Back in the U.K. for Summer…Sort of.

Last Hoorah in Hondarribia…

We said adiós with heavy hearts to our home of 2 years Hondarribia…and of course all our great mates. We had a week or so of farewell get togethers that ranged from an evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro to a menú del día with our sweetheart Itziar to a grand lunch @ with Gloria & Bernard @ Andoni’s (and Carmen) Txoko (cooking society). Hondarribia & Spain will be an experience that will be very hard to beat…

Back in the U.K. – Effing Cold!

We boarded the Bilbao-to-Portsmouth ferry on time post a nerve-wracking traffic jam that Hound #2 skilfully avoided by using  her Google map skills to route us through a wee fishing village – phew! Onto England…and as we disembarked in the Land Rover, England greeted us with its typical weather – pissing rain, windy as and effing cold…more like winter than effing August!

Frome’a A Pop’n! New Places Round Every Corner! – Sam’s Kitchen & the Rye Bakery Where Billie Found A Bean Bag…Loves Bean Bags!

We spent our first 4 nights camping in our old village of Frome, Somerset as Hound #1 Billie had an important vet appointment (1 of 4) to gear up for his return to New Zealand. We greatly enjoyed our return to Frome despite the wintry weather conditions as it has truly begun to blossom with new establishments popping up around just about every corner. One of our favourite morning coffee spots was the Rye Bakery which inhabits, quite stylishly, the vast insides of an old church. An amazing space that has seen some serious investment….

We also checked out Sam’s Kitchen Deli which has a truly stunning fit out & space…but we were not so impressed with the coffee in terms of quality and price, but could easily see enjoying a glass of wine or two in the 2nd floor bar & just walking the world go by, up St. Catherine’s Hill.

Fox & Badger @ Wellow – Awesome Lunch! Top Left: Bacon & Pea Risotto with Seared Duck Breast; The bar; Grilled Fresh Mackerel with Potatoes & Horseradish Cream Atop Chard

As we wrapped up our brief stay in Frome & prepared to head for Totnes for a month in an AirBnB cottage, we decided to indulge ourselves for having camped in wintry, wet conditions with a lunch @ our fave pub – the Fox & Badger in Wellow. We have never been disappointed in a meal here and this time was no exception. Exceptional quality at a more than fair price! If you’ve never been, GO!

Home Sweet Home for a Month – Totnes, Devon

We settled into our sweet AirBnB cottage late in the arvo with a cracking evening forecast ahead weather-wise. If you ever need a perfect place to stay in Totnes that is centrally located & comfortable as then check out this place. We ended up in good-vibe Totnes because my old Land Rover needed some TLC by my Devon mechanic Kevin prior to shipping to New Zealand. And Devon in August is or can be a serious challenge accomodation & price wise. But this ticked all the boxes!

Top Left: Best BLT & Avocado Sammie @ Rousdon Bakery; Venison Burger @ The Green Dragon Pub; Landcombe Cove – Stunning!

We have had sporadic stretches of an English summer & when we do, we leverage our time & our Secret Beaches book to the max. This is an excellent informational source for secluded, unpopulated beaches – a necessary bundle of information when you live in jammed to the gills England.

Top Left: Pigs Nose Pub – A Real English Pub; Macely Beach/Cove; Coastal Fields on Walk to Macely Beach

We got lucky with another forecasted, semi-summer’s day so made a plan to walk the track along the River Dart (below) to the village of Ashprington. An excellent walk was had by all and is a favourite activity of Hound #1, Billie. Hard to beat the Devon (or Dorset) countryside with rolling hills, mucho greenery & woods and a sweet river…and the pubs! Ashprington is home to the Dunstan Arms and we had a stunner of a lunch (and a pint or two).

Top: Dart River; Billie Waits for the Pizza; Lunch @ Durant Arms in Ashprington…Rabbit Rillettes & Toast Points & Cornichons.

Top: Billie Plays Hard With Toy Gift from Mate Gorka in Hondarribia; English Summer – Needs a Fire!; Another Gift from Gorka – Txakoli Vino!

We felt that after a few weeks in the village of Totnes that a day out in the Big Smoke of Exeter was in the cards. We had a few shopping missions to accomplish that could not be satisfied in Totnes, so on the train we hopped, Exeter bound.

A Day Out in Exeter…

We were able to tick a quite a few boxes in Exeter – I succeeded in replacing my about-to-disintegrate Levi jeans & Hound #2 raided all the Op Shops (Charity Shops for non-UK folks) nabbing some books & DVDs. We also managed a quick squizzy of Magdalen Road, foodie central for Exeter.

Thurleston Beach, Devon…

We were gifted with another stunner of a summer’s day…only problem it was a Bank Holiday Monday. Hound #2’s whole family has a genetic aversion to doing anything on a Bank Holiday, especially going to the beach. But we sort of devised plan which was to leave super early, get a swim & beach time in and do a coastal walk to the village of Bantham to the Sloop Inn pub for at least a pint & maybe lunch…crowds dependent.

The beach was awesome…until the hordes horded in. General theory is that any beach you can drive to & has a cafe or beach bar will have a tsunami of folks by lunchtime. And it always strikes us as funny or strange that if you are only willing to walk 10-15 minutes farther along you will almost always find a near empty, secluded beach.

The Sloop Inn was also awesome – we knew nothing about this pub but we dodged another Bank Holiday bullet by arriving a bit early when no one was there (yet) & placed our food & drink orders & grabbed a table in the empty garden courtyard.

The meals were stupendous and exceptionally well priced…wish it was our local!

The Sloop Inn, Bantham, Devon: Smoked Mackerel Salad & Local Mussels in Cream/Butter Sauce – Superb All!

Well, as we count down the days to our New Zealand return, frantically ticking off dozens of boxes of things to do with Billie the Jack Russell, my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie – going to New Zealand!) & us and all our stuff, we have this (below) to return to…a massive slip – the backyard is now ever so much closer to the back door. Happy, happy, joy, joy in our wee casa in Lyttelton :-(.

Welcome Home…

Bridport Food Festival 2013

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Saturday the 15th of June was the main event of the week long Bridport Food Festival and despite weather that was far closer to a winter’s day, folks turned up in droves and by all measures adopted a stiff upper lip & got on with having some fun. The festival was originally conceived and launched by River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall back in 2004 and now in its 10th year the festival attracts many locals as well as a decent chunk of out-of-towners (like us).

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Sausages, Ciders, Beers and Baked Goods – oh yum.

We were quite impressed with the size, scope and depth of the festival – pretty much something to interest or tempt just about everyone (we managed to open our wallets on numerous occasions). If you had a hunger pang, a smorgasbord of food options were on offer; if you needed to quench a pestering thirst, the Roundtable Beer festival was doing a roaring business and there was just about every other form of comestible delicacy for taste or sale.

Besides seeing many new producers, it was also nice to see some known and old favourites. We had previously met The Bartlett family and sampled  Wootton Organic Diary’s wares at the monthly Bridport Farmers Market. Their festival stand was swarming with cheesey folks but we managed to snag a serious chunk of the Millstone, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese that was bursting with flavour.

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Wootton Organic Dairy

Another recognisable and nice to see face at the festival were the folks from Bothen Hill Organic Produce. They are our ‘go to’ people for our weekly seasonal asparagus fix (we find them at our farm shop local Miller’s in Kilmington) where we usually have to purchase at least 2 bunches to quell the craving. You can also visit the farm on Fridays from 10 to 12 to get your asparagus fresh as but make sure you study your map & directions closely as they be off the beaten track.

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Bothen Hill Organic Produce – Super Fresh Asparagus

And it was no surprise to us to find Capreolus Fine Foods and Wyld Meadow Farm in the festival lineup. Capreolus’s Dave (head popping out from the sausage row below) knows his way around a cornucopia of charcuterie and he makes excellent use of Dorset & Devon’s key ingredient – meat. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the art of charcuterie or smoking meats is not as widely practised in the UK as it is in Italy or Spain to name just two but Capreolus can fill the void just fine.

And Wyld Meadow Farm is on our weekly shopping list (again, we find them well stocked at Miller’s Farm Shop) for carefully, well raised beef and lamb. It is not only important what quality food you eat but more directly what your animals eat & how they are cared for that makes all the difference.

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2 Old Faves – Capreolus Fine Foods & Wyld Meadow Farm

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James’s Cheeses – Love A Washed Rind Fromage!

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Honey Pot Ciders

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Tempting Treats…Olives, Olives, Olives…Hound #1 In-dog-nito

And to make it a fun fest for the whole crowd, dogs were most welcome. In addition to several sausage samples, Hound #1 found a new friend…he likes the fluffy ones.

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Pooch Smooch…

Washingpool Shop, Farm and Kitchen, Bridport, Dorset

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We have been making an effort to visit as many of our local farmers markets as we possibly can and with some good results but it will be the summer season that brings them forefront & centre. A very good adjunct to the farmers markets are the numerous farm shops dotted about the counties. They seem to offer a consolidated (good range of local products from many producers in one spot) and consistent delivery method (most open 7 days a week versus farmers markets once a month) for many of the great, small producers.

We had read a Guardian article where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame was asked to name his favourite local farm shops and at the top of his list was the Washingpool Farm Shop in Bridport, Dorset. With a break in the winter gloom we set off in the Land Rover for a bit of a squizzy.

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Farm shops, just like people, though genetically the same in their general makeup, offer up a wide variety within the farm shop genre. Some seem to add a bit more bric a brac or gift items to the mix whilst others stick with a strong food centred focus. But so far in our farm shop tiki tour, Washingpool is clearly one of the food centric shops which pleases us immensely.

Washingpool is an 80 acre farm that grows the farm shop veggies (in season) and raises pedigree Red Ruby beef cattle and free range pigs as well as offering numerous Dorset and Southwest regionally sourced products.

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And there is lots to do at Washingpool besides shop – there’s the Farmer’s Kitchen cafe for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea, accommodation options, fishing and a series of regular seasonal events (see above).

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We were seriously impressed with the local meat selection with not just the Warmingpool lamb for sale but other locally farmed meats such as the beef from Higher Silkhay farm (pic below) and the oh so tempting  stuffed pork belly roast (we bought & ate it – praise the lard) from Devon-based Wallace’s Hill Farm (they also raise Bison, Red Deer and Wild Boar). Wallace’s have a farm shop of their own which just may have to be put on the to do list.

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And we were oh so happy to see a decent display of local charcuterie which included our mates from Capreolus Fine Foods (we blogged about them in our Bridport Farmers Market piece) who make & offer a superb selection of smoked & preserved meats. And a new kind on the block for us, the Dorset Farms folks whose award winning ham & bacons are most definitely going to be tried.

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Bridport’s (Dorset) Farmers Market

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On a wet & rainy Saturday (tell us something new?) we angled our way over to the town of Bridport, Dorset for a wee bit of a squizzy. Like many small towns, Bridport plays host to a pretty decent little farmers’ market (dates can be found here – essentially 2nd Saturday of each month).

The first stall we happened upon was the Capreolus Find Food folks. Now this was food right up our alley – smoked & cured meats. This is an art form that is not as prevalent in Britain as it is in other countries such as Italy and Spain to name just two. And we are not sure why – it cannot be for lack of the most critical ingredient, good quality meat, as our short experience of Dorset & Devon makes that question moot. We were most impressed with the extensive selection and as Dave was offering a “3 for 2” deal we snatched up some smoked duck, venison and the air dried pork loin (pictured below). As of this writing, we have consumed them all & let out a resounding YUM.

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A quick wander inside the Arts Centre hall and our eyes were quickly attracted to the cheeseman on the centre’s stage. Dramatically set against a deep, black curtain he and his cheeses looked amazingly good. Say hello folks to Wootton Organic Dairy – owned & run by brothers David & James Bartlett in the small village of North Wootton, just outside of Shepton Mallet (if that makes sense to you, good). Had a good chat with him & we discovered how small the world is – he had met & knew our local New Zealand cheesemonger who had trained at Neal’s Yard Dairy – wow. Picked two beauties – the Old Burford, a rich & creamy mold ripened cheese; and the Millstone, another organic cow’s milk cheese that is quite crumbly in texture.

BridportFMCheeseGuy

On our way back out of the Arts Centre hall, we paid a final stop to Wyld Meadow Farm. Wyld Meadow has been naturally farming sheep in West Dorset for generations and they use the Poll Dorset lambs which can breed at anytime of year which means a fairly constant supply of fresh Dorset lamb. We chose a spectacular rolled lamb shoulder (we think the sweetest cut of meat) and had the perfect Sunday roast.

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The Dorset Wine Company

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In our continual West Country quest for excellent independent wine merchants, we finally paid a visit to the Dorset Wine Company. By ‘finally’ we mean we had passed it several times which always seemed to be on a Sunday – the day they are closed. So much promise and potential could be seen through the front window, but no touch, no buy.DorsetWineStore

Our persistence paid off this time round and we were warmly greeted on a wet & windy day (what’s new?) by Jonathan Charles, the director & owner. He encouraged us to have a good wander and look around, so we did. Processing all of the information in a shop such as this can take numerous iterations. You start out modestly optimistic but also with a tinge of skepticism as we have had our wine bubble deflated before – all mouth and no trousers. But with each successive scan of the bottled shelves, it was our skepticism that got the boot and a mild wino delirium set in.

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The Dorset Wine Company has several attributes that lift it a number of rungs up the independent wine merchant ladder:

* For such a relatively small store it has an amazingly varied & diverse selection of quality wines from around the world as well as spirits (single malt headquarters) and ales. Each one seemed to be personally picked as Jonathan deftly answered just about every query fired his way.

* Along with the diversity of wine types & styles, there was also a very carefully designed and well thought out pricing structure. A plethora of good juice to choose from in the under tenner range and pretty much at every price point up from there. It rubs us the wrong way when a wine shop thinks any wine worth quaffing cannot be had for less than £25 (and you will find those at the Dorset Wine Company too BTW).

* And finally, the icing on the cake, a very knowledgeable wine merchant who is generous with his advice & guidance. That is the huge informational vacuum to be found in the supermarket wine section – if you can find anyone at all they are most likely there to just stack shelves and it might as well be baked beans as wine. But that’s been High Street’s problem for yonks where retail has been systematically reduced by the Big Boy Stores to pretty much a single factor – price.

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Our wallet was under some fiscal restraint post the holiday season so it was these 3 gems we picked up on Jonathan’s advice (he gave us lots more choices). The Gran Cerdo 2011 (Big Pig) is a ripe Rioja that pokes a bit of fun at the banks. As the label states it is “a great wine dedicated to the bank executives that denied loans to us on the basis that our wine is not seizable asset. One day, these greasy and sweaty corporate suits will find that the best things in life cannot be impounded.” Well said! The winemaker is Gonzalo Gonzalo – awesome name if not completely made up – and he’s firmly in the biodynamic crowd of winemakers seeking the purest or natural expression of his fruit using whole bunch fermentation, no filtration, no stabilization and minimal sulphur (great for you sensitive types).

The Planeta 2010 is a wine after my own heart as it is a blend of 2 hearty red grape varietals – Nero d’Avola (60%) and Frappato (40%) – that are grown in the Vittoria region of Sicily . A few words for this wine would be plush & lush & fresh with a generous splashing of all things fruit – strawberries,  cherries & raspberries.

And last but not least, the Guimaro Joven 2010 is the wine for you if you like them young, fresh & clean. “Joven” is Spanish for “young” and what that means is that the wine has seen little if any oak, or sin crianza in Spanish. Guimaro is one of the most respected winemakers in this region and this wine delivers with vibrant, pure fruit flavours with a decent dash of fragrant spices thrown in.