How Hampshire trout is back on the map
- Credit: Archant
Hampshire trout is finally back on the menu thanks to the pioneering thinking of one local fishy fan says Nancy Judge
“For many people trout is stuck in the 1970’s. It conjures up memories of a glassy-eyed fish plonked on a plate and sprinkled with almonds. Hampshire trout has so much more to offer than that, we should give it the same status we give salmon.” muses Hugo Hardman as he gazes out over the glistening waters of the River Test.
It was about a year ago that Hugo was having a summer evening drink with an old friend when the idea for his business came to him. Watching the trout swimming against the current, he reflects on that eureka moment.
“We were discussing how unique Hampshire’s trout is thanks to the chalk stream rivers that it inhabits. My friend, Nick, farms trout but at the time sent most of it away to be sold across the country, losing its Hampshire identity and making it impossible to know just what you were buying at the point of sale. Unless you were able to fish on our local rivers it was a challenge to get your hands on a Hampshire trout. It was then that we decided there had to be a way for traceable Hampshire rainbow trout to make a return. It is part of our heritage and we should be proud of it.”
Hugo is not a man to waste time and is the first to admit to his ambitious nature. Having recently sold his London-based coffee wholesale business, Darlingtons, he was in a position to quickly move the idea forward. By October of last year he was selling his first trout and ‘Chalk Stream Foods’ was born.
“I sold the coffee business in pursuit of a job based near my roots in the Meon Valley. My heart has always been in Hampshire and I wanted to live and work here doing something I am passionate about.”
Chalk Stream Foods works closely with four local fish farms, which are all part of Test Valley Trout and run by one of the farm owners and the ‘master of trout’ Christopher Saunders-Davies. Hugo’s focus is on producing large fresh trout which offer flavour to rival salmon, and are sold and distributed locally under the label Chalk Stream Trout.
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“We rear each fish for at least two years as this results in large and fit trout, which is what we are after. This means our fish are as big as salmon weighing in between two or three kilos.
“We have carefully selected the sustainable farms that supply our fish. The fish are kept in a unique natural habitat. They live in ‘gin clear’, spring-fed chalk streams with constant flowing water, which means they are always swimming against the current just as they do in the river. Whilst the excellent light and vegetation creates a haven for them.”
In just eleven months of business Chalk Stream Foods has already made remarkable headway on its mission to get people eating and buying Hampshire trout. Local and London chefs are queuing up to put Chalk Stream Trout on their menus, and during the recent Hampshire Food Festival almost every chef demo featured some of their trout.
James Golding, Chef Director at THE PIG Hotel Group is one of these fans, he says: “I find Chalk Stream Trout is full of flavour and the quality is second to none. This is to do with how they are reared and what they eat.”
Trout offers versatility when it comes to cooking. Flaked almonds definitely don’t feature in James’s trout dishes.
“We have cured, cold and hot smoked, poached, potted and pan-roasted Chalk Stream Trout. My personal favourite is lightly poached with a good dollop of Hollandaise, some pickled rock samphire and some wilted rainbow chard.”
When you’ve got chefs like James buying your product you know you must be doing something right. Hugo clearly values the reaction and support he has received from lots of local chefs.
“Having their support has really helped put us on the culinary map. I am very fortunate to have an amazing local pub owner, Adam Cordery at The Bakers Arms in Droxford, who is a superb chef and regularly tests our products, which gives me the confidence to take them to market.
“It’s not just been the chefs that have been invaluable. The best thing we did was join Hampshire Fare, which has been incredibly supportive. They have introduced us to many fellow producers and more importantly, potential customers.”
Whilst Chalk Stream Trout is being eaten locally it has already being recognised nationally. Hugo and his team have just learned that they have been awarded a star at this year’s Great Taste Awards. The awards received over 10,000 entries with only 31% awarded a star - an impressive achievement for a business which was just pub talk a year ago.
One of the big attractions for people buying Chalk Stream Trout is the freshness. Hugo has set himself the challenge of a “water to waiter in 48 hours” promise. And this is where his trusted team come in as logistics are key to his operation. When Hugo began the business he managed to tempt old friend, Charlie Meyrick away from his city job to join him in his fishy mission. He also took on family friend, Arthur Voelcker, who was working in London and is described as “being obsessed with everything to do with fish.”
Careful planning is crucial in their freshness promise. With regular deliveries of fresh trout going to London, Hugo felt this was an opportunity he should share with other local producers.
“Hampshire is a larder of superb produce. We want to tell leading chefs in London about some of these, so we are in the process of sourcing additional products that are synonymous with Hampshire. We can then take these to London too and really help to spread the word about what we have here in the county.”
With positive feedback coming in from people who have tried their trout in local pubs and restaurants, the pressure is on to make it available to customers to buy to eat at home.
“Our priority is to set up the systems which will mean people can buy online. Until then we welcome customers calling us and talking through what they are after. We can supply fresh or smoked trout and can deliver to people’s work, houses or make the fish available for collection. We know that once people are cooking with our exceptional trout there will be no going back!”
Hugo urges people to ditch the Scottish smoked salmon this Christmas and try something a little more local and just as delicious. He looks so adamant about this point it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him posting sides of trout through people’s letterboxes come December.
“I know the flavour our smoked trout offers and Christmas is the ideal time to enjoy it with a glass of Hampshire fizz!”
Hampshire trout is back on the menu in a big way thanks to Hugo and his team. He has brought something to our tables which was a struggle to enjoy unless you are lucky enough to have a rod and a pair of waders. Watching the River Test weave its way through the stunning Hampshire countryside it seems right that the fish dancing under the surface of its crystal clear waters should end up on local plates.
Chalk Stream Foods
• www.chalkstreamfoods.co.uk• Tel: 01794 330 000
• Email: email@example.com• Old Salisbury Lane, Awbridge, Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 0GD
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