They may not be as internationally renowned as Parma ham, Greek feta, or champagne, but Britain boasts an increasing range of tasty regional produce whose “unique heritage, character and reputation” is protected by the EU. Here are five of the best.
Cider’s come a long way since the days of The Wurzels, and these days Brits consume more cider per head than any other nation on earth. Herefordshire – one of three counties where production is protected – grows 20 percent of the UK’s cider apples, some of which of course go into mass-produced fizz, but you can still experience the real thing at award-winning Westons, a family firm set up in 1880 using apples from their own orchards. Tour its visitor centre in the village of Much Marcle to admire one of the largest bottle collections in the world and sample a drop of potent Old Rosie – at 8.2 percent, she’ll blow your socks off.
www.westons-cider.co.uk. Tours run three times daily and cost £7.50 for adults.
Surely the finest smoked haddock anywhere can be found in the North Sea town of Arbroath, where the Arbroath Smokie defies Scotland’s dubious culinary reputation. The best way to eat the delicately textured and aromatic, copper-brown fish, which is salted, dried and then smoke-cured over smouldering hardwood chips, is straight from the barrel at one of the family-run smokehouses overlooking the town’s harbour. With thick smoke billowing daily out of its smokehouse, tiny, whitewashed M&M Spink is one of the most congenial and atmospheric spots to try it.
Stilton proves that the French don’t have a monopoly on pungent and wickedly delicious cheese. The Bell Inn in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton lays claim to being the birthplace of the “English Parmesan” (as Defoe described it); the village was once a trading post on the London–York coaching road, and the pub can certainly be credited with popularizing the cheese with passing travellers. Though Stilton is no longer made in the village – only producers in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire are allowed to use the name – the inn still serves a fine selection of cheeses, and the village still celebrates its formative role with an annual Stilton-rolling competition along the High Street in May.
For a list of producers see www.stiltoncheese.com.
Yorkshire forced rhubarb
In the seventeenth century, rhubarb was seen as a wonder drug, capable of curing everything from excessive freckles to cancer, and sold for three times the price of opium. The tangy and versatile plant thrives in an area known as The Rhubarb Triangle, between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire. You can sample the produce at Wakefield’s Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb in February, or find out about how the plant is “forced” in darkened sheds – producing tender, early-flowering stems – and harvested by candlelight during a tour of one of the largest producers, E. Oldroyd & Sons.
See www.wakefield.gov.uk for more on Wakefield’s food festival.
Melton Mowbray pork pie
Rather like Marmite, most people either love or hate this quintessentially English snack of chopped uncured pork sealed in jelly and wrapped in a thick crust. These days only nine producers based around the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray are allowed to make the classic pie, one of the oldest being Dickinson & Morris, who have been baking them since 1851. Gawp at the mouthwatering array of pies – from tiny to enormous – at their Old Pork Pie Shoppe, drop in for a demonstration, or even have a crack at hand-crafting a pie of your own at one of their “Pork Pie Evening Experiences”. The pies are baked overnight, ready to be picked up the following day.