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In the hinterland between Shrewsbury and the Cheshire border lies an oft overlooked gourmet's paradise. Jane Haynes hits the north Shropshire food trail
In the hinterland between Shrewsbury and the Cheshire border lies an oft overlooked gourmets paradise. Jane Haynes hits the north Shropshire food trail
We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly. So said cookery book author Anna Thomas, and in north Shropshire there really is no excuse to dine poorly.
The area has been somewhat overlooked as a food destination in recent years. This is partly due to the national reputation of Ludlow and the excellence of food businesses in and around Shrewsbury, while the travelling distances from the countys main urban centres has also been an obstacle.
But take a visit to Market Drayton or Oswestry, Whitchurch or Wem, and all points inbetween, and you will soon uncover a wealth of gourmet talent, much of it appreciated locally but deserving wider recognition.
Continuity, tradition and family link many of them award-winning champions like Applebys Cheese, Fordhall Farm, Maynards and Sweeney Hall Hotel are all able to cite at least two generations in business.
Our north Shropshire food trail starts in OSWESTRY home to an annual food and drink festival which takes over the town for a weekend every July. Festival chairman is Yossi Gliksman, owner of Upstairs Downstairs, a specialist cook shop in the heart of the town.
He is a passionate advocate of quality produce and the driving force behind the festival, this year taking place on July 13 and 14.
Said Yossi: North Shropshire is blessed with some wonderful food and drink producers and restaurants; the food festival was launched to celebrate that depth and range.
Many food businesses operate from kitchens and small, remote premises so they need the platform of a food festival to reach a new audience.
There is a sense I think that people believe south Shropshire offers sophistication, fine dining and top quality, while north Shropshire is more rustic. Thats simply not the case any more.
There are some really good restaurants but there is also stunning produce; people who want to host dinner parties at home or treat themselves to a great home cooked meal have some of the best produce in the country to select from.
Upstairs Downstairs has recently expanded into the neighbouring shop in Leg Street to carry more dining supplies, with quality brands on sale including Aga, Chasseur, Cusinart, Dualit, KitchenAid, Magimix, Robert Welch and Hostess.
Upstairs Downstairs, Leg Street, Oswestry SY11 2NN. Tel: 0845 330 0232.
Wynnstay Hotel, Oswestry
A much under-rated restaurant and holder of two AA rosettes, this is one of Oswestrys gems. From the fine dining restaurant to Wilsons wine bar, there is something here for all pockets and tastes. Christopher Ridgers, whos been at the hotel for 15 years, is currently head chef, earning a great reputation for his creative dishes and balance of flavours. Its a great location for using local produce.
www.wynnstayhotel.com Tel: 01691 655261
Treflach Farm, near Oswestry
The family business at Treflach Farm rears and produces a range of high quality free-range pork, including sausages, cuts and pies. They also produce free-range eggs and beef. This is a truly inspirational community-based farm in which the whole family muck in, supported by a small team of staff and a veritable army of volunteers. The farm hosts weekly visits for adults and children with learning disabilities and mental health issues. Volunteers are always welcome to work outside in the vegetable garden and polytunnels or in animal care, while volunteers who want to help in the bakery will be trained up in food hygiene, with a great lunch thrown in too. Matildas Bakehouse is located at Treflach Farm courtyard. Buyers can contact the farm to buy products direct or purchase from local outlets including Derwen College farm shop, local Spars and food festivals. Treflach Farm products are also sold in high-end delicatessens across London.
www.treflachfarm.co.uk Tel: 01691 654321
Sweeney Hall Hotel & Restaurant, Morda, Oswestry
Sweeney Hall boutique hotel and restaurant, set in the gorgeous rolling Marches, has been owned by the same family for 21 years, with Sean Evans at the helm all that time. The kitchen is headed up by Bernie Warburton, who has been at the hotel for more than 30 years. Its this sense of continuity and word of mouth recommendations that keep diners returning again and again to enjoy quality local produce with a hint of continental influence. Parkers Restaurant serves lunch, dinner and early bird menus. Sunday lunches a speciality.
Tel: 01691 652450
Oswestry Country Market
Selling delicious home-made, homegrown, home-crafted produce
and baked goods. A friendly Wednesday morning market in the Memorial Hall, 8.30am-1pm.
As any English beer drinker will tell you, the Australians have no idea how to produce a decent pint; their native VB and Tooheys are the fizzy poor relations to a traditional British bitter. In Oswestry, Aussie Shane Parr has worked hard to buckthe stereotype. His microbrewery, Stonehouse, is a family business turning out award winning beers, and employing local people.
A new purpose-built brewery is being erected on the site, alongside the Cambrian Railway line at Oswestry, with the help of a grant from Shropshire Council.
The brewery produces 13,000 pints per week, using traditional recipes and methods.
Beers include Station Bitter and KPA, both gold award winners at the 2012 SIBA Awards, silver award-winning Wheeltappers Wheat Beer and bronze award winners Sunlander and Cambrian Gold.
Stonehouse Brewery, Weston, Oswestry www.stonehousebrewery.co.uk
Tel: 01691 676457
From Oswestry its a short hop across to MARKET DRAYTON, home to a range of food businesses. Our favourites include:
This is the original community organic food enterprise, rearing grassfed beef, lamb and Gloucester old spot pork. After being saved from development in 2006 through a national campaign, it became Englands first community-owned farm.
The on-site farm shop, tearoom and farm is run by brother and sister Charlotte and Ben Hollins, who took it on at the tender ages of 21 and 19.
The farm shop also stocks the farms own dry cured bacon, pork sausages, free-range organic eggs, fresh, locally grown vegetables, Shropshire honey, jams, organic ice cream and organic speciality cheeses.
Said Charlotte: Everything we do has local connections at its heart. We pride ourselves in the careful way we rear our animals, providing natural stress free environments.
Their father, the redoubtable and much missed Arthur Hollins, stopped putting artificial chemicals on the land 65 years ago, and the land is blessed with lush pasture and a fantastic array of wildlife.
Arthurs Restaurant is open Friday nights (booking essential) and for private parties.
Go behind the scenes at Fordhall Farm on Saturday February 16 and Sunday February 17 at one of the regular volunteer working weekends. Take part in conservation, maintenance and accessibility work around the farm, with abarbecue and campfire on Saturday evening. Learn new skills, meet lovely newpeople, be a part of apioneering venture and getmucky.
Goldstone Hall Hotel, near Market Drayton
A rural hotel and restaurant in a Georgian manor house which has parts dating back to medieval times, Goldstone Hall has won the title of small hotel of the year in the West Midlands, among other accolades.
The venue has its own well-stocked kitchen garden, an abundance of local produce and a great team of chefs who have held two AA rosettes for the past 10 years. Also popular party and event destination.
Quality, outdoor reared, free-range those are the buzzwords that define the success of Buttercross Farm and farm shop near Market Drayton.
The farm is owned and run by Martyn and Helen Rowley, who set out in 2000 to rear great quality animals and supply first class products and service to customers. They are succeeding on both counts.
At the shop, as well as supplying their own free-range pork, bacon, sausages, hams, matured beef and lamb and
free-range chicken, they also stock produce from acclaimed local businesses like Mikes Homemade pickles, preserves and chutney; cakes from Sues Pantry; the famous Coopers Gourmet Sausage Rolls, operating from Shrewsbury; Great Ness oils nd Pimhill oatcakes and muesli.
Said Helen: Our pork, bacon, sausages and ham is from pigs reared to the highest welfare standards.
They are all kept outside in small groups in large open paddocks with a well-bedded pig arc for shelter and warmth.
Visitors are very welcome to go and say hello to our piggies and see
for themselves how happy they are!
Heading towards Cheshire, the A49 to WHITCHURCH and itssurrounding villages is also blessed with food worth travelling for.
Farming and cheesemaking have been a way of life for the Appleby family for several generations, using traditional techniques to create superlative award winning cheeses. They are the only remaining producers of real calico-bound traditional farm Cheshire cheese, which is made from their own unpasteurised milk and matured on the farm. The mix of fine pastures, quality unpasteurised milk, the skill of the cheesemaker and the art of maturing gives Applebys cheese its unique texture and flavour. Products include Cheshire, Smoked and Double Gloucester. The Cheshire has just won Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards.
Maynards Farm, near Whitchurch
Maynards Farm Shop is a true treasure trove, located on the A49 between Shrewsbury and Whitchurch. It stocks the farms own top quality bacon, sausages and anything else to do with pigs, all expertly cured on site, along with cheeses, pates, jams, butter, eggs, milk and biscuits. Fresh artisan breads are created in Maynards Farm Bakehouse by baker Craig Sandiford, in a new wood burning oven. He uses 100% British flour for all of his products, including Pimhill Organic Stoneground Wholemeal Flour from only five miles away.
Maynards Farm produce is available in selected supermarkets, other farm shops, delis and garden centres.
Pimhill Farm, Harmer Hill
Pimhill Farm was one of the organic pioneers; much like the team at Fordhall Farm, the Mayall family were one of just a handful of farms now seen as the spark that ignited the organic movement.
In 1949 Sam Mayall and his son Richard adopted organic farming methods, moving away from conventional farming which relied on the use of artificial fertilisers and chemicals. They believed this was the best way forward for their land and their livestock.
In the 1950s a mill was established at Pimhill Farm and the first flours were created. This small business rapidly expanded in the following decades, supplying bakeries, restaurants and early wholefood shops.
Ginny Mayall, the third generation, has taken the company on a step further, creating their own wonderful organic products. She works together with her small team to sow, grow, harvest, mill, mix and handpack their high quality flours, grains, porridge oats, oatcakes and mueslis for specialist retailers, box schemes and direct delivery. One example of the product range is the new fruity muesli, a combination of oats, fruits, seed, barley and rye, free from nuts and wheat and packed with apricots and figs.
Theres also a wide array of home-based producers. In WEM one of the newest is Cheri Bakeswell, the business of young mum Cheri Lees, who was cajoled by friends and family into turning her cake baking hobby into a business, which launched last autumn. All her cakes are made at home, often using ingredients grown in the familys vegetable patch, with her two sons acting as chief tasters. Everything is baked fresh to order, is preservative-free and uses only natural colourings and flavourings. Cheri said: Ive always enjoyed being in the kitchen my gran was a baker, and still makes the most amazing apple pie, while my mums a great cook too, so I guess cooking is in my genes.
www.cheribakeswell.co.uk Tel: 07939 413936.