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…