Hampshire farmers’ market is corking!

Editor Daniel has commented that Winchester is so nice it could be abroad. Certainly every time I go out my love for the place only increases. As we sallied forth to find breakfast this morning we noticed the farmers’ market was running and, whilst it resulted in a return of knackered heel agony, ambling around the impressive number of stalls was an absolute delight with many first-rate food finds.

A good food market can be wonderful. In London we were pretty much limited to Borough Market and that certainly had some serious stuff. It also had countless tourists shambling around at a snail’s pace, stopping only to gawp like fools at every single item for sale in the market with the occasional extended pause to take multiple pictures of their friends blocking a walkway whilst standing in front of something mundane. There were also hordes of parents pushing around baby buggies the size of armoured personnel carriers whilst loudly sighing, groaning and looking incredibly put-upon every time someone had the temerity to get hit and severely wounded by their ludicrously outsized pushchairs. If you went there with the outlandish notion of procuring some food, rather than the more usual aim of inconveniencing everyone, it wasn’t the best of experiences. Now that I’ve been to the Hampshire farmer’s market here in Winchester, Borough market also seems ludicrously expensive and full of pretentious crap for the neurotic.

The Winchester market is quite large, with an impressive array of produce on offer of which everything we tried was excellent. Considering this uniformly high quality we were chuffed as punch to see that almost nothing was over-priced – we procured a decent quantity of food and drink and were surprised by how little it all cost.

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I have very high standards when it comes to meat, even with burgers where basically only [link2post id=”102″]Hawksmoor’s efforts pleasure me[/link2post]. Consequently I was flabbergasted by the brilliance of the water buffalo burger from Broughton Water Buffalo. Perhaps a less masterful, involved creation than at Hawksmoor, but it redefined the pleasure possibilities of the basic ‘bit of minced, grilled animal in a bun’-experience. The meat itself was fascinating. It had clearly been given a bit of age to enhance its flavour and it wasn’t quite beef; perhaps more like slightly beef-tasting venison that was uncommonly lacking in terms of venison’s generally dry, tough nature. Ask for yours medium rare.

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After over a decade of living somewhere where it was only the cheese shops that impressed me, it is great to be back in a city where the local cheese makes me proud. As soon as I nibbled a sliver Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers 16 month old ‘Old Winchester’ (pictured above) a large chunk had to be mine. It has very mature, powerful flavours coupled with a rich creaminess and complex set of fruity flavours not dissimilar to those of ripe pears. It’s freaking scrummy, yeah! On our return to Elitistreview towers we had a comparison with the [link2post id=”5725″]cat’s favourite cheddar[/link2post], also a personal favourite, and despite their obvious differences neither of us could honestly say which was best. Old Winchester costs a little over half the price of Bakers Ploughmans Vintage Cheddar from Mr Waitrose’s shops.

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We’d scored a couple of pints of Itchin Valley real ale to have with our lunch, but we needed a drink to battle the cold wind. A bumper of Mr Whitehead’s Hampshire strong cider and medium cider worked a treat. These were ‘real’ ciders of the type I have previously described as often having a slightly nasty character. The root of this character is that most real ciders are drank more than half an hour’s drive away from there they have been made, and so the cider is not fresh and in poor condition. These came from just down the road and were bursting with fresh fruit and a lively acid/astringency balance. And enough alcohol too. The Boxing Dog strong cider keeps banging me on the back of my head to ask if it really is the best real cider I’ve ever tried.

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After buying some meat at Greenfield Pork Products, Hampshire’s supreme sausage champion, plus old English chipolatas and dry-cure streaky bacon from Beechcroft Editor Daniel was eager to get a bit of English pork inside him (as the sign and his visage in the picture below demonstrate).

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He had to wait until we got home to have a mouthful of sausage when we fried up the Beechcroft chipolatas and made them into sandwiches with Old Winchester cheese inside some rather tasty bread flavoured with chillies and another local cheese. By arse, that was good noshing!

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The sausage and leek rolls at Mud Foods looked delicious but there was only so much we could carry. We limited ourselves to the yummy-sounding sausage and black pudding pie that, as you can see in the picture below, is adorned with an adorable pastry piggy.

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A couple of fun animal products were worth reporting. All farmers’ markets are contractually obliged to have a hog roast and if you buy one from one you are normally treated to a bread roll full of fat which if it has any meat attached will be dried out and flavourless. As we approached Greenfield Pork Products hog roast, pictured above, my nasal receptors screamed with ecstasy at being treated to some truly lovely pork aroma molecules. It looked and smelled far beyond the standard offerings.

As you can read on the sign in the picture below this lady from Kings Somborne Free Range Eggs was selling eggs judged as the best in a BBC Radio Solent contest. Audio-only doesn’t strike me as the best format for a comparative egg tasting. I suppose local radio cannot always have top-drawer content.

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There were countless other bits of drool-inducing bits of animal that will keep us attending and buying from the market regularly, but just to be slightly unusual I’ll share some pictures of plant material that look surprisingly appetising.

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The Fruitwise Heritage Apple stand pictured above (manned by a fellow who is a perfect match for my mental image of a committed orchard owner) had an impressive array of rare apple varieties. We got one of each which we shall taste and report upon soon – assuming Kisu doesn’t eat them first.

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My final two pictures are of some amusing carrots and the most attractive living things I’ve seen from the Isle of Wight, a heap of ripe tomatoes.

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As we walked home we discussed, between my heel pain-caused whimpering, the myriad of marvels we revelled in whilst at the farmers’ market. On passing Winchester’s reasonably impressive cathedral Dani annouced, “No, Winchester is not just so nice it could be abroad. It is as lovely as England should be, but so rarely is.” I suppose that is a compliment…

  • Ian Black

    Glad to see you have discovered the farmer’s market. As a fellow Hampshire resident I try to make it a reasonably regular destination.

    The Greenfields pork is lovely and derived from their own herd of pigs. Based on the Hampshire breed (of course) it actually has more fat marbled through the flesh without such great slabs of it on the outside. And seems sweeter than usual too.

    The fish stall often has interesting fish too – try the black bream if you’ve never had it before. Garfish is pretty amazing if they have any – the turquoise bones are a bit of a larf. Carpetshell clams from Chichester harbour seem to be always available.

    I think the French Cheese man has a stall in the street market that takes place in the intervening Sundays when the farmers market is not there. If you like French cheese this is the real thing and also worth seeking out.

    Just a few hints in passing – bon appetit!

  • Ian old chap,

    Since I know you to be a regular reader and contributor to Elitistreview I am a shade embarrassed to admit I didn’t know you are a noble Hampshire piggy (if that is what Hampshire residents are known as, I’d like to think it is). Once I’ve got my final move to what will be home sorted out do drop me a line if you ever fancy meeting up for a bottle or two, or even a local beer if you can suggest a top boozer.


  • Sounds lovely… I live fairly close to Borough Market, and whilst I do still (just about) love it, I think it could be immeasurably improved if push chairs and cameras were banned.

  • Ian Black

    I believe “Hampshire Hog” is the correct term! But what a splendid idea! Let’s make a point of doing that. Next time I head your way I’ll drop you a note to see if we can fix something up. I’m deep in the sticks myself well away from long-gone public transport routes, unless you count a bus into town and back 3 days a week.

    I guess you know you have a pretty good wine merchant near Winchester (SVS in Twyford)?

  • Well, quite, Piers. The good food there is really good, I wouldn’t deny that at all. Moreover, there are a few decent (if heaving) boozers and Neils Yard close by. Yet things like the stalls selling hand-painted, carved from sustainably-sourced driftwood, ‘cooperative of monopod single mothers’-assembled dream catcher-like laughable tat, the massive pushchairs that ploughed into me on every visit causing pain followed by a ticking off for ‘not getting out the way quickly enough’ and all those swine who think walking is achieved by lifting one leg at a time and hoping the wind will blow it forward (now breathe) make shopping there any time but in the first two minutes after it opens just awful. Sorry, that was the longest single sentence rant I’ve spewed in an age. I won’t do it again.

  • Lance Foyster

    Well it sounds as thought you’re already well ensconced. For someone who grew up in Winchester and was not so sad to depart you seem to have discovered a different city from the one I knew 25 years ago. I. ‘m still a fairly regular visitor, and my parents are very enthusiastic about the farmers’ market from recents years. So I wish you all happiness there. Look forward to catching up when I ‘m next visiting for the weekend.
    But I hope you’ll be back in London from time to time for the odd irresistible event. 13th Jan is one for your diary: our 2010 Burgundy offering will be on show then.

  • Sounds great, David. But did you never search out any farmers’ markets in the Smoke? Admittedly the Sunday market in Blackheath was a modest affair, but I enjoyed visiting, and thought there was good fare to be had.
    As I was born in neighbouring Berkshire, my sister delighted in calling me a ‘Berkshire Boar’.

  • I’ve been to a few farmers’ markets, including Blackheath, Hampshire’s is far and away the best I’ve seen. Really great!

    Berkshire boar? Not heard that one. I know the rhyming slang Berkshire Hunt, naturally. When I was 5-ish and called people ‘Berks’ obviously I didn’t.

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