PUBLISHED: 17:40 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:05 20 February 2013
Summertime and the cooking's easy. Sausages sizzle and the beers are cool. Martin Griffiths visits some of Herefordshire's outstanding butchers, tours one of our top breweries and suggests some spicy recipes to give al fresco meals an extra touch ...
The small farm I grew up on in the Herefordshire borders produced most of its own food. Sheep were kept ready for spring lambing, Christmas turkeys were raised in the orchards and plucked in the summerhouse by my mother and her trusted band of helpers and the fruit and vegetables were invariably dew-fresh.
My father's transport business collected other farmers' produce for delivery to the local markets at Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester, so you certainly knew where the meat came from. The farmers supplied the local markets, they supplied the local butchers and customers could trace the source of their food.
Herefordshire is still blessed with some of the best, traditional, family-run butchers in the country. The meat they sell is still invariably locally-sourced and with the growth of the farm shop is often linked to produce which is reared on the family farm.
Buying at your local butcher is a great way to get the cuts of meat you really like, support your local farmers and businesses and, best of all, you get to enjoy some great tasting products!
I visited a selection of Herefordshire's butchers in search of high quality, really tasty sausages for my summer barbecue, picked up some great local beers on the way and created some tasty sauce recipes back at home.
Butchers, bangers and pigs in fields
Legges of Bromyard is one of those family farms that has opened up outlets in town to sell its own meats and pies and the best of produce of the area, including bread, apple juice and seasonal vegetables. Anthony Legge is rightly proud of his produce and if you take the short trip out to Shortwood Farm you can see farming in action and the Berkshire x Large White pigs happily rooting around in the fields.
As Anthony says: "Having raised the pigs we know what's gone into them and the quality of our meat comes from old fashioned breeds that have space to run around." This is reflected in the sausages whose flavours mark the changing seasons. In autumn you'll find blackberry flavours and in spring Anthony uses wild garlic from his farm's hedgerows.
Local sausage connoisseur Garston Phillips recommends all three of Bromyard's butchers but reckons Legge's Pork and Apple sausage is "about as good as it gets."
Personally I enjoy their sausage made with rosemary and sage. Its aroma of sweet herbs and spices mingles perfectly with charcoal smoke and 'caramelised' (i.e. gently burnt) pork.
On the other side of the county at Staunton-on-Wye, Oakchurch Farm shop is a large and popular site, which has expanded its business to include a gardening, kitchen equipment, and restaurant centre where you can sample some of the products from the extensive butcher's area.
Check out your own local farm shop or farmers' market to find local produce.
Most of our towns retain a family butcher and a town such as Ledbury is fortunate in having three excellent butchers all of whom are happy to discuss the provenance of their meats. At David Waller's you'll find a host of flavoured sausages including: pork, apple and cider; sage and onion and the pork, ginger and coriander which was awarded first prize in the 2009 Heart of England Fine Foods Speciality Sausage category.
With all pork being sourced from free-range pigs just five miles away it's not surprising their traditional pork "champ" sausage also picked up top spot as best breakfast sausage.
The Waller family are about to celebrate their 30th year in business and their motto is "Quality, Choice and Value".
This could be applied to many of the county's small family butchers.
In the village of Bishops Frome Pat Rogers set up The Cutting Block in 2007 and focuses on local produce for local people. In the picturesque village of Weobley you'll find the Green Bean and the traditional butchers R E Williams. The local favourite here is called the Weobley Whopper and as manager Julian Kowalewski says: "When it comes to a sausage, the customer's satisfaction depends on the quality of what you put in." The quality of the raw produce is crucial and happy pigs which have room to roam certainly produce a tastier sausage.
At Whitbourne Roger and Jill Gunn run Elmore Farm Foods from their farmhouse overlooking the beautiful Teme Valley. Their pigs are a Berkshire x Duroc breed and are free to forage in the shade of an ancient damson orchard. Roger produces a range of free-range foods and besides a tasty selection of sausages, including his fruity Brinksty special and duck sausages, he sells free-range duck and hen eggs and does pig roasts throughout the area. You can sample his sausages at the 'Live and Let Live' on Brinksty Common, Worcestershire farmers' market or visit the farm by appointment. (It's a maze of narrow lanes around there so get directions first!).
Great butchers can be found all over Herefordshire. In Hereford's butter market is Phillips and Preece, and in nearby Widemarsh Street is the excellent Neil Powell. In the centre of Ross-on-Wye is the family friendly Cornwalls. Here I met eight-year-old Daniel Champness and his father who were buying pork and leek sausages. According to Daniel: "Sausages barbecued by my dad are best."
Down in Monmouth Duncan Wills runs Le Gourmet and he is passionate about sourcing the best products locally and his black pudding sausages are packed full of herby intensity. It would be a tragedy if we didn't make full use of our local butchers, it really could be a matter of use them or lose them. They are essential in keeping our food locally sourced and packed full of countryside flavours.
Hops, Beers and brewers
With your sausages sizzling on the barbecue you're going to need a cool drink to quench your thirst. Obviously Hereford is rightly proud of its excellent ciders and perrys and has established a growing reputation for its wines, but you can now add to the list Herefordshire beers. A visit to www.herefordcamra.org.uk will give you lists of pubs and beer festivals in the county or you could pick up a selection of bottled beer from the Wye Valley brewery at Stoke Lacy. Its cask beers can be found in many of the county's pubs including The Prince of Wales in Ledbury, The Rose and Lion in Bromyard and at the iconic real ale pub, The Barrels in St Owen Street Hereford.
Just down the road from there Jim Kenyon runs the Spinning Dog Brewery from the back of the Victory Pub. Jim's fine beers are served from a bar that looks like a ship. (And that's before you've had a couple of pints!).
The Wye Valley brewery was actually based at The Barrels before moving to its present site and had started brewing out at Canon Pyon in 1985. It now produces around four and a half million pints a year, including the hugely successful, prize-winning "Butty Bach" (Welsh for 'my little friend'). Its bottled beers are marketed under the saucily named Dorothy Goodbody's and the range of beers would seem to be as young, friendly and full-bodied as the name suggests! The Golden Ale is the colour of ripe golden corn and its crisp and zesty flavours and hoppy aromas make it ideal for summer drinking.
If you fancy something a bit heavier try the strong, full-bodied "Country Ale" At 6% this dark ruby coloured ale goes superbly well with a slab of barbecued Herefordshire steak. Wye Valley now employs around 30 local people, so drinking its beer helps keep people in a job. The brewery sources most of its raw ingredients from within a few miles and uses some of the older varieties of hops including Fuddles and Goldings. It is also in the process of starting to grow its own barley for malting and is working closely with Canon Pyon farmer Chris Davies. As Chris says: "We like the beer so we're growing the barley."
Spices, chutneys and a touch of extra heat
If you need to create a little more heat at your summer barbecue you could try picking up some locally made spicy dips from your local butchers. Look out for Three Counties Gourmet's chilli dip or visit The Olive Lady or KK ventures at the farmers' markets. Alternatively you could make your own by following and adapting these simple recipes.
Red hot summer chutney
• 1 red pepper
• 5 red chillies
• 4 oz strawberries
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• Juice of half a lemon
• Pinch of salt/pepper/paprika/coriander
Roughly chop the peppers, chilli and
fruit before blitzing everything a
Spicy green chutney
• 1 large apple, peeled and cored
• 5 green chillies
• 1 green pepper
• 1 finely chopped red onion
• 5 tbs freshly chopped coriander and
• Juice of half a lemon
• Good pinch of salt, cumin and ginger according to personal taste
Roughly chop ingredients before liquidising. This makes a delicious accompaniment to barbecued food but can also be frozen and added to other meat dishes hot and cold. To give the chutney more fruitiness try adding chopped tomatoes and plums.
• 5 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
• Large pinch of smoked ground paprika
• 15ml cider vinegar
• 10ml brown sugar
• 1 red onion finely chopped
• Good pinch of freshly chopped herbs such as basil and marjoram.
• Salt and pepper
Add all the ingredients to a pan and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Chill until required.
Mustard beer and herb marinade:
• 30 ml rapeseed/olive oil
• 10 ml local mustard
• Spoonful of honey
• 30 ml beer (you'll just have to drink the rest)
• 2-3 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
• Juice and zest of a whole lemon
• Several sprigs of finely chopped rosemary, thyme and bay
• Salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and brush liberally onto meat a good hour before cooking
• Remember the barbecue can be dangerous. Beware of trees, sheds and dogs wagging tails. Keep children's fingers well clear and make sure your food is cooked completely through, not just burnt on the outside!
Visit www.barbeque-online.co.uk for recipes and tips.