Moving to Hampshire has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I expected it to be more relaxed than London with a nicer environment and better services – all these it has. What I wasn’t quite expecting was to have such amazing food available.
The food at the Hampshire Farmers’ Markets and generally available in the area has changed my perception of eating. I like to think I have always eaten well, but now I eat better, pay less and don’t have to go out to flash restaurants as often. My reliance on supermarkets, for all but fizzy pop, bog roll and the like, has massively diminished. So I present ten utterly orgasmic Hampshire foods, that you can get at the markets or online, which make life here so great and would shine a coruscating shaft of culinary illumination into the life of any lover of fine things.
We’re starting at the bleeding serious end here; there is almost no beef better than that from Woodlands Jersey Beef. Everything The Editor and I have cooked from them has been of reality-warping brilliance. Sure, it’s easy to get excited about their pulsingly gratifying sirloin and ribeye steaks, or their truly sex-licious roasting joints (go for top rump or rib and drool), but nothing from them is below top-shelf wrapped in opaque plastic-levels of arousal inducement.
Their rump steaks redefine the levels of flavour and tenderness you expect from this cut. Topside-derived minute steak will make you the best beef stir fry in the world. Woodlands burgers are tumescent with terrific taste and texture – cracking stuff!
The things that I like perhaps most of all (that is a blatant lie, I like almost everything most of all) are some of the lesser cuts. The things Dani and I have made from their shin of beef have had me falling off my chair as I groan and writhe at the dining table with extreme satisfaction. A good, slow-cooked stew made with shin or skirt will make your nipples erect at the very least.
Woodlands Jersey Beef grow beef of the really quite serious gods and you need to make serious efforts to score some for the good of your mind, palate and belly. It’s also nice that the Denleys who run it are two utterly lovely people. I feel positive about supporting such charming people in their noble quest to make people happy.
Beechcroft Direct pork
I may possibly think that my chum Jeremy grows better pork in Morey-Saint-Denis, but you cannot buy that whereas there’s Beechcroft Direct pork a-plenty at the Hampshire Farmers’ Markets and, I really promise you here, it’s the cat’s freaking arse.
No pork product from Beechcroft will leave you anything other than suffused with joy. They grow Oxford Sandy and Black pigs that are an old breed which are progenitors of Tamworths. I think they are more satisfying than a pulchritudinous partner you’ve managed to talk into wearing school uniform – they look good and definitely make you fancy a nibble.
Beechcroft’s roasting joints elevate pork above the status of ‘the other white meat’; the flavour wins you over as soon as it hits your tongue. I’m not an expert at roasting pork, because so much of it is utter rubbish I would never dream of cooking, but no joint of Beechcroft pig has ever been dried out or tough.
Then there’s the sausages. The Old English sausages are perhaps my favourite sausages ever – at the very least they are my cat’s favourite sausages ever. They are incredibly meaty with a powerful depth of piggy flavour enhanced by subtle spices. You can buy the sausage meat on its own and that is unbeatable for Scotch eggs or, that great Victorian favourite, sausage toast.
Finally there’s the bacon. By bums, what bacon it is! Dry cure and delicious. I’ve always thought that dry cure streaky was the bacon of choice and back bacon was for people who were afraid of flavour and only liked dry, tough meat: now I only buy Beechcroft dry cure back bacon. Every time I eat it, in a healthful breakfast or bacon sandwich, I will remark to The Editor 3-4 times how good the bacon is and how much I like it. He must agree as he tolerates this endless repetition and hasn’t spanked me for it yet. If you are lucky Beechcroft will sell you bacon bits which can be used to make peerless bacon omelettes.
This may turn out to be a recurring theme, but the owners of Beechcroft are lovely people who really care about their animals and growing meat that will make people particularly pleasured. You feel good about buying from such an operation.
Beechcroft Direct chicken
Now, I’m not really cheating by having two things from the same producer in my list of ten. Beechcroft Direct may sell these chickens, but they are actually farmed next door to them. We buy them from Beechcroft so I’m giving them the credit here!
The Editor and I have spent a lot of time and money tasting chickens from across Europe, and not a single one has approached any of the birds we’ve got from Beechcroft. They are incredibly tasty. No, they are ludicrously, insanely delicious and you want to buy them.
They are particularly good to buy because they are usually large enough to feed a hungry family. I once cooked a 3.7kg bird from them and it kept The Editor, Kisu the cat and me served with mouth-watering meat for several days. Just because they are big doesn’t mean they are tough, but with the really enormous one’s you have to cook with care so the outside isn’t over-cooked by the time the inside is done.
Finally, these dream fowl are not plastic-paining in price; very keenly priced, indeed, for those of us who are having to sell our possessions in order to live. When a Beechcroft chicken is delivered with a massive number of the ‘weight’ line of the receipt and a moderate number on the ‘price’ line, you always feel life has treated you well. You feel that even more when you sit down to eat the fabulous fowl. Beezer bird!
Yes, there is green stuff on my list and, you know, it’s so good it might not give you cancer. Alresford was recognised by the Romans as the premier place in their empire for the production of watercress. The frightening rate of environmental degradation we are always told barefaced lies about has not stopped it from still making little plants of terrifically toothsome delight.
The watercress has a crisp texture and a very powerful peppery taste. It is surprisingly complex, and staggeringly delicious, for a plant and it can add a whole new level of brilliance to food like grilled squid with lemon, watercress and parsley and, of course, Hampwiches. I don’t know of an online retailer, but I suspect this is not an ingredient that travels well: come to wonderful Hampshire and make sure you try some.
Perfect Pickles pickled onions
We are two weeks away from the new season of Perfect Pickles pickled onions being ready and I tell you I’m engorged with excitement about getting more after months without. I recognise the limits of pleasure are yet to be defined or reached, but to best Perfect Pickles efforts I can only imagine the onions would have to be pickled in raw opium and spiced with cocaine.
These are finest Hampshire onions, carefully hand-peeled by the industrious Dwayne and pickled in white wine vinegar with a little blade mace and half a chilli. They are crunchy, fiercely acidic, rather spicy and almost impossible to stop eating no matter how much your stomach screams. They satisfy in every way, and can cheer one up no end. When I was a bit bonkers in the summer I ate an entire jar whilst Editor Dani was in the shower and by the time he was out and dry all my winces of pain were overshadowed by huge smiles of delight.
Dwayne only sells direct at Hampshire Farmers’ Markets but Beechcroft Direct stock them over the winter and you can order from them.
River Test smoked eel
Good grief, I’m writing about food porn here. You like smoked eel? You have no idea until you’ve got River Test smoked eel from The New Forest Smokery. It defines a new quality level for this already excellent ingredient and will bugger your mind with its complex flavour and beguiling texture as you try and horse down all you can lay your hands on. I cannot emphasise this enough: New Forest Smokery River Test smoked eel is one of the world’s great food products.
Having it on toast with horseradish is the classic serving suggestion but if you want to give your taste buds a really titilating time then make smoked eel with bacon and mash.
What more could you ask of your locality than it produces excellent cheese? Well, I could ask for a lot, actually, but I’m pleased as chips there’s serious cheese made just down the road. It is serious, too, Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers can not only make cheese for toffee, they can make cheese for Reeve the baker Stollen cake – a far more noble accomplishment.
They make three cheeses that really do it for me in the underwear department, all derived from the youngest, Lyburn Gold, given various degrees of maturation. And there is is no shame in having the Lyburn Gold that is the least mature. It’s richly creamy with a slightly grassy flavour and a wonderful texture. It’s great on Beechcroft Direct’s pork and apple burgers and frankly brilliant on Woodlands Jersey Beef burgers. With fried onions, of course.
Bit more maturation and it become Winchester. This has a good balance between creaminess and maturity and, as such, my cat follows me around yowling when I eat it. He has very carefully thought out tastes in cheese and is spot on to love this. I rarely give him any, though, as I love it more and am far more deserving than Kisu. The texture is drier and less yielding, but it still melts well enough if you want some on your burgers or in your bacon sandwiches.
Finally comes the most mature – Old Winchester. This is a fully mature dry cheese that lovers of very mature Cheddar would wet their pants about, but I would advise restraint in that regard in case you get any on the cheese. It was all we purchased from Lyburn for months and even though we get a smaller proportion of it now I still blooming love it.
They make other cheeses too – try the garlic and nettle flavoured or Stoney Cross – the the three above are our main purchases. Once again, the Lyburn crew are friendly and committed to making top tier produce. When we see them at the market and they grin and say “Hello boys!” I know I’m about to be made incredibly gratified.
Manydown Farm Shop pies
A Manydown Farm Shop chicken an ham pie is basically a disassembled, top-quality chicken that has been put in a pie crust with a token amount of ham. Just look how stuffed this steak pie is with meat:
It’s good meat, too. For a simple lunch you just want to throw in the oven, and yet want it to leave you feeling like you’ve dined like someone incredibly more demanding, discerning and deserving than royalty then a Manydown Farm Shop pie is just what you want.
Kings Somborne eggs
Well, there’s not much to say about these eggs. Get them at a Hampshire Farmers’ Market and you’ll be delighted with some of the freshest, tastiest eggs you’ll ever have. Their double-yolkers are particularly lovely. They have a wonderful depth of flavour that bears no relation to the anodyne rubbish one has little choice but to buy in supermarkets. Have them for breakfast or in Hampwiches.
Lovely people, too (again).
Meadow Cottage ice cream
Jersey cows appear again but this time it’s their frozen cream and milk that interests us. The ice cream from Meadow Cottage is wonderfully decadent, richly creamy and flavoured with skill and passion. It’s my favourite ice cream. Go for the butter toffee or maple and pecan, although the rum and raisin is remarkably good too. Here’s a picture of me enjoying some:
There’s so much good food in Hampshire I could continue on beyond the lengthy 2000 words I’ve already bashed out, but I’ll save more for a future time. I hope my long piece has given you some ideas about what to put in your mouth next.