posted on 26/04/17
England is not the most obvious choice of country for a gastronomic tour. The best-known dishes are probably fish and chips, full English breakfast or perhaps roast Sunday lunch, with corresponding assumptions that English food can be greasy, stodgy and bland, although each of these dishes can also be delicious.
Dig just a little deeper than these stereotypes, however, and other typical products – lavish cream teas, crisp ciders and malty beers, excellent cheeses (Stilton, Wensleydale, Cornish Yarg) for example – spring to mind without much prompting but provoke more enthusiasm. The fact is that there are producers of every sort (meat, dairy, vegetables) who are dedicated to the quality of their output in a way that easily rivals what we expect from more obviously gastronomic destinations such as France, Italy and Spain. And English wines have gained international recognition.
Both Devon and Cornwall seem to be honeypots of gastronomic activity, with first-rate chefs and farmers attracting other like-minded foodies to the region in the very opposite of a vicious circle (a delicious circle?).
The tour is led by Marc Millon (food and wine expert and lecturer for many of our Italian gastronomic tours) who has lived in Devon for most of his life. Due to Marc’s knowledge of the region and personal connections, the Devon-based part of the tour is incredibly special, with exceptional people opening their doors to us. We met many of them on our research trip, including Peter Greig of Pipers Farm. He is a farming visionary, working in harmony with the natural landscape and supporting local family farms. Above all, he is dedicated to producing the most sensationally tasty meat possible, but only through rearing wholesome and healthy animals (his cows for example consume only their mothers’ milk and Exmoor grass).
Other highlights will be a tutored tasting of the award-winning Quicke’s Cheddar with Mary Quicke mbe, lunch at the pioneering Riverford Field Kitchen and a visit to the beautiful Sharpham winery. Here there is a wine tasting in the vineyard next to each relevant grape variety and a traditional cream tea overlooking the river Dart. The green and gently undulating countryside around Honiton is our Devon base for the tour, with forays down to the River Exe and across rugged Dartmoor on the transition day to Cornwall.
Padstow, the Cornish base for the tour, provides a contrast to the more polished Devon landscape. Part working fishing town with a hint of industry, part tourist destination of immense charm, it boasts an exceptional concentration of fine dining. This is thanks, in no small part, to Rick Stein who has his brilliant Seafood Restaurant here, along with a cooking school and various cafés. That’s not all, though – well-known and respected chefs Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw also have restaurants here and nearby (Ainsworth at No.6 in Padstow, Outlaw at the Mariner’s Arms across the estuary in Rock and the Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac).
Cornwall is also one of the best regions in the country to sample the most typical of English food and drink, and on the tour there will be the opportunity to enjoy freshly-caught fish and salty chips (while fending off seagulls), Cornish pasties warm from the oven of the world-championaward- winning Chough’s Bakery, and a beer tasting at St Austell Brewery, still family run after many generations. We also visit Tregothnan Estate (not open to the public), which has a unique micro-climate that is similar to that of Darjeeling and is the first and most prolific producer of British tea.
There is only one way we could finish such a spectacular tour: with a final lunch at the much-anticipated Lympstone Manor, Michael Caines’s newest opening. Michael held two Michelin stars for 18 years at nearby Gidleigh Park, and, as a close friend of Marc’s, has agreed to create a tasting menu specifically for our group, based around ‘memories’ of the tour (Pipers Farm meat, Quicke’s Cheddar, etc.).
This unique tour will show even the most cynical that English cooking is unfairly underrated, and that this part of the country is producing food and drink on a level which matches that of destinations conventionally rated more highly in gastronomic terms. It will certainly defy expectations, even of those who already value what England has to offer.
Please contact us to register your interest in Gastronomic West Country, 2–9 July 2018 with Marc Millon. Full details are expected in summer 2017.
By Lizzie Watson, Product Development Manager (Gastronomy)