Come & join a celebration of local crafts, farming, landscape, villages & churches in the beautiful Alde Valley of East Suffolk.
Friday 25 - Friday 9

Saturdays 10.00 - 5.00, Sundays 12.00 - 4.00, Tuesday – Friday 10.00 - 6.00 (closed Monday).

Wild Food Walk
1 1/2 hour guided walk and wild food lunch.
Saturday 26; 11.00 - 2.00
£25 pp for 1 1/2 hr guided walk & wild food lunch, Children under 16 £8, under 5s free

Wild Food Feast
Wild Food Supper and Music BYO Wine / Beer
Saturday 26; 6.00 - 11.00
£22 pp, Children under 16 £8, under 5s free

Festival Feast
A buffet feast from the farms of the Alde Valley, one of the UK’s most innovative and productive local food economies. Come and joins us for a feast of fresh seasonal farmed and wild foods, fires, woodland nature walk, farm videos, open farm art exhibition, music and Alde Valley Lamb barbeque. Autumn cordials and teas included. BYO beer and wine.
Saturday 3; 6.00 - 10.00
£22 pp, under 16s £8, under 5s free

White House Farm, Sweffling Road, Great Glemham


(NB: an incorrect phone number was printed on the flyers please call 01728 663531)


Other highlights of the Festival Fringe include:

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Britain's First Ever Brewers' Market


26 July, Snape Maltings, Suffolk

Applying the idea of a Farmers' Market to beers, Britain’s first Brewer's Market will bring together 12 of East Anglia's best microbrewers at Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh on Sunday 26 July. The event revives Snape’s long connection with brewing over 30 years after the site ceased malting barley for beer.

The Brewers’ Market will feature twelve microbreweries each selling their bottled beer to take home as well as to enjoy there and then. There’ll be the opportunity to meet the brewers themselves, and to discuss with them what makes their beer special. Sustenance will be provided by Snape’s resident Metfield Bakery who will serve sausages and freshly baked pizzas.

For anyone who wants to learn more about different beer styles and how to match beer with food, the day will be made all the more special by tutored beer tastings led by beer guru, Mark Dorber of Beer Academy and proprietor of The Anchor at Walberswick.Snape Brewer's Market runs from 12 - 6pm on Sunday, July 26th
Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh, Suffolk, IP17 1SR
http://www.snapemaltings.co.uk/


Entry to the market is free. There is plenty of free parking available at Snape Maltings.


Tutored tastings with Mark Dorber will run at 12.00 and 3.00. Tickets cost £5 and should be booked in advance. Call Snape Maltings 01728 688303

Breweries will include:

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival Fringe - Call for events

26 September - 4 October, 2009

‘The most significant food festival in Britain’ Rose Prince, The Telegraph

I have been asked by the Directors of the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival to coordinate the Festival Fringe and I'm looking for farms, farm shops, delis, butchers, bakers, pubs, cafes and restaurants to host events across East Suffolk as part of British Food Fortnight.

Please have a look at the information below and contact me if you have a suggestion or would like to host an event:

The Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival takes place this year from September 26 – October 4 for the fourth time. In 2007 we introduced a programme of events taking place on farms and in shops, pubs and restaurants across East Suffolk to highlight the diversity and quality of the area’s food and drink to both visitors and residents.

Would you host an event during this period to welcome the public to your farm, kitchen, shop, pub or cafe to learn more about your business and meet the people behind it? It’s a great way for you to reach a new audience and build loyalty with existing customers.

This year we aim to expand the programme of Fringe Events and increase the attendance at each event. This year we will run the Fringe event after the main Festival at Snape Maltings (Saturday 26 – Sunday 27 September) to coincide with British Food Fortnight. This will enable us to profile the Fringe Events at the Festival and to encourage more people to get involved.
In the past the Fringe Events programme has included:
  • Farm walks
  • Butchery demonstrations
  • Cookery demonstrations
  • Talks and debates
  • Behind‐the‐scenes tours
  • Meet the producers events at farms shops & delis
  • Festival menus at pubs, cafes and restaurants.

We’re looking for unique events that will give people a unique opportunity to find out more about local food. Why not consider teaming up with other organisations nearby, for example a farm walk followed by lunch in a local pub. We’re particularly keen to have some more events for children this year either after school or on either of the weekends.

If you would like more information please contact Polly Robinson, Festival Fringe Coordinator,
on 01728 621380 or 07966 475195 or email polly@foodsafari.co.uk.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Stop Tesco - Halesworth - ACT NOW to protect local food

From Lady Caroline Cranbrook
As some of you may know, Tesco has applied for planning permission for a superstore in Halesworth, opposite the Co-op (Rainbow, which has recently spent £1m upgrading and wishes to enlarge its premises). Halesworth is a small market town, very much at ease with itself, and well-supplied with a variety of independent shops - two bakers, two butchers, two greengrocers, a deli, an organic shop, a wine merchant, fish shop, famous toy shop, excellent shoe shop, clothes shop, several stationers and booksellers, a small Spar, etc. In the surrounding area there are villages which still have one or more shops (eg Yoxford, Peasenhall, Stradbroke, Laxfield).

The area is known for the abundance, variety and quality of its independent food producers. These have developed and expanded because there are plenty of independent shops. It is these shops which are the seedbed and nursery for new and existing food producers. The effect of a superstore, such as the one proposed by Tesco, will be to drive these independent shops out of business. On the whole they are doing well, despite the economic downturn, but they operate on small margins and a Tesco superstore will have a devastating effect on them.

The local meat wholesaler, Bramfield Meats, supplies virtually all the local butchers, farm shops and farmers markets with meat (either indirectly by preparing local independent livestock farmers' meat for sale or directly by buying in local meat from the local abattoir). Bramfield Meats is very concerned about the effect Tesco will have on the butchers and farm shops and fears it will undermine their business. If this were to happen and Bramfield Meats were to close, it would be catastrophic for local livestock producers - and for the landscape which is grazed by sheep and cattle.

The Tesco proposal is for a superstore. It is far too large (22,500 sq ft). This is about a third bigger than the Somerfields/Waitrose supermarket in Saxmundham and in the wrong place. the population of Halesworth is ca. 5-6,000 (including children). Tesco is anticipating a throughput of about 7,000 shopping visits a week, so they anticipate attracting shoppers from the villages and market towns in the area. We know that the new Saxmundham Waitrose (on an existing site) has affected food shops in Aldeburgh, nearby farm shops and also the food shops in Saxmundham high street. In Beccles, where a large superstore opened a few years ago, shops next to Tesco are alright but those in the middle of the town are suffering. It is also in the wrong place and will bring traffic to a standstill on Halesworth 'ring road'.

If any of you have the time and value our unique local food economy, I urge you to write (NO EMAILS ALLOWED) to Waveney District Council with a letter of objection. I am attaching a leaflet (not prepared by me) which presents some of the arguments and gives details of the address for letters.
Letters must arrive at Waveney District Council by 18 June, should contain the Proposal Number DC/09/0455/FUL and should be addressed to
Planning Office
Waveney District Council
Town Hall, High Street
Lowestoft NR32 1HS.
best wishes and many thanks - we are told that letters really do count!


TESCO for HALESWORTH?

Please consider the following matters and, if any of them concern you, write a letter to Waveney District Council before 18 June.

1. Should planning strategy be overturned?
Tesco wants to put a store on the Dairy Farm site - south of Angel Link and west of Saxons Way – an area which Waveney District Council had designated for housing and a Community Centre on a well landscaped site - Do you think much needed housing and a Community Centre close to the centre of the town should be sacrificed?

2. Disfiguring the town with a conspicuous building
A store on the higher ground of the Dairy Farm site will inevitably be conspicuous and out of character - Are you happy to see Halesworth disfigured in this way?

3. Additional traffic congestion and pollution
A store on the Dairy Farm site would undoubtedly generate more traffic congestion and pollution on Saxons Way which already handles more than 1000 vehicles per hour at peak times - Does this worry you?

4. Added risk of flash floods
A large car park and extensive building will have a fast run-off of rain water in storms and will increase the risk of flash floods (Halesworth had serious floods in 1968 and again in 1993) – Are you aware of and concerned about this added risk?

5. Should Halesworth be allowed to die?
The experience of many other towns as small as Halesworth (much smaller than Beccles) where Tesco has built stores has been that, far from making the towns more lively, these stores have led to devastation of the town centres with many shops closing and with the inevitable breakdown of community spirit. If that happened to Halesworth, the effect would be irreversible - Do you wish the town to take such a risk?

6. Would the town really benefit?
The proposed store would bring new jobs, but many of these would be part-time and any benefit would have to be offset against the job losses due to shops being forced out of business and closing; this in turn would damage their local suppliers and also local services such as sign writers, stationers, electricians, carpenters, etc - Are you convinced that the town would benefit?

If you are concerned, write NOW - before it is too late to: The Planning Office, Waveney District Council, Town Hall, High Street, Lowestoft NR32 1HS

Quote the following reference DC/09/0455/FUL and copy your letter to the Chairman of the Development Control Committee - each letter counts! Letters may be left at the offices of WDC in London Road, Halesworth.

For further information on the campaigns to stop Tesco ruining small towns see http://www.spig.clara.net/stoptesco/

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Love Cooking - new TV idea

Thought this was a fun idea picked up during a conversation with a television producer earlier today. Check it out:

'Have you and your partner always wanted to start your own restaurant but never wanted to take the gamble?

Would your cooking ‘wow’ a room full of people?

Have you ever thought about setting up a restaurant in your home?

If so the BBC want to hear from you, we’re looking for couples to take part in a brand new series.

For more information email Michelle with your contact details and tell us why you’re the perfect couple for the job.'
Michelle.Darling@zigzag.uk.com

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Event report: Wild Food Forage

How much food can be gathered for free and from the wild? Can common weeds be a substitute for regular shopping? What's safe to eat? And are any of these wild plants really worth eating?
These were were some of the questions answered during Sunday's foraging expeditition around Henham Park in Suffolk. Guided by Jacky Sutton-Adam, The Wild Foodie, a 20-strong group of intrepid foragers gathered for Food Safari's first wild food event. Foraging for wild food is by its very nature an unpredictable activity, affected by changing seasons and weather conditions but the rain held off and over the course of two hours and three sites we identified and tasted a multitude of plants.

We were guests of Henham's owner Hektor Rous who
kindly let us roam wild across private land. (Tip: when foraging always get the permission of the landowner). Our first spot close to Henham's luxury B&B The Stables yielded a range of wild plants some of which can found in my back garden!

  • Nettles - steam like spinach
  • Ground elder - use chopped as a herb

  • Ground ivy - makes a great restorative herb tea
  • Cleavers (aka 'Sticky Willie') - steam the stems like asparagus
  • Elderflowers - highly scented, use in cordials on in the panna cotta

  • Sea purslane - good in salads
  • Samphire - steam like asparagus
  • Fat hen - steam like spinach
  • Chickweed - use tender leaves raw in salads
  • Hop shoots - raw in salads or check out Sophie's tempura below

We then moved to a very different part of the estate on the beautiful River Blyth estuary. A walk along the shore revealed surprisingly succulent plants such Sea Purslane and my favourite of the day Samphire. This classic wild plant teams wonderfully with simply cooked fish and is typically available in July from fishmongers. There are some nice Samphire recipes here from Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall's Guardian food column. It's too early in the season to pick samphire but we collected plenty of Sea Purslane for lunch.

From the Henham estate we moved to the more domestic surroundings of The Anchor's allotment at Walberswick which provides a steady supply of veg to their kitchen and gathered salad ingredients including the wonderfully named fat hen and the ubiquitous chickweed.

The forage culminated with a memorable feast at The Anchor. All that foraging had made us hungry and it was fascinating to see how wild ingredients can be transformed into dishes in the hands of a professional chef. Sophie Dorber produced some amazing dishes featuring the wild plants we had gathered: samphire fritters made with gram (chickpea) flour, hop shoot tempura, a Moro-influenced carrot and ground elder salad, risotto made with a wild mushroom called Chicken of the Woods (on account of its juicy texture reminscent of chicken breast), flash-fried sea cabbage and a dreamy elderflower panna cotta. One thing that struck me was how some of the 'edgier' flavours of the raw plants were mellowed by cooking to become star ingredients

Mark Dorber served a range of beers to match the dishes starting with a thirst-quenching, elderflower scented real ale from Lowestoft's Green Jack brewery called Summer Dream and including a number of belgian gueze and lambic style beers made with wild yeasts.

By 4.30 everyone was feeling pretty sated and despite the unusually dry spring meaning we couldn't leave with basketfuls of produce, we did leave with some new skills and full stomachs! You really can eat wild!

We'll be running more Wild Food in a Day forays for mushrooms and other wild foods in the autumn. Please visit our web site for more information.




12 Ways to Eat 'Slow'

I'm a member of Slow Food UK and picked this up from their latest newsletter. It's a kind of '12 commandments' of eating well and although you could pick holes in some of these statements, they are a prompt to getting more out shopping, cooking and eating and lifting these activities above the level of chores.

1. Give yourself (some) pleasure.
Take the time to taste and pay attention to your senses: this is the best way to eat well.

2. Bring the seasons to the table.
Each season rediscover the pleasure of tastes you haven’t experienced for a year.

3. Think global, eat local.
Choose products from farmers and growers near to your home: you will help to strengthen the local economy and the links between people living in your area.

4. Eat something you have grown…
…and grow something you eat. This is the best way to get in touch with nature.

5. Meet farmers, growers, artisans and specialized sellers in person.
Buy products with a short chain (through farmer’s markets, purchasing groups) or from artisans (bakers, cured meat and cheese makers) or from specialized competent sellers.

6. Be Inquisitive.
When in a shop, restaurant, bar or supermarket, ask questions about product quality.

7. Choose products of animal origin with particular care.
When you eat meat, always choose grass pasture products (veal, lamb) or free range products (pork, poultry).

8. Vary your diet to defend agricultural biodiversity.
Try rare and unusual varieties of potatoes, cereals, fruit and vegetables.

9. Eat natural wholefoods, choose non-processed products.
Processed ready-to-eat foods contain many modified food products and fats of low nutritional value.

10. Cook!
This is the best way to save money and know exactly what you are eating. It is a daily pleasure you can give yourself and those you love.

11. Spend better, spend less.
Eating better does not necessarily mean spending more, don’t cut down on quality.

12. Become a taste explorer.
Educate children, friends and acquaintances about the true pleasure of eating.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Event report: Free Range Pig in a Day













Can free range pork reared on a commercial scale taste as good as rare breed or organic? Suffolk pig farmer Alastair Butler certainly thinks so and runs a successful business at Blythburgh Pork producing top quality pork through a system of true free range farming where piglets are born in snug sheds in the outdoors and then reared outdoors until they are ready for slaughter. The approach championed by Butler and his father Jimmy is one of which they are so proud that they are one of the few pig farmers in the UK who will let the public visit their farm to see the high welfare stanards.

Food Safari's Pig in a Day was a chance to see the real story behind pork. The first part of the day was a visit to the farm on the sandy heathlands of the Suffolk Coast, an Area of Outstantding Natural Beauty. Alastair described how 'free range' is still not established as a label but can sit happily (and tastily) alongside organic and rare breed.


Blythburgh Free Range Pork hope to get an average of 11 piglets per litter (more than the 4-8 a rare breed farmer might expect but fewer than the 16 or so expected from an intensive European pig farming operation). Seeing a group of piglets thundering across a field is like watching a group of over-excited school children charging around a playground. These pigs clearly enjoy an excellent quality of life. Butler argues that the main drivers of taste in pork are the right breed (in his case a four-way cross), a longer life than an intensive system offers and the optimum amount of fat.

Asked how quality producers are working with leading restaurateurs to promote pork Butler enthused about serving pork pink (rather than rare) instead of the traditionally acceptable well done. Eaten this way the meat is juicy and as long as it comes from a trusted source, perfectly safe.

So how does Blythburgh pork perform in the kitchen? Back at the Anchor, butcher Ray Kent proceeded to deftly tackle half a pig revealing the various joints: collar, shoulder, tenderloin, loin, chops, leg and favourite of Chinese cooks and cheap but outstanding belly. We explored how to use each cut in the kitchen and were inspired to buy pork from butchers rather than picking up a packet in the supermarket - for example why ask your butcher for chops with the tenderloin attached - exactly the same concept as a T-bone steak - and something you won't find in a supermarket.Ray is a traditional family butcher and a great Suffolk character - with a fabulously strong Suffolk accent he pronounced it a particularly 'noy-uss' (nice) side of pork.

After the butchery demonstration Mike Keen, head chef challenged three groups to prepare a winning sausage mix.
With powerful flavours such as chili, ginger, garlic, stilton and pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika) on offer it was an exercise in restraint as much as unbridled creativity to see which sausage would pass the Food Safari taste test. Not only did the teams prepare the mixes but Ray and Mike soon got them making and tying the sausages like professionals.


The climax of Pig in a Day is a porky feast which celebrates the glories of this most succulent meat. With the sun shining we ate a long table outside. Spare ribs marinated in an intriguing mix of banana blitzed with chilli and then roasted with the marinade; light asian-style pork balls; a perfect roast loin with a deeply flavoured nettle sauce (currently abundant - why not learn more on Food Safari's upcoming Wild Food Forage on 6 June?).
Each dish was well matched with a different beer by beer guru and Anchor proprietor Mark Dorber. Dorber argues that beers can work more interestingly than wine since they have 'flavour hooks' that really bring out the taste of both the food and the beers. Beers included the complex and exotic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with its fragrant 'cascade hops' as an aperitif, a German Schneider-Weisse wheat beer (with banana and bubblegum notes) to match the ribs and Adnams' well hopped new brew Innovation from just up the road in Southwold alongside the loin. The highlight of the feast was a taste-off between the sausages made earlier. All were excellent but for me, the stilton had the most intensely savoury, mellow and juicy quality.
Pork is perhaps underappreciated in Britain compared with beef and lamb - it's somehow not always the obvious choice. We learned on Food Safari that there's much more to pork than chops and that treated simply and boldly, it is peerlessly good. As the old saying goes, you can eat every bit of a pig, bar the squeak.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Real Food Festival - Suffolk producers where were you?

I made a rare trip to London at the weekend to visit the Real Food Festival at Earls Court. I love going back to London. It was home for over 10 years and I miss it more than I admit!


Bizarrely almost the first person I saw outside Earls Court was someone I'm more likely to see at Suffolk farmers' markets, Ian Whitehead from the Suffolk Salami Company. We're fans of their sausages and bacon (branded as Lane Farm) but I was pleased to try their chorizo which was delicious and my first purchase of the day.


Suffolk Salami was one of the few Suffolk food producers represented at the Festival, others were Munchy Seeds, Casa del Oli (olive oil) and Stark Naked Foods (pestos made with herbs grown on the family's 150 year old farm) and the big boys, Aspalls. I was disappointed not to see a stronger representation of Suffolk food and drink producers there and, with the exception of Aspalls, there was nothing there that was unique to Suffolk. Where were our micro-brewers, cheese-makers, beef or pork farmers?


Other regions were represented by their Regional Food Groups and clustered together - Wales had a very strong presence. Rumour has it that Tastes of Anglia, our own Food Group, didn't get the funding they needed to be there; but with stands costing as little as £200 each, I think that's a poor result. My friends at Grain Brewery sold so much beer they had to drive back to the Norfolk to get more to sell on the Sunday. Watch this space - next year Food Safari will be there and I'll bring as many of my friendly producers with me as I can to show the rest of the country what great foodie things are coming out of Suffolk.

In the meantime for a true taste of what Suffolk has to offer come to the fourth Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival on September 26-27, 2009. I'm going to be organising the programme of fringe events with producers, farm shops, delis, pubs and restaurants running September 26-October 4th.




Thursday, 7 May 2009

Wild food foraging - research trip

I spent a fascinating couple of hours today up at Henham Park, 3800 acres of parkland best known as the setting for the Latitude Festival, Suffolk's answer to Glastonbury and home of the charming and laid back Hektor Rous. But there's more to Henham than music and comedy - it's a wild food forager's paradise.

I was with Jacky Sutton-Adam, wild foraging expert (and fellow food blogger) to survey the best spots for Food Safari's upcoming Wild Food in a Day on 6 June which she will be leading. Jacky has been for
aging seriously since 2004 and as we walked through the fields and woods, we talked about the role wild food can play in a healthy diet but also in bringing a whole new level of interest to simply being outdoors.

As we approached the lake Jacky enthused about what she sees as the 'premier league' of wild foods which are great to eat, good for you and by a stroke of natural fortune, abundant in Britain. These include nettles and dandelions which have outstanding antioxidant qualities and but also fat hen - a delicious alternative to spinach and chickweed.

Finding th
e perfect spot for a Food Safari's foray is harder than I'd expected - we were looking for a concentration of lots of interesting edible plants in a compact area to allow maximum gathering time. Finally close to The Stables, Henham's luxury b&b, Jacky spotted a particularly promising looking area of meadow. With a triumphant "I'll get my shears" Jacky headed off.

She ident
ified at least 10 edible plants within about 15 minutes, some of which we tasted although Jacky advocated that in most cases it's better to take things home and cook with them than eat them raw. I can testify to this! We've been experimenting with some wild foraging of our own this spring around Framlingham, including alexanders which are related to celery and lovage. My husband enjoys eating the stems raw but the rest of us are more sceptical - apparently they are good cooked like asparagus. Jacky explained that by late summer the dry black seeds can also be used as a seasoning.

Later, over lunch with Mark Dorber at the Anchor in Walberswick we discussed the wild food menu to be served after the forage. There were lots of ideas including teaming mackerel with alexanders, making
a fresh pasta dough with cooked nettles to add colour and flavour and elderflower panna cotta. There was real excitement about the possibilities especially because the nature of wild foraging is that what we find on the 6th June will be unpredictable!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

BBC Radio Suffolk Interview

Yesterday I made a rare trip to Ipswich to pay a visit to the studios of BBC Radio Suffolk. I was 'on the sofa' doing an interivew about Food Safari and all the great local food producers we have in Suffolk.

You can listen my interview with Georgina Wroe (standing in for Lesley Dolphin here.
Scroll 2 hours and 23 minutes into the programme to hear my bit.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Meet and eat Blythburgh Free Range Pork

In January Jamie Oliver challenged the British public to take more notice of the conditions in which pigs are kept, but very few pork farmers will let the public onto their farm to see conditions for themselves. But, one Suffolk farmer is so confident of the standards of his free range pigs that he has agreed to do just that on Food Safari’s Free Range Pork in a Day on Saturday May 16th.

Food Safari is a new venture which offers field to fork experiences and Free Range Pork in a Day will take attendees on a pork journey starting from a farm walk at Blythburgh Free Range Pork, to a butchery demonstration and hands-on sausage and charcuterie workshop and feast at The Anchor, Walberswick.

At Blythburgh Free Range Pork on the Suffolk coast near Southwold, attendees will see for themselves the high welfare standards of led by award-winning farmers, Jimmy and Alastair Butler, who are passionate about producing great tasting pork. Blythburgh pigs are free to roam in large paddocks giving them the space to display natural behaviours like rooting in the soil and playing. Not only does this improve their welfare but it also means they grow at a slower more natural rate and this in turn results in flavoursome, succulent meat.

Alastair Butler says: “We are firm believers that the future of British pork lies in the public understanding more about where their food comes from and then people can make informed decisions about what they eat. think Food Safari is a wonderful way to show people our farm and make the connection between farming and flavour. Remember a free range pig is a happy pig and a happy pig surely tastes better!”

Back at Food Safari’s base, The Anchor at Walberswick, traditional Suffolk butcher Ray Kent will who’ll show attendees how to tackle a pork carcass. Recent reports have suggested that there is a resurgence of interest in the forgotten cheaper cuts, like shoulder and belly, and Ray will show us all of these as well as suggesting their uses in the kitchen.

Following the butchery demonstration, Mike Keen, The Anchor’s Head Chef, will show attendees how to create their own sausage recipes which will be barbequed for lunch. Mike will also show participants how to create charcuterie and ham in your own kitchen. The day will wrap up with a relaxed pork lunch with beer and wine expertly selected by The Anchor’s own Mark Dorber.

Saturday May 16th , 10am-5pm

Cost: £150 per person, £250 per couple to include a pork lunch, drinks and your own butchery to take home.



**Book by Friday 24 April and get 20% off** email info@foodsafari.co.uk

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Event report: Wild Meat in a Day

Sunday saw Food Safari's inaugural game day play to a packed house at The Anchor, Walberswick on the Suffolk coast, using the specially converted learning space as our base. After coffee and some gamey canapes we started the day by learning the nitty gritty of venison butchery from Ray Kent, a professional butcher with a lifetime's experience of getting the most out of a prime carcass. At least one of the group thought Ray was the "star of the show" as he deftly demonstrated how to tackle this amazing meat.


Ray showed of a stunning fillet which would have sold for £65-70 but there are more inexpensive cuts (venison burgers are are fantastic alternative to beef). The venison was supplied by our good friends at The Wild Meat Company who specialise in fine, humanely killed game, prepared to the highest standards. Robert Gooch, MD of the Wild Meat Company was on hand to provide his expert insights into the world of game.

The group was quickly up to speed and preparing joints of their own like pros. With a little basic tuition and some very sharp knives (German are best apparently but get them professionally sharpened from time to time to keep them in prime condition) it is perfectly possible to learn the craft of butchery at home.



Following the butchery demonstration, Mike Keen, head chef, demonstrated some
delicious game recipes including my favourite - a spiced partridge dish with fenugreek and coconut milk providing a nod to the Eastern origins of this bird as well as a stunningly rich jugged hare. The Anchor's outdoor grill was put to unseasonally early good use and the wafts of grilling game drew quite a lot of attention from Walberswick passers-by. The group got stuck in to stuffing and chopping and by this time we were all getting pretty hungry.



The day concluded with a communal game feast around a huge table. Mark Dorber the charismatic proprietor of the Anchor and globe-trotting beer expert matched each dish with either a beer or a wine. There was a lot of smacking of lips when Mike served pheasant simply roasted with a stuffing of local Wonmill cheese and redcurrant jelly under the skin to keep the breast moist while allowing the skin to crisp to a succulent juiciness. By combining with the classic Belgian ale Duvel the dish was lifted even further. The fenugreek partridge met its match with unusual and very intense barrel fermented release from San Francisco's award-winning Anchor Brewing Company. The barrels had previously contained spirit (we couldn't agree whether gin or rum) that lent the beer increased gravity (strength) and flavour. This beer is pretty secret stuff - Mark had been sent a bottle to review for potential release to the UK market and it was the kind of one-off foodie moment that I love!

Thanks from the Food Safari team to all concerned for making this such a fantastic event. The game season returns in the autumn when we'll be exploring game birds as. Meanwhile we're back at The Anchor and nearby at Blythburgh Pork on 16 May with our very special take on Pork -Pig in a Day. See the Food Safari website for booking details.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Wild Meat in a Day - last chance to book

Wild Meat in a Day - prepare it, cook it, eat it
Sunday March 29th
The Anchor at Walberswick, Suffolk

Join Food Safari to round off the game season with a fun, hands-on day preparing, cooking and eating game. There are just a few places left on the event which takes place in ten days time.

The workshop will be led Robert Gooch of The Wild Meat Company. One of Rick Stein's Food Heroes, Robert started the Wild Meat Company in 1999 with the aim of taking "the muck and mystery out of buying and eating game". Wild Meat Company sell wild game from woods, forests and fields in Suffolk killed by local farmers and landowners.

Robert will share his wealth of experience about local game, habitats and seasons. The focus will be venison and we'll explore how different varieties of deer produce different meat.

Generally speaking, the smaller the deer, the more fine-grained and delicate the meat will be. Roe and muntjak are more gently flavoured animals while fallow deer have grainier, richer meat, and the big red deer give the most open-textured and gamey venison of all. Robert will explain why wild animals that have roamed freely are likely to be a little more robust in flavour and texture than their farmed counterparts, which will have had a more restricted range.

Venison is rich in protein and lower in fat than other red meats and is a good source of B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. Mike Keen, The Anchor's Head Chef will demonstrate so tasty and inspiring game dishes as well as sharing tips and ideas for preparing game at home. We'll round of the day with a tasting menu of game dishes and suggestions about complementary pairings of game with wine and beer.

Full details of the day are available on our web site: Food Safari or email info@foodsafari.co.uk

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Charles Nash of Sutton Hoo Chickens

We are deeply saddened to report that Charles Nash died suddenly on March 8th. He was one of the country's genuine Food Heroes and his early death is a great loss. His friendly face will be missed at farmers markets across Suffolk.

We send our heartfelt sympathy to Charles' family.

We were lucky enough to spend a fascinating morning with Charles in November walking around his farm at Sutton Hoo (Chicken the Full Story) and had hoped to share this experience with others through a Food Safari event in the summer this year.

We're informed that his family will continue to run Sutton Hoo Chickens in his memory and we hope that we may be able to offer this event at some time in the future so that people may have the opportunity to learn more about his legacy.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Brew day at Grain Brewery: report

I arranged for Tim to visit Grain's microbrewery in Alburgh on the Norfolk/Suffolk border for a day learning how to brew beer. Well it was his birthday and thankfully he did bring a few bottles back and also agreed to blog his experience!

"I managed to get lost on the way to Alburgh but what a beautiful place! On the North side of the Waveney valley which runs along the Suffolk/Norfolk border this is unexpectedly rolling English countryside. When Phil Halls and Geoff Wright were looking for a home for their new brewery in 2006 they saw and rejected lots of potential sites including a range of different farm buildings and (thankfully) characterless premises on industrial estates at a much higher cost. When they found their current site at South Farm they knew it was right for what they wanted to do.
What I learned between 9.30 and 4.00 is that the life of a craft brewer is physically demanding, full of sensory (particularly olfactory) stimulation and occasionally repetitive.


All brewers develop their own unique recipes. Today we were brewing Grain's session bitter Oak and throughout the process we referred to a sheet listing the precise weights of ingredients.
The first part of the brewing process is to combine hot water (called liquor in brewing terminology - it just sounds better doesn't it?) with malted barley which comes in big sacks.
This lets the heat release the natural sugars in the barley (which will later be turned to alcohol by yeast) in a big open barrel called a mash tun. The clever bit at this stage as we learned at Beer Academy is combining different types of malted barley: pale, crystal, chocolate in different proportions to create beers of very different flavours and colours. Oak majors on pale malt - Maris Otter to be precise.




The sweetest cup or two of the resulting 'wort' is discarded and then the rest is transferred to a copper tank where it is boiled with hops. Two types of hops are added in two stages: first bittering hops which add bitterness; and then at end of an hour or so aroma hops which 'spice' the brew adding a wonderful, heady aroma. These aroma hops are an expensive ingredient (by weight) but really contribute character and zing to a beer like Oak.

While the 'boil' takes place we get our hands and boots dirty shovelling the spent barley out of the mash tun (see below) - it's oddly satisfying and we just finish in time for Jimmy the farmer to come and pick up the sacks of waste barley husks to feed to his sheep. How about that for thrift and sustainability?



The brew is then transferred into a fermentation tank where it will, with the addition of yeast the following day, begin to become beer as we know it with the malt sugar converted to alcohol. The beer we brewed will be ready in a few short weeks and Phil is going to give us a call when it's ready!"

We really like Grain's beers and are impressed with the way Phil and Geoff are working to bring their beer to new audiences : check out their classic session bitter Oak which has some lovely aromatic hops on the nose, the Ruby Porter which is full, sweet and creamy with that 'Ovaltine' flavour from crystal malt and the Strong Pale Ale which has quite a serious drink with a kick.

Monday, 16 February 2009

At Hill Farm Oils - extra virgin rapeseed oil

Hill Farm Oils are one of the great success stories of farm diversification in Suffolk. They've taken a familiar crop, rapeseed, which turns so many fields bright yellow from April onwards and produced a nutty cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil. The oil is now widely available in Waitrose and Sainsbury's nationwide, East Anglian Tescos as well as independent farm shops and delis.

The Fairs family have been farming for 35 years in and around Heveningham, near Halesworth in Suffolk, but in 2001 Sam Fairs was inspired to develop a new product from the rapeseed crop after hearing a friend had been rapeseed oil tablets to lower his cholesterol. Sam began to experiment with the cold pressing the rapeseed into a premium cooking oil that has half the saturated fat of olive oil and is high in omega-3, an essential fatty acid which can help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Rape covers about 3% of England's farmland and closer to 10% in some areas but it is not a crop that we usually associate with food. It's main use is for the manufacture of cooking oils, margarine and processed foods, with much of the by-product used as animal feed. Many varieties aren't even edible and are used for the production of lubricants and adhesives to cosmetics and gardening products.

It was fascinating to talk to Sam about the challenge of getting people to switch their buying and cooking habits. Sam talks about how olive oil has become so deeply ingrained in our minds as THE healthy oil, the one we reach for automatically in the supermarket aisle or standing at the stove. His focus is on educating people about the health benefits of rapeseed oil and encouraging them to try the taste for themselves. He tells me how in their experience once people have tried Hill Farm Oils they are converted (I vouch for this). Their greatest marketing opportunity is to get people to see the oil being used in cookery demonstrations, used in recipes and promoted by food writers and chefs. Mark Hix is a great fan and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall often uses it in his recipes. Mike Keen, Head Chef at The Anchor, Walberswick tells me he's a big fan and we'll use it wherever possible in Food Safari cookery demonstrations to encourage more people to give it a try.

Sam gives me a tour of the site and talks through the cold pressing process and shows me the bi-product which becomes cattle feed. The whole process from pressing to bottling is extremely high-tech and makes use of some very expensive bits of kit. The Fairs family have invested heavily in this enterprise.

Sam generously gives me several bottles of oil to try at home and to pass on to friends and chefs!

I've made great use of it and recommend it to add texture and flavour to home-made bread, to replace butter in muffins and flapjacks and for stir-frys and roasting vegetables; its high smoke point make it ideal for this.
If like me, you try to buy as much food locally as you can, Hill Farm Oil is great news - single-estate, extra-virgin oil from just up the road - has to be a great alternative to Italian, Greek or Spanish olive oils.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Blythburgh Free Range Pork - January 22nd


Like anyone who's travelled up the A12 towards Southwold and Lowestoft, I've been familiar with the Jimmy and Alastair Butler's Blythburgh Freerange Pigs for a few years. They've almost become as much as landmark of this part of the north Suffolk coast, as the stunning Blythburgh church. So it was great to get meet one half of the team on a wet and stormy January morning.

The light sandy healthland soil around Blythburh has limited agricultural use but it is, apparently, the best land for outdoor pig-keeping in the whole of the UK. Unlike most free-range reared pigs, the Butler's spend all of their lives outside and have 80 times more space to run around in than conventionally reared pigs. This, they say, is reflected in the quality of the meat.
The pigs freedom to roam develops good muscle and tender meet. Being exposed to the sun and weather maintains the pig's skin in better condition leading to superior crackling on roasting joints. The breed of pig adds to the flavour, JSR Cotswold Gold sows are a blend of lines, including traditional breeds, specially bred to thrive under outdoor conditions. The Butlers run 1200 of these sows on 120 acres in addition to the 75 acres utilised by the growing pigs.

The pigs are fed a natural diet containing no antibiotics or growth promoters. They are grown about 20 per cent slower than normal pig production which makes the animals more mature at slaughter - which again contributes to the juiciness and flavour of the meat. The piglets remain with their Mothers (sows) in insulated arcs for nearly four weeks until they reach a healthy size and strength to be weaned off milk onto solid food. This means the sows can have a well earned rest allowing them to recover after having so many hungry mouths to feed and the piglets are moved into large straw filled tents and huts that become their new homes.

Alastair tells me that they are one of the only pig farmers that are happy to have people visit their site because they are confident in what they are doing and know that people will not see any of the shocking practices, like castration and tail docking, revealed by Jamie Oliver's recent programme, Jamie Saves Our Bacon. Those with beady eyes will have spotted Jimmy in the studio and some footage filmed on their farm.
Blythburgh Free Range Pork is a perfect partner for Food Safari, focussed on providing a high quality product with impressive animal welfare and a conviction that the future of British pig farming depends on the public wanting to know more about where their food comes from, rebuilding connections with farmers and demanding a responsible food chain.

Visit to Shawsgate Vineyard - January 14


On my bike today a mile up the road from Framlingham, to see Tom Jarrett of Shawsgate Vineyard. Shawsgate is one of the oldest commercial vineyards in East Anglia and has consistently won national and even international awards for its wine. The 20 acre vineyard produces white grape varieties: Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc, Muller Thurgau, and Schonburger, with some of the vines dating back to the early 1970s when the vineyard was set up. As for reds there are three plots of Acolon and Rondo.


For most of the year the vineyard is very tranquil and a haven for wildlife and birds. Come late September/October the harvest starts. The team of about 20 pickers is a real cross-section of society from local ladies who've been doing it for years and also pick for other local vineyards, to travellers and seasonal workers. Tom tells me they've even had city workers volunteer on their holidays.

Shawsgate is unusual in having its own state-of-the art winery and makes wine for many other growers in the region, including Wyken, Lady Carla Carlisle's vineyard near Bury St Edmunds.

The winery was built in the late 80s and is equipped with over 300 stainless steel tanks based on a New Zealand model. Tom show me around and explains the process: the press is a rotating cylinder containing an air bag that slowly inflates, gently squeezing the grapes to release their juice. From here the juice goes in a large tank where fermentation happens then it's bottled and left to rest.

We visit the shop and see the range of white, red and rosé wines Shawsgate produces and we discuss how they have recently rebranded all the labels to give their wines a fresh modern look. We also talk about how Tom has withdrawn his product lines from supermarkets and and other retailers as the high duty on wine makes the margins very slim. Shawsgate prefer to sell direct to consumers or to the trade and you can enjoy Bacchus in several places including The Waterfront Cafe in Woodbridge.

You can visit Shawsgate most weekends for a self-guided tour of the vineyards or take part in their vineyard experience days. Food Safari is going to work with Shawsgate to offer a vineyard day with a difference where you can get hands-on for the day, pruning vines, picking grapes, even labelling bottles. Of course we'll throw in a good lunch and a wine and food matching session. Visit our web site for the details: http://www.foodsafari.co.uk/

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Pinney's of Orford - January diary continued . . .

Tuesday 12th January - Pinney's of Orford

My first January in Suffolk has given us many stunning bright mornings and once again I de-ice the car to pop down to Orford to meet Harvey Allen, who runs the wholesale and retail side of Pinney's of Orford. Pinney's has a fascinating history worth recounting in some detail . . .

At the end of the second world war when Richard Pinney, like many of us since, decided he had had enough of living in London and headed for the countryside. After an extensive search he found a derelict cottage near Butley Creek, near Orford on the Suffolk coast and began looking for ways to make a living. his first enterprise was cutting rushes from local dikes and rivers, drying and platting them into mats and carpets.



He then turned his attention to the river and set about restoring the derelict oyster beds in Butley Creek. Oysters had been cultivated there since Roman times and had a fine reputation but the trade had died in the late 19th century. Despite being warned by local people that if he wanted to lose all his money, oysters were a good way to do it, he started laying down oysters from Portugal, which grew and fattened very well.


At the same time, being a keen fisherman, he caught some large sea trout off Orford beach. Not knowing what to do with them, he began to experiment with smoking in a disused compartment at the end of his cottage. The results were so good that he decided to buy some salmon and the smoking business grew from there. He developed a unique system of burning whole oak logs - a system which has been refined but hardly changed to this day.




In the mid 60s he decided to open a small restaurant for people to try these products and so the Butley Orford Oysterage began. In the 40 years since then it has involved successive generations of the Pinney family. The restaurant has moved to larger premises in Orford's pretty market square and the small shope at the back is about to move again to new premises right on Orford Quay. Many of the fish sold are caught with our own fishing boats. Daily landings include cod, bass, sole, skate, lobster and crabs, according to the season.


The smokehouses are still situated at Butley Creek next to the oyster beds. Trout, mackerel, cod roe, wild and farmed salmon, kippers and eels are among the products that are smoked every day, for the shop, restaurant and for our growing wholesale deliveries.The oysters grown now are the Pacific variety which thrive in the healthy oyster growing environment that makes Butley Creek such a special area.


***

Harvey and I chewed the cud for a couple of hours about the many challenges and opportunities facing producers such as Pinney's: how to start to sell through local Co-op supermarkets without upsetting long serving independent delis and farm shops; the decline of farmers markets for producers; the demise of Framlingham's landmark deli and general grocers, Carley & Webb, who've shut after over 100 years of trading; and the potential impact of Waitrose's announcement to open in Saxmundham in May on the site of Somerfield - all subjects worthy of their own blog.


The upshot of it all is that Food Safari will work with Pinney's to offer some behind-the-scenes tours of the oysterbeds and smokehouse at Butley Creek. You'll see for yourself the smoking process and get as close as you can (without actually going under water) to the oysterbeds and hear more about what fish are landed daily by the family's own boats. After the tour we'll head back to the the restaurant in Orford for a seafood lunch. The first event will be on May 30th to mark the launch of the new shop on Orford Quay. Visit our Food Safari web site for full details.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The Food Safari January Diary

January was a busy month for us at Food Safari as we spent as much time as possible out of the office and on the road visiting some of east Suffolk's finest producers and retailers and developing plans for our full programme of events in 2009. I thought it might be interest to write up some of those visits.



Tuesday 6th January - The Suffolk Food Hall

The kids are safely back at school after the Christmas hols and I whizz off down the A12 to meet Oliver Paul at The Suffolk Food Hall. It's a stunning clear, cold and frosty morning as arrive at Wherstead right underneath the Orwell Bridge, but inside the cafe is buzzing with mums and toddlers grabbing a coffee on their way back from the school run.



Since May 2007, the Suffolk Food Hall has brought together a number of local producers under one roof: Crystalwaters fishmongers from Lowestoft; Hamish Johnson cheeses from Framlingham; and Bread from local baker Helena Doy and their own Broxtead Butchery, winner of East Anglian Daily Times Best Butcher award in 2008.



As I arrive Oliver's busy with their chef taking photos of a steaming steak and kidney pie for their inaugaral Suffolk Foodies Club event 'Pie and a Pint' in February. The Foodies' Club is aimed at foodies in the Ipswich area and gives them a chance to meet some of the Food Hall's producers and suppliers and the chef, Andy, on the first Wednesday of every month. The events are very reasonably priced at £12.50 a head and I'm sure will prove to be a great evening out. The next event is on March 4th and is a chance to meet Helena Doy, from the aptly names Bread who supply farm shops and delis all over Suffolk.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Report: Beer Academy

How does the choice of ingredients and brewing process affect flavour and style? Why does beer get such a bad press while its supposedly more sophisticated cousin wine is seen as the natural choice to partner with food and growing steadily in popularity? How can beer find new audiences beyond lads and lasses swigging Stella on a big night out or beardy real ale drinkers?

These were some of the question that last week's Beer Academy course sought to answer. Aimed at people in the booze trade as well as beer enthusiasts looking for more of an educational experience than a typical brewery tour. I wasn't the only girl either!

The course was run by George Philliskirk, a beer expert who lives in what is apparently one of the epicentres of the beer universe: Burton on Trent (why - it's the high mineral content in the water there that gives the beers a refreshing edge apparently). George is a very charming, relaxed tutor with whom we'd had the privilege of dining with the night before in the company of Suffolk and Norfolk barley growers Teddy Maufe and Roger Middleditch of The Real Ale Shop. He knows his stuff from years in the industry and was about to head off to Australia to do a spot of beer judging. Nice work if you can get it.

The day covered the whole beer story in enough depth to come away with a much richer understanding of the topic:
  • Beer ingredients (water, malted barley, hops, yeast are all you need for classic English real ale but you will find other grains like wheat and rice used for some styles and also herbs, spices and fruit added)
  • Brewing process
  • How to taste beer (just like tasting wine except you're not supposed to spit it out!)
  • Beer and food matching
  • History of beer and beer styles (what's the different between a stout and a porter?)
  • Industry info: beer and health, the UK beer market
Some highlights for me included tasting some different types of malted barley: pale malt (just like Ovaltine or Grape Nuts), crystal malt (darker and more intense) and chocolate malt (the darkest of the three with a roasted coffee/chocolate aroma and flavour).

Beer and food matching was really interesting: try teaming chocolate with a Belgian Kriek (cherry) fruit beer - it's delicious. However this part of the course was a bit rushed and would merit a longer session. There are three key aspects to consider when teaming beer with food are:
1. Complement (a strong bitter with cheese)
2. Contrast (e.g. Kriek with chocolate)
3. Cut (think of a cold beer with a spicy curry)

Of the beers we tasted, those from the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich stood out as did Bluebird Bitter from the Coniston Brewery.

Now my months in Suffolk have confirmed a few things: that we are blessed with wonderful local producers, that there are plenty of good places to eat, and that I love a pint of Suffolk Ale be it Adnams or our local Earl Soham Victoria or Hektor's Pure which went down extremely well as the house bitter at the Latitude Festival last summer. It's probably fair to say that I was getting a bit complacent about beer. But Beer Academy revealed a whole world of different beer styles and ranged far and wide around the globe in search of good beers. We came away feeling much better informed about this amazing drink and with our tastebuds zinging.