Review: A Derbyshire Christmas Hamper

Celebrating the best county product for the festive season.

Derbyshire is a county rich in enterprising food and drink producers, so at a time when entertaining is at the forefront of our minds and a gift of food is always welcome, I’ve gathered together the very best from around the county to create our own Derbyshire Christmas hampers. Brimming with Christmas essentials and festive treats they represent smaller to medium-sized businesses that make outstanding and very individual products. Some of the goods can only be found in our region, others have a wider international distribution, but they are all the result of hard work and entrepreneurial flair and make a contribution to our local economy of which we should be patriotically proud. So, why not support our Derbyshire producers this Christmas and explore the wealth of wonderful local and artisan goodies we have on our doorstep?

For meat and cheese I visited Owen Taylor and Sons in Alfreton. This award-winning business is run by managing director and third generation family butcher, Richard Taylor, who is something of a local legend! The company supplies to the finest restaurants and hotels in the East Midlands and his retail butcher’s shop in Leabrooks, near Alfreton, attracts loyal customers from far and wide across the county. The products shown here include: fillet steak, marinated lamb rump, a Gressingham duck, Colton Bassett stilton, Italian pancetta and some of Owen Taylor’s famous Huntsman’s pies.

The vegetables come from Woodhouse Farm near Melbourne which grows and sells an abundant range of the finest and freshest seasonal vegetables including Brussels sprouts, parsnips, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, leeks, cauliflowers, cabbages curly kale and romanesco which can be bought in season, picked fresh that day from the surrounding fields. The farm and its shop is run by Frank and Brian Heath and collectively with several other local specialist farmers makes up a co-operative growers group called South Derbyshire Growers. This is run by Barry Hodgkinson who represents the farmers and delivers and sells their produce direct to local pubs, restaurants and farmshops.

For the best mushrooms I sought out husband and wife team, Roger and Janet Monk of The Derbyshire Mushroom Company. They grow and sell an extensive range of wild and cultivated mushrooms and are one of the few specialist growers in the UK today. A favourite port of call for all Bakewell marketgoers, their wonderful selection ranges from traditional field and chestnut mushrooms to the more exotic oyster, enoki, eryngii, shimeji and shiitake and also seasonal hand-picked wild varieties from the UK and Europe such as chanterelles, girolles, trompettes, blewitts and porcini.

No hamper would be complete without chocolates and the pretty Tiffany-blue, cream and chocolate brown packaging of Holdsworth Chocolates makes them a lovely gift. These luxury handmade chocolates come in assorted, mixed flavour boxes. Another great local chocolate company is Cocoadance – a magical chocolate kingdom based at the foot of Mam Tor in Castleton where Bridget and David Golubows make a lovingly crafted range of handmade chocolates. Their range includes dark chilli truffles, sugar-plums and pralines and they have recently developed a beer flavoured truffle infused with Thornbridge Brewery’s Jaipur IPA beer.

On the subject of drink, for a fashionable English sparkler I chose Derbyshire’s one and only vineyard at Renishaw Hall. It produces two wines – a light and fruity dry white and a crisp and vibrant sparkling wine. Beer-lovers are spoilt for choice in Derbyshire as the county is home to over 30 microbreweries with their own unique brews. Two are Peak Ales on the Chatsworth Estate and Brampton Brewery in Chesterfield. Peak Ales includes the festive ‘Noggin Filler’ in its range and Brampton has ‘Impy Dark’, ‘Golden Bud’ and a novel pomegranate fruit beer called ‘Aspire’ among its offerings.

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Derbyshire is also home to the highly respected wine writer Richard Mayson, who is an authority on port, madeira, sherry and the wines of Spain and Portugal."He has his own vineyard in Portugal which produces a full bodied, full flavoured, refined red wine called ‘Pedra Basta’. Not technically ‘locally produced’, for such a truly beautiful wine I decided to bend the rules a little! Pedra Basta is sold locally at Ibbotson’s in Ashford in the Water and via John Hattersley wines in Bakewell.

On a non-alcoholic note, the National Forest Spring Water company based near Melbourne produces and sells a range of still, sparkling and naturally flavoured waters. For your cup of breakfast tea, the Northern Tea Merchants in Chesterfield has a selection of speciality loose leaf varieties to satisfy the most discerning taste. They are also tea bag manufacturers, coffee roasters and packers of fine tea and coffee and the local authority on any tea or coffee-related matter. Another alternative for your after dinner caffeine fix is Azorieblue coffee based in Melbourne. Their Brazilian Arabic coffee has a host of famous fans.

For that perfect biscuit to accompany a cup of tea or a cracker or cheese biscuit to nibble with a glass of wine, Artisan Biscuits has it covered. Based in Ashbourne but with an international following, Artisan produces a constantly evolving premium range of sweet, savoury and children’s biscuits – hand-crafted and beautifully packaged.

On the snack front, I decided on a crispy savoury snack with a difference and chose Crips. In a choice of five flavours, Crips are baked not fired, crunchy and addictive and, for the health conscious, have four times less fat than normal crisps.

I made a slight hop over the county border to Just Oil at Hill Ridware in Staffordshire for some first class culinary rape seed oil and attractive bottles of tasty salad dressings, mayonnaise and hollandaise. Another fabulous oil to add to your hamper is the lemon oil produced by Field House Foods –great for drizzling on salds or over chicken and one of the best-selling items in Croots Farm Shop in Duffield (owner Steve Croot also owns the Field House Foods brand). Other locally produced goods available from this shop I decided to add are Red Pepper Jelly by Delishas of Hazelwood and a selection of fresh fruit jams and marmalade by Irene’s Marmalades of Youlgreave, all of which make super stocking fillers for foodie friends!

A useful addition and a gift anyone would appreciate for when they tire of festive food and can’t be bothered to cook, is a fresh pasta sauce. Teresa Lambarelli from Chesterfield makes ten different authentic sauces, each with a 17-day shelf life. She also makes super authentic cantuccini biscotti.

Another Chesterfield-based food company that offers a great pantry shelf stand-by is Hotcan. It produces cans of self-heating meals such as beef casserole, vegetable chilli, chicken casserole and an all-day breakfast. A Hotcan would also make a novelty stocking filler for anyone with camping, caravanning or fishing interests, or perhaps a student!

Another foodie gift I couldn’t resist adding was a box of beautifully decorated, personalised cup cakes. Cup Cake Corner, based in Kniveton, is owned by Charlotte Marsh who produces the lightest, creamiest cup cakes with the added bonus of being gluten-free (not that you’d know from the taste!). Hand-made to order, her cakes come wrapped in beribboned gift boxes. Cameo Cup Cakes in Spondon offers a range of differently flavoured and decoratively topped cakes, some with butter cream others with fondant.

For a locally made Christmas pudding Tindalls of Tideswell is a traditional, multi award-winning bakery and delicatessen that sells home-made bread, pies and cakes as well as a selection of Christmas puddings, rich Christmas cakes and a range of Christmas chutneys and mincemeat. They even have a lovely rose sugar for cooking.

On my travels in search of our hamper produce, I also visited the Peak District Farm Shop at Stanshope, near Ashbourne, which sells traditionally reared and rare breed meat from farms in Dovedale, as well as local eggs and a selection of home-made goodies such as ginger curd and smooth hot English mustard. Their sausages and black treacle bacon also make the ideal ingredients for a perfect Christmas English breakfast.

If you feel like making up your own Derbyshire food hamper, we are fortunate to have some excellent farm shops and delis in the county selling a wide selection of locally produced goods to pick and choose from. Something that’s become a Christmas tradition for me each year is a visit to the Chatsworth Farmshop – the very first stately home farmshop to be established and still a benchmark for all others. Headed up by Andre Birkett this culinary cornucopia is the ultimate showcase for Derbyshire food and drink. Goods from all parts of the county are sold, in addition to Chatsworth’s own meats, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, bakery, deli goods, and even a selection of their own special hampers.

This is just a selection of the good things I found in our county. I’m sure that whatever food and drink heaven you’re planning this Christmas, Derbyshire’s producers and suppliers can help with the ingredients.

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