The Blackmore Vale: a haven for foodies

Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival is happening this weekend!

Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival is happening this weekend! - Credit: Archant

Ahead of this weekend’s Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival , Fanny Charles finds out why the area is a big hitter on Dorset’s foodie scene

Some of the Ajar Of range, photo credit - Owen Vachell

Some of the Ajar Of range, photo credit - Owen Vachell - Credit: Archant

When you walk around the many mouth-watering stalls at the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival (which is taking place this wekeend on 14-15 September), you soon realise that this is an area which produces a fabulous array of food and drink.

During the 19th and early 20th century Sturminster Newton and the surrounding area was synonymous with cheese and dairy produce. Thomas Hardy, who had some of his happiest years living here called it "the Vale of the Little Dairies." Though the town no longer has a creamery or cheese maker, its award-winning Cheese Festival, now in its 20th year, maintains that historic connection. Held on the second weekend of September, it draws cheese¬makers from across the West Country and further afield and attracts thousands of visitors to the area to enjoy and sample great food, drink and music, as well as fundraising for local charities - more than £100,000 has been raised to date.

Ahead of the festival, we met some Local Food Champions...

Tracy Collins conjures up preserving magic in her kitchen at Hazelbury Bryan, where she produces her Ajar Of range of jams, marmalades, chutneys and cooking sauces. A winner of numerous accolades including Best Producer at the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards, Tracy sources many of her ingredients locally. She also works closely with other Dorset producers including providing the zesty ingredient for Purbeck Ice Cream's award-winning marmalade ice cream.

Olives et al, photo credit - Owen Vachell

Olives et al, photo credit - Owen Vachell - Credit: Archant

Angel Cottage Organics, based at Haddon Copse Farm at Fifehead Neville, is a sustainably run organic farm producing slow grown chicken, goose, turkey, pork, lamb and beef. "Our aim is to return to a simpler, slower way of farming, one that is inspired by, works with, and enhances the environment on which it relies," says farmer Tom Mettyear whose products have won Taste of the West and Great Taste Awards and been named Best Poultry at the Soil Association Awards.

Christine Willis discovered she was a coeliac (gluten intolerant) in her late teens. As a result she learned to bake delicious gluten free goodies that she could enjoy and now runs Christine's Puddings from her Pudding Room in Sturminster. "If you are a coeliac you have to avoid gluten altogether," says Christine. "But that doesn't mean things can't be tasty." Christine is best known for her award¬winning Christmas puddings, but her products also include savoury and sweet pastry cases. She has won loads of awards over the years, the most recent being Great Taste Gold (2 stars) for Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Free From Gold for her Irish Savoury Tart.

The Marks family farms at Enford Bottom, between Shillingstone and Durweston. A fabulous range of products fills the shelves at their Enford Farm Shop including free range, grass-fed meat, local fruit and vegetables and one of their specialities - lamb bacon - well worth flexing your tastebuds over (find them on Facebook Enford-farm-shop).

Some of the teas Comins Tea House, photo credit - Katharine Davies

Some of the teas Comins Tea House, photo credit - Katharine Davies - Credit: Archant

Sara and Andrew Cross grow more than 80 different varieties of organic vegetables and salads in the polytunnels, fields and raised beds at their farm, Gold Hill Organics and sell them and other organic produce at their award-winning farm shop in Child Okeford. Gold Hill was one of the first farms in the south west to gain organic status from the Soil Association. Farm shop open Thursday to Saturday.

Holebrooks deli-butchers, at Market Place in the heart of Sturminster, was founded in 2006 by Al and Nikki Wingate-Saul. It has won many awards, particularly for their meat, which is carefully sourced from local farms. The shop also has a great cheese counter, oils from around the world and fine Italian pasta.

Founded by Emma and Matt Goss-Custard at an old dairy farm at Holwell,Honeybuns, began as a gluten-free bakery. It has now developed a wide range of multi-award-winning dairy-free and vegan cakes and bakes packed with taste, colour and crunch. Emma's free from recipes for cakes, flapjacks, brownies and more will be a delicious surprise.

After Alan Mash's daughter, Daisy, was diagnosed with coeliac disease, he set out to create a range of savoury snacks that she could enjoy. And so Hotch Potch came into being and made its mark with its delicious gluten-free Scotch Eggs. Egged on by their success with this they now make coeliac-friendly pies such as steak and Blue Vinny, savoury bites and vegetarian treats.

Mike Davis with his Dorset Blue Vinny, photo credit -

Mike Davis with his Dorset Blue Vinny, photo credit - - Credit: Archant

James McCall's passion for cheese started with his Saturday job as a 16-year-old working with the cheesemonger and affineur, James's of Beckenham. This sowed the seeds and now McCall is the talented cheese maker behind James's Cheese based at Gold Hill Organic Farm, Child Okeford. This is where he has his rind-washing room, and where he produces his pungent and multi-award-winning Francis cheese.

Olives Et Al (OEA) was founded by Giles and Annie Henschel after a motorbike odyssey around the Mediterranean. Nowadays OEA is a leading national and international brand, producing a dazzling selection of nibbles, antipasti and oils from the Mediterranean, and local produce, with shops at their headquarters at Rolls Bridge, Sturminster Newton, and at Poundbury Garden Centre.

Steve Oxfords of Oxfords Bakery, photo credit - Katharine Davies

Steve Oxfords of Oxfords Bakery, photo credit - Katharine Davies - Credit: Archant

Every town should have a great greengrocers and the family-run Root and Vine, on the Market Place in Sturminster, has been serving Sturminster for more than 30 years. The shop is renowned for the wide range of fruit and vegetables, as well as cut flowers and food for pets and wild birds.

Rob and Michelle Comins opened Comins Tea House in Bridge Street to offer tea aficionados a choice of fine single estate loose leaf teas, sourced on their travels around the world to China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan and Kenya. Pop in to stock up on your favourite loose leaf teas, or stay a while to enjoy a properly brewed cuppa, maybe try something a little more unusual, alongside some of their delicious cakes and savouries inspired by their travels such as Japanese gyoza dumpling or Darjeeling infused caramel shortbread. Open Thursday to Saturday.

Dike and Sons, photo credit - Owen Vachell

Dike and Sons, photo credit - Owen Vachell - Credit: Archant

Once made on dairy farms across the county, Dorset Blue Vinny became extinct after the Second World War until it was revived in the 1980s by Mike Davies, Dorset Magazine's Food and Farming Hero 2018, using a 300-year-old recipe. Mike and his daughter Emily make this unique Dorset cheese at Woodbridge Farm near Stock Gaylard just down the road from Sturminster Newton. It is recognised as one of the country's finest artisan cheeses; in 1998 Mike became the first food producer in the country to be awarded a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for the cheese. It also won Gold at the World Cheese Award in 2018.

The Sturminster branch of Oxfords Bakery is one of five in the county, including the original bakery at Alweston. Established in 1911, and now run by Steve, the fourth generation of the family, Oxfords produce everything from sourdough to the legendary Dorset Lardy Cake, using untreated, unbleached flour. The wheat is predominantly UK grown, some from as near as 20 miles from the bakery.

Dike & Son is Stalbridge's family-owned supermarket. Founded in 1851, it is now run by Andy Dike, it is a treasure trove of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, cheese, dairy, bakery, preserves and more from more than 100 local producers, including a cracking deli and an on site café. It's fully embraced the 21st century with online shopping options and local delivery too. It is one of the biggest champions of Dorset local food and drink scene and is a regular award-winner.

Where is your favourite foodie gem in the Blackmore Vale?