The Pantry

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

Whenever one reads anything about rural services it is seldom good news. Cut backs and closures and the age old gripe that local businesses often loose out to supermarkets and shopping centres in terms of support from their locally based customers. It’s all too familiar a narrative we have come to associate with local rural services in last few decades. But one village in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire is bucking that trend and may even be an example of how the market may change for the better in the coming years.

St Briavels, the picturesque village purchased 800 foot (240 m) up on the edge of a limestone plateau above an ancient meander of the valley of the River Wye is packed with history including its very own castle. The hot news is, it also now has a local shop – just opened – to add to its list of services. That’s right, a village shop that has just opened!!

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

On the face of it this story is a great rural news story about a new village shop. One which stocks great produce offers great, friendly and knowledgeable service. But it could also be a metaphor for the dynamic of changing rural life evolving because of the way we work as a society.

The Pantry (opposite the local pub) is a modest but nonetheless extremely welcome, well appointed, very bright and airy shop in the true tradition. It is owned and run by Deborah Flint, half of the innovative and lovely people from the desperately successful (and very nearby) Cinder Hill Farm. The engine of the Cinder Hill Pie House success was good olde “word of mouth” from those who had tried their fabulous homemade pastry wrapped pies, sausage rolls and “Foggies”. We think that the enormous marketing engine that is “word of mouth” will soon make this little haven of village retail goodness as successful as the farm in growing a rural business – and that seemed to have worked out well!

New village shop in a traditional style.
New village shop in a traditional style.

On the day we visited the shop there was a steady flow (even in what Deborah called the quieter 2-3 slot) of customers. Locals buying milk and eggs and ordering bread for the weekend, frantic tourists desperately in search of some batteries for a gadget followed by more locals seduced by the small but very well curated selection of local cheeses and, of course, Cinder Hill’s Foggies and Boar sausage. The most noticeable thing was that not many customers arrived by car. Even the tourists were lodging in the Castle youth hostel 500 yards away.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

In one of those quirks of fate that sees Deborah cutting cheese from the various wheels on offer only to find that they weigh exactly the same, the opening of the shop 3 weeks ago on 5th February 2016 coincided with the closure of the last village shop 10 years before. On the day they opened a villager brought in a newspaper cutting about the closure of the much loved “Dot’s”. Exactly 10 years ago! How does that happen?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

So we have a new shop – Yay! It’s bright, clean and airy. Well stocked with a mix of staple products and great locally made produce. Great bread (from the Crusty Loaf and Longhope Bake house), free range chicken and duck eggs, lovely cheeses and much more. Homemade tray baked chocolate cake sold by weight so you can cut as much as you like and good coffee to accompany your cake or pastry. Deborah is on hand at the helm with a bright smile and a chatty disposition to all which is the outward expression of her commitment to the quality of service The Pantry aims to provide.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

It isn’t just about where a business is situated that makes it a “good local service”. When some business owners talk about supporting local services they have a tendency to assume that the” local” bit is most important. Any consumer will tell you that those businesses have got it completely wrong. The “service” bit is by far the most important part of the equation. You could be next door but if your service is bad, I’m sorry but I’m off to the competition!  There also seems in our view to be an anecdotal correlation between business owners those who misinterpret the local /service balance to those complaining about lack of support – connection perhaps?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

Neither Deborah nor her other half Neil had any background in farming when they opened Cinder Hill five years ago. But even that story has a hint of the just get on with and trade approach that would make Lord Alan Sugar swoon and reminisce about the old days.

Deborah and Neil landed at Cinder Hill for their version of The Good Life and five years ago from two pigs, found themselves suddenly with a surfeit of 23 little porkers to deal with. Their butcher (still very much associated with them today) helped by creating cuts and products that the two would be farmers from a fund raising and IT background needed. Deborah made sausage rolls and immediately threw herself into mastering the local market trade too. Her very first attempt to sell their product left her with, a surfeit of sausage rolls which she sold the very same day by going door to door in the village!

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

One of the problems (for that read several) about being a small local producer is the age old issue of getting your goods to market. We produce fantastic local produce in the Dean & Wye but, to be a success, that produce also needs to be sold. What then better than a new local outlet that can be that shop front for those great producers?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

The Forest of Dean & Wye Valley demographic has changed drastically over the years. Rural village populations have been gradually changing everywhere to a mix of born and bred and incomers. St Briavels has a healthy balance of both. Amongst those incomers serving the long apprenticeships to be recognised as here long enough to be called local are the professions and the blue collar workers tired of living in the conurbations. It’s the people who covet rural life and a rural place to bring up their families. What’s changing even faster that that is the way we work now and will work in the future. More emphasis on working from home, family friendly hours and (at last) improving rural broadband provision that makes working from home much more feasible for everyone. You could almost say that St Briavels is a model, a small wormhole on what “work” may look like in another ten years’ time. All of those people who used to leave in the dark mornings of winter only to return home in the dark evenings of winter turning villages into little more than dormitories are now trickling back. They travel to their actual place of work less and less often instead of daily and are returning to a village home life that will have more in common with a 100 years ago then 10.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

Tudor Farmhouse Menu Exclusive

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,

 

The chic and stylish boutique hotel in Clearwell village is launching a new addition to their menu for 2016. Their All Day Grazing menu is a super tasty collection of “small plates” just right for a flavour and luxury boost for a quick lunch as you are passing, after a walk or other outdoor activity or just to catch up with a friend over something nice to eat. It’s also by way of a tasting menu for the main al a carte service and lunchtime set menus and so is a great opportunity to sample what you may like to order in a later restaurant meal.

We caught up with Colin Fell co-owner at Tudor Farmhouse and his Head Chef Rob Cox for an exclusive first view and tasting of the new menu. Colin told us “The new menu is available daily between noon and five o’clock for all of our customers.  We have afternoon tea, great sandwiches and desserts and the small plate service selected from our main restaurant menu. It’s the Tapas concept done in our own unique Forest of Dean & Wye Valley style”.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Brown crab mouse with turnip and sea vegetables

WyeDean Deli Confidential had been invited to a pre-launch taster of the small plates and we have to say that we were very impressed! We’ve already tasted a couple of the dishes in their al a carte form like cauliflower steak now the main ingredient in a salad with radish and capers – delish! A smaller portion of the superb pan fried stone bass is also on the grazing menu and it looked fantastic on spinach and Rob’s colourful swede puree, and it tasted exactly how we loved it last time. There is a brown crab mouse with turnip and sea vegetables which, was so very subtly flavoured and a tour de force of presentation (as was everything else). Vegetables are a great and underused (creatively) ingredient as Chef Rob put it – “there are many more varieties of veg and ways to cook them than cuts of meat if you think about it – just as varied and tasty an option as an ingredient or a centrepiece”.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Cauliflower and radish salad

Rob has really established himself in the Forest & Wye since coming to Tudor Farmhouse. Originally from Lancashire and trained in Manchester, Rob’s previous position at Michael Caines’ Restaurant “Abode” in the cities heart at Manchester Piccadilly sees a complete contrast in surroundings for him. Tudor Farmhouses’ concept of buy great, buy local is a concept Rob likes and is familiar with. Quality comes first and as many of the ingredients as possible are sourced locally.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Venison tartare

But, back to the plates. The Venison tartare looked stunning with a wafer thin slice of beetroot and topped with a garden of greens punctuated with bright juniper. The 24 hour braised beef featherblade on mash with a red wine sauce hit all of those lovely meaty tones and the texture of the meat went perfectly with the creamy mash and rich sauce. The received wisdom on the featherblade cut (from the front shoulder blade of the cow) which is packed with flavour, was that it should only ever be cooked rare. Rob’s innovation takes it the other way and braises it for a whole day and it tastes really great! If you are a meat eater – you’ll want to try this…

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
25hour braised beef featherblade

Colin had another treat in store for us and we sampled the a la carte serving of braised pheasant and roasted parsnips. Just looked fantastic and with a complimenting textures and flavours of pearl barley, quince and some fab looking mushrooms. A real country lunch or dinner plate!

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Homemade brownie and vanilla ice cream

The portions were just right for an on-the-go daytime treat and the menu has a wide variety to suit everyone’s taste. Dishes start from just £4 with the most expensive at £8 so they are great value for this standard of cooking in the chilled out environment of Tudor Farmhouse. And if you are really torn, are really hungry or just can’t decide – you can always have another – tapas DeanWye style!

Why the DeanWye reminds me of Tuscany..

As well as being editor, chief photographer and head washer-upper at WyeDean Deli Confidential I also, amongst other things, shoot travel pictures for an agency with offices around the world. Of course a significant part of capturing the spirit of any place is the local quality food and drink and the people that go with that. Markets particularly, so long neglected in England, seem to attract me like a moth to a bedroom light. So, having spent most of September in three regions (equivalent of UK counties) of Italy, I am feeling particularly spoilt! I know, it’s tough isn’t it – please don’t, sympathy isn’t good for my self-esteem…..

Call it the vino rosso, the sunshine or the total immersion in the language of love, but a very funny feeling struck me during that trip on more than one occasion – How similar to the countryside of Tuscany, Italy is the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley. OK, I know that the similarities do have some limitations but before you write me off as a hopeless romantic or a raging drunkard, let me try and convince you.

The hills around Bagni di Lucca and Seravezza are heavily wooded with broad leaved trees, most of which, Beech, Oak, Ash, Chestnut,  would be easily recognisable to any DeanWye inhabitant, Although steeper that anything here, the mountains are home to and have a long history in, quarrying – marble in their case. The people are either typically conservative country people of those who have moved into the area because they too want to become “typical country people”. There is a real sense of community and local pride in the small towns and tiny villages. The countryside around the villages is teeming with natures larder. Then there’s the weather….sorry, it’s all too easy to get carried away with these comparisons. Apart from the last example, the parallel to the DeanWye is, in my estimation, very difficult to deny.

Italy 2015
Italy 2015

But, somehow they are very different. Firstly, September is the busiest time of year in the Italian wild mushroom season. Wild mushrooms are very important to Italians. No not the farmed ones; the wild ones. Chefs and restaurant owners all have their own mushroom men – fungaioli. Men who venture into the woods, on dark damp dusks and dawns to secret spots and locations whispered to them by their fathers father. They tend to be students of the natural world and lifelong woodsmen. Mushroom season is a prelude to Chestnut season which gets equal billing with the Italian countryside residents and, well, I think you get the picture. Much, much more on fungi later. Here, I’m not to sure many normal people even think about seasonal wild foods with any passion at all – why is that?

Italy 2015
Ceps

This natural food of the forest, like all other wild foods, is noble food in the Italian psyche. It’s tied up in the peasant and wartime partisan lifestyle ethos of eking a living from the land in the absence of anything else. But that ethos isn’t something that is obvious or even expressed. It is the taste and the earthy, nutty smell of the product which confers the nobility. On one lazy Sunday lunch sitting outside in the shade, I ordered Tagliatelle al Tartufo (black truffles) and I could smell my lunch as soon as it passed the kitchen door – heaven!  It’s the sense of occasion that stems from the seasonality, passing of the seasons and the transition of one part of the year to another. It’s in the occasion that everyone can be involved in and enjoy. It’s in the added luxuriousness it brings to the already very simple, tasty and fabulous Italian food. And of course, this being Italy – it’s time for a festival on the subject where locals and visitors alike have the day off, drink a little wine and and eat very well indeed!

Bread served in a paper bag
Bread served in a paper bag

Forget the UK as a whole. Ask yourself why don’t we in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley prize this wild local crop as highly? Why don’t we value the fabulous venison, boar and game? Why don’t we all go mad for the hedgerow berry bonanza? And why don’t we go wild foraging for wild salads and herbs? All of it is right there! It’s what makes our area so special and yet we lack the passion for it. Perhaps it’s because we have lost connection with the land itself, the growing of and the variety of food, unaffected by chemicals, drugs and fertilizers. Then ask yourself this; if we have in fact lost that wondrous adventure of first finding our food, or some part of a meal, before we eat it in favour of what we like to call convenience – is that convenient trade-off to our quality of life really worth it?

We stayed in Bagni di Lucca as a guest of Tuscan Rooms a remarkably beautiful four storey town house and former soda syphon factory in a  previous life. The fully restored accommodation, complete with a real lift (extremely rare in Italian villages), vertiginous garden terrace and original four flights of marble staircase is ideally situated to explore the region. Right beside the river and in the heart of the lower town and distance walking to a great bar, a pasticceria and several restaurants, guests can rent a room, a floor or the whole shebang. Paul and Colette, the owners, will even pick you up from the airport by arrangement. If you would like to see some of the images from that trip visit my Travel gallery on Facebook

Italy 2015
Italy 2015

 

More mushroom-iness

If you regularly slip on obvious wet patches in the office lobby, don’t secure your ladders properly, don’t wear your seat belt or are constantly scolding your hands under the tap marked hot – this warning health is for YOU!

Some mushrooms are edible, delicious and good for you. Some are not. Some, no one knows if they are edible or not. Some need specific cooking preparation before eating and some can only be eaten in small quantities or the toxins build up in your body. IF, you have no idea which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF the jury is still out on which type of mushroom you have picked – don’t eat it. IF, you nevertheless go ahead and eat it anyway – please leave some of the raw ingredient in a convenient and obvious place for the para-medics to find or, as one eccentric mycologist did, write the scientific name in full on your hand in biro in the last remaining seconds before becoming comatose.

Fungaioli, skilled Italian mushroom hunters, gather mushrooms because they happen to know all about the habitat, natural and social history of a species from a collective experience of people like themselves. They tend not to be transient fungi hunters in it for the money between recorded episodes of “The Only Way is Essex”.

Italy 2015
Wild mushrooms Italy 2015

Fungaioli are also very savvy Fungus Sales Executives. They often deliver their treasure trove of truffley goodness in an attractive open topped wooden fruit box when the restaurant is open and full of customers just to ramp up the anticipation of the food obsessed Italians. Restaurant owners love this as it’s more likely that customers will return to THEIR restaurant for their autumnal fungus fix having seen the overflowing mushroom box come through the front door! Porcino (piglets in Italian) are the favourites amongst Italian chefs and restaurant customers alike. We know them by the common name of Cep but in fact, they are from a group more properly referred to as Boletus. With around 36 different Boletus in the British fungus list alone, most of which are edible, you start to see the sheer variety available and we haven’t even started on the Ink caps or the newly emerging Parasols!

Fungi
Chicken of the Woods Sulphur Polypore

In the current Tesco magazine a passionate and no doubt very nice Managing Director of somewhere or other, reports delivering 5 tons of three varieties (one of them native to Asia) to Tesco of mushrooms a week – three varieties! In the Dean Wye we have another giant flavour of the wild mushroom world – Chanterelle – a soft egg yellow funnel shaped mushroom with an exquisite taste. In spring Morels with their honeycomb heads, grow under our apple tree! Another spring fruiting mushroom is Chicken of the Woods, delicious when young and fresh. The Germans and the Dutch love them! Parasols, mentioned earlier, are delicious and gloriously paper-white when cut, if picked very early. The text books will tell you that, although not poisonous, they can be very bitter once opened.

3K5C2411
Morel

With a gay spirit of adventure I decided to test that assertion of bitterness and sliced one of the open caps (they are so large – small kids use them as parasols hence the name) before frying them in a little butter, I added parsley and a little black pepper just before serving and tried them. They looked fabulous but the text books are accurate and I pulled a muscle in my contorting face trying to get them out of my mouth as soon as possible.

Even if you can identify a specimen, the common names don’t always instil confidence. Take for example, Trombette dei Morti (Trumpets of the dead). This mushroom apes the shape of a black trumpet but its Halloweenesque name actually arose because it grows around the 2nd November, All Souls’ Day. It’s other common name of Truffles of the Poor hints at its widespread use once dried and powdered as a food additive because of its intense aroma.

If you are interested in learning more about mushrooms we can recommend the book Mushrooms by Roger Phillips. It has very helpful with, sometimes life-sized, images of each mushroom together with a useful information panel and notes on edibility.