Longhope Bakes – classic, traditional and super tasty.

 

Preparing for a spring trip to Rome, I was chatting to an Italian friend within a larger group of friends. Someone asked Rosella how to ask for gluten free bread in Italian. Rosella cast a doubtful eye in his direction and, when pressed as to the availability of gluten free in Italy, she thought for a moment and then said “I think that you can get gluten free flour in some pharmacies in the cities and big towns”. Low and behold though, during our visit, some of the shops in Rome’s tourism areas were advertising “gluten free” varieties of well-known Italian staples. Why is it, it occurred to me, that as the demand for gluten free bread and other similar products seems to be inexorably on the rise here, it is a rare product you need a prescription for in Italy?

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

This certainly isn’t a mystery to Sue of The Forest Bakehouse team. This small co-operative bakery, based in modest premises tucked away in the pretty Longhope village centre, produces outstandingly good “proper” bread. During a lovely morning interviewing Sue and Chris, another member of the team, Sue discussed the co-ops passion for producing a real quality bakery range. Turns out that many of the problems digesting wheat and flour some people seem to suffer from may just be a consequence of how it’s made!

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

Modern bread, especially the arch criminal sliced white, takes a fraction of the time a traditional and experienced baker takes to produce a loaf. The bread that makes up the volume of that on offer in our supermarkets is made in vast bread production lines where it goes from cheap raw ingredients to sliced and bagged in just a matter of hours. No doubt this is a profitable business based on volumes alone. But in part consumer demand for ever cheaper stuff is also to blame. Take a supermarket sliced white value loaf at the royal price of 40 pence (link below – worth looking at the ingredients list too to see how many you recognise). Just what is it that we think we are getting for our hard earned 40 pence when a traditionally made loaf costs around £2?

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

Modern large scale bread is made in super quick time with bulk bought ingredients, which need flavour and texture additives to make them palatable. And there is the problem – that speed of production and super-charged fermentation misses a very necessary opportunity. That opportunity is time to allow the process to change and soften the effects of the gluten. Time in fermentation breaks down those things we may have trouble digesting and gives our system a fighting chance. Luckily for us that time spent resting and proving also adds bags more flavour and character to the bread. There’s more of the science on the subject on their website, but the taste and quality is something that the crew at The Forest Bakehouse are really proud of.

 

The bakery is a community supported and part funded project, but don’t think that this is anything other than a successful business. It’s just one operated on a different model. Sue and Chris, we have already mentioned, but Ciaran and Peter complete the co-operative, although not there on the day we visited. The workload is shared between the members and they have now taken on an apprentice too! Sue, was candid when asked about working as a co-operative, “we have learnt a lot, in the beginning we thought that it meant we all had to agree on everything! As we developed, we split the tasks into responsibilities and we each get on with our fair share of running and working in the business. It really works”. The community aspect of the project also means a great deal to the team who see the business as giving something back to the community investors who helped them get going in the first place.

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

That’s the business stuff over with – let’s talk about the taste! I tried their sourdough at the “See, Taste, Buy” event in the spring and was already hooked. The prospect of it straight from the Longhope ovens was just too tempting, and so that was the first target for tasting! The Bakehouse product range is really rather good for a smallish bakery. Alongside their sourdoughs, there are rustic looking farmhouse breads, savoury breads, their Latchen (soft white yeasted bread approximately 250 light years from supermarket sliced white), baguettes and ciabattas.

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

The small café in one corner of the Bakehouse next to the entrance serves croissants and cookies, pizza slices and the most fantastic sausage rolls all made right there on the premises (also available from the Dean Forest Food Hub pick up points). If you don’t believe us, call in for a cup of tea or coffee and watch it coming out of the oven!

Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.
Traditionally made bread from the Forest Bakehouse at Longhope.

My money is on proper bread every time.

Whats in a 40p sliced white http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=258742688

The Forest Bakehouse     www.forestbakehouse.co.uk     Longhope village 01452 830435

The Marches Delicatessen – Nevill Street, Abergavenny.

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenny, cheese,

 

We aren’t experts! Let’s get that cleared up straight away, but, and this is just our opinion, there are several key elements to running a cheese shop! First, one needs a shop and some cheese – self evidently and preferably, it should be very good cheese. Next, one needs a person – but not just any person! A person who truly knows about cheese (not gained from an in-house training course or gleaned via product notes) , but whose passion  about cheese … well … over flows. There is a type of knowledge you only get when you hit the buffers and realise that you don’t know something. This spurs you on to investigate and to research and learn, as well as appreciate and test. This type of enlightenment is what we like to call “bicycle knowledge”. Bicycle knowledge, once obtained, never leaves you, it never grows old or out of date, it’s even immune from the cruel ravages of ages.  Like great cheese itself, this knowledge matures.

Bankers in general, or anyone who “worked in the city”, often get a bad press. Gordon, Fred and the crew have a lot to answer for I’m sure! But that in no way speaks about the men and women, like you and I, whose occupation happened to be in the biggest and best financial centre in the world. However, there comes a time though when people want more.

How do you get “more”? – that’s the tough one.

Not for Tom Lewis, he just followed his dream and passion to one day own a deli. And now he does – The Marches Delicatessen – and it’s a very fine deli indeed, in a Welsh country town that really needs one.

The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.
The Marches Delicatessen window, Abergavenny.

“Having spent 6 years in London I was ready to come back to Wales. I was not really enjoying the job I was doing and lacked the drive to push on. I grew up near here and had been looking at opening my own delicatessen. An opportunity presented itself to move to Abergavenny – so I quit my job, moved back from London and opened The Marches”.

Our latest best friend, Tom Lewis – a very bright eyed and cheerful fella, already has some bicycle knowledge about cheese and seemingly there is nothing going to stop him from acquiring more. He is ever present in the shop and at the weekends his girlfriend and mum occasionally help out.

The obvious question of course….Why a cheese shop/deli?

“I’ve always been interested in it since childhood holidays in France. I really got into it whilst at university in Aberystwyth. There is an amazing delicatessen called Ultracomida, which first opened my eyes to some of the great Welsh produce being made. I knew I wanted to do something focusing on local produce and did not want to restrict it to Wales, so hence why I called it The Marches. I focus on produce from Wales, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire”.

Have you ever made cheese?

“Not yet, but there are plans to dabble in making some fresh cheese like ricotta or mozzarella. But having seen how much skill goes into making the cheeses we sell, I fear anything I make would turn out to be an embarrassment by comparison”.

Tom’s favourite cheese (anywhere) – “Mouldy Mabel  is a beautiful creamy blue cheese from Carmarthen & made using Jersey Cows milk or Celtic Promise, a wash rind cheese which although pungent has a that taste is much more a subtle, smooth & buttery”.

Tom on the spot time – Favourite maker and why? “Harry & Sue Ryder of Wye Valley Cheese – not only is their cheese amazing, it is very local and they were the first people I visited when I started to meet the producers. Sitting with Harry and watching him make the cheese was a real privilege”.
Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Tom Lewis’ The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Whilst we were chatting we met Jane, a lovely customer of Tom’s and a regular customer and Abergavenny resident. She popped in intrigued by the “cheese of the week”  billboard outside offering  Rachel (a Somerset goats cheese by Pete Humphries). Jane told us,  “I just love this shop. When I walk in it makes me feel happy. Tom has transformed this place into somewhere you just want to walk into – it’s fantastic that someone would do this for our town. I can’t really say any more than that.” Except, Jane doesn’t like goats cheese, “It’s too strong!” – a woman whose opinion has been tainted by the plethora of goat’s cheese starters!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavnney, cheese,
Very well stocked deli – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Tom says “I get lots of customers who decline even a tasting of anything – goaty. A bit like Jane their palates have been spoilt by mass produced goat’s cheese. It does generally have a tang to it, but some of them are very subtle indeed, not at all what you would expect. It can depend on how you are serving it or what you plan to drink with it. I’m always on hand to advise customers and let them try a little”

Tom stocks lots of great and tantalising deli products, but we really wanted to concentrate on the cheese today. We first met Tom, by luck, back in early December 2014 and he’d been in business for a little over 2 months (Sept 2014). Even then, despite the spartan premises, he had founded something special and had us hooked. For us it was cheese and what he was trying to do with Marches Deli. Well, it took us a few months to return – and in the meantime he seems to have worked wonders on all manner of tasty and different stock in the shop and the cheese counter was bursting with goodness!!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Blue Monk – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Everything looked fab, but we singled out a couple for tasting. The health and safety wallers will have you keep your cheese in the fridge , take it out, not put it down anywhere, but eat it straight from the wrapper whilst wearing gloves. But, we aren’t feeding anyone, we aren’t serving it and we absolve anyone in the council from blame – so, if it’s all the same to you, we adopted the French method of cheese management and put it on the passenger seat for the sunny drive home before leaving it out on the kitchen worktop for a few hours. We lived long enough to write this thankfully.

Wye Valley Mellow

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Wye Valley Mellow, The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

 

The back story to this farmhouse maker is frankly incredible. The cheese lived up to the back story admirably. It has a nice thick crust that conceals a very creamy coloured, crumbly, but smooth tasting cheese which was just a delight. It has a milky cheesiness with a very pleasant slight hint of chewiness. We got the faint smell of exceedingly fresh shellfish, not fishy, just, well fresh! It’s very creamy to taste with a lovely tangy mature after-taste on the back of the palate. We’ll take some!

Crottin Affine – France

Cute rounded individual cheeses, with a nutty soft white crust from the cave-aging process. Beneath that is a yellow waxy layer and inside a white creamy cheese with a wonderful smell of a classic French camembert. This would be perfect with a soft fruity chutney and a glass of ice wine. Is this a good time to tell you that…  it’s actually a Goats cheese – this is the one Jane!

 

 

Happy Birthday Hillside!

Hillside, Paul WIlliamson, beer, real ale, craft ale, venue, party, music, bar,

 

Our lovely friends up at Hillside Brewery are 1 year old!! And to prove it they threw a great party, “The Hillside Sausage & Ale Festival” in their spacious bar/barn/venue/dance hall – not quite sure what official name it has, but it accommodates all of the aforementioned.

Hillside, Paul WIlliamson, beer, real ale, craft ale, venue, party, music, bar,
Sausage Fest!

The Sausage & Ale Festival was a great success and the party goers spilled out onto the sun drenched terrace on a fabulous Saturday in the Forest of Dean. Anzac; Legend; Pinnacle and Legless Cow were all available on draft. Their other beers were all available in bottles and the fully stocked bar catered for every other taste, including “fruit based drinks for the ladies” – Al Murray pub landlord on wine.

With live music from the Hillside Stage throughout the day, the event started with a real party atmosphere. First up on stage was The Six Foot Way – the raucous Irish folk band from Cinderford. We also had a solo set from the lovely Lydia Borg and a couple of sets from the Ukes uv Hazzard collective. Headliners were Vapor, with the fabulously voiced Onika Patterson smoothing over some classic reggae and soul tracks, making them her own.

1A6P8545 comp

Vapor last played on the Hillside Stage back in February when we all felt the chill wind of living atop May Hill. Since then, the Hillside crew have been busy installing amazing see through wind screens on the open doors, which eliminate the wind without cutting down the light. And the overhead heaters (which have always been there) now work fantastically that the wind has gone making the barn a great place for parties.

1A6P8622

The sausage part of the deal came in the form of Cameron’s Butchers traditional and chilli sausages as hot dogs with chips – just what was needed for between-beers sustenance. A great mix of locals; real ale lovers; Paul’s friends and family and visitors alike – the visitors from London and Southampton were duly awarded the furthest travellers prize. All eight of them called in on spec and stayed all night!

All in all it was a great party and the Hillside field (superb views) was given over to camping for the party goers so no-one had to drive or taxi, if they didn’t want to. Camping is something that will be on offer at selected future events so follow Hillsides Facebook page or website for details.

 

 

Legless Cow’s now available at Speech House Hotel.

 

The Speech House Hotel is the most iconic hotel in the Forest of Dean. Situated, as it is, at the very heart of the Forest of Dean and housing the ancient home of Britain’s oldest court has made it well known, and well loved by all. Nowadays, it’s equally well known for the adjacent Speech House field, home to the Forest Activities Festival, the Forest Showcase and the grand annual Fireworks night display events to name, but a few.

In charge at the hotel, husband and wife team, Peter & Gill Hands, run a tight ship with customer satisfaction unashamedly front and centre of everything they do. And the latest big news is that Hillside Brewery’s traditional IPA style best bitter – Legless Cow – is well and truly re-homed in the Speech House bar and on draught.  The beer, named for the healthy appreciation the cattle up at Hillside have for the spent grain from the brewing process, has already sold out the first delivery. We caught up with Peter Hands, and Paul Williamson from Hillside as he delivered the next consignment.

Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.
Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.

The ever ebullient host Peter, who has only recently made his Twitter debut, has been having a little bit of “pun” in the Speech House social media channel (@speechhouse) on the Legless Cow theme. He started with “There’s a Legless Cow meandering its way to the Speech House. Watch this space for more on its journey.” On a roll and seemingly unstoppable, he waded in with “We are looking forward 2 stabling the Legless Cow at Speech House when Paul rounds her up and drives her down. Moooch joy @Hillsidebrewery.” We hesitate to say finally, because we don’t think he’s done yet, but “Mooovalous this Legless Cow Beer, Prime cut hops. No udder one like it. Cheers from Speech House Bar” – we can hear echoes of – “I thank you, I’m here all week!!”

 

Legless Cow, best bitter, craft ale, CAMRA, Hillside Brewery,
Hillside Brewery Legless Cow. Traditional IPA style best bitter.

 

Peter & Gill have always been supporters of local food and drink businesses. We last chatted to Peter at the inaugural Tourism Association event See, Taste, Buy in the spring where he was chatting to local suppliers to see, taste and, where possible, source good local produce. Paul from Hillside was there, but the two were already acquainted by that time. We chatted to Peter about the latest introduction to the Speech House bar:

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “So, Hillside Brewery’s Legless Cow on draught.”

Peter Hands: “I love Legless Cow and the name still brings a smile to my face. We love what Hillside are trying to do and we’d love to be able to say that a much larger part of our stock is sourced from the DeanWye and other local producers with low food miles.”

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “What are the drawbacks or the hurdles in trying to achieve that?”

Peter Hands: “Theoretically – none. But we have to offer our customers great service and great quality products in everything we do. One of the key factors on the quality issue, when it comes to local producers, as opposed to national producers,  is consistency. Customers may already know a brand from their travels or they may be coming back to us, as so many do, and they expect that the things they love are the same each and every time. It’s a commercial decision to stock local (and one which we are happy to make), but we can’t accept products which change with the weather – it’s just a guaranteed way to disappoint the customer. That’s why we like Hillside Brewery. We’ve been up there and met Paul and his staff and looked at the operation. We like what they do, we like the fun and the passion they bring to it and we are seriously impressed with the investment they have made to ensure that their beers are top quality – consistently!”

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “Aren’t local products more expensive than big brands?”

Peter Hands: “They don’t have to be. Big brands have definitely got the muscle when it comes to pricing, but we are always looking for the best prices from our suppliers – we have to. And the real key is, yes customers expect value for money, but it’s a mistake to assume that is their only driver, our customers also want quality. It’s also a mistake to assume that customers make those decisions in that order. In my experience quality and taste comes first every time.”

Paul Williamson: “It’s great to hear Peter pick up on the consistency issue. We’ve worked so hard on our recipes to get the quality, depth of flavour and variety into our CAMRA recognised craft ales, but making the best beer in the world is pointless if you can only ever produce one batch of it.”

So, down at Speech House, the welcome is great; the countryside is great; the hotel is great (as is the food) and the bar is well-stocked with great local beers. The jokes – well……….

 

Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.

 

Speech House Hotel ‏ www. thespeechhouse.co.uk  Twitter @speechhouse 

Hillside Brewery www.hillsidebrewery.com Twitter @Hillsidebrewery

If you tweet and want to keep to date with all the news from the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley follow the hashtag #deanwye

 

All credit to Nigel Slater – Eating Together on BBC One

Nigel Slater, BBC, TV,
Nigel Slater: Eating Together – (C) Tigress Productions Ltd BBC Pictures – Photographer: Tom Blount

Don’t know if you have been watching Nigel Slater (cook, author, The Observer food columnist) in his new series for the BBC – Eating Together? Nigel, who describes himself as “a cook who writes” is someone who we have followed for some time, he travels the world, in culinary terms, cooking, tasting and meeting those who have bought such a wealth of flavours and cultures to the British palate. If you haven’t yet seen it you can catch a BBC One promo clip and taster for the series at www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone – we have and for a very special DeanWye reason!

Don’t jump up to put the kettle on immediately the next episode ends, but wait for the credits. Right there, if you’re quick, you’ll see the name Yvette Farrell! That’s right, the Yvette Farrell, our own local food hero, foraging Queen, Principal of Harts Barn Cookery School and this year’s Forester Business Person of the Year as well as being champion of all things local and wonderful (see previous feature).

Yvette Farrell - brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School
Yvette Farrell – brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School

The opportunity came about through a mutual acquaintance who happened to know that Nigel was one of Yvette’s all-time food heroes. Pretty soon she was signed up, amidst total secrecy, for a gruelling week long schedule of 10/12 hour days cooking for Nigel and the crew during filming. Yvette got to work behind the scenes of the new series, which started this week on BBC1 and will continue every Monday night at 7.30pm. She appearing in the credits of the show and her main role was to prepare food and catering for Nigel and the crew during the long days of filming.

“It was a great honour to work with my food hero, Nigel and he was every bit as likeable and caring as I had imagined he would be.  His approach to food and cooking is very much in line with my own beliefs and ethos – one that I try to bring in to the Cookery School every day. My highlight was Nigel saying I made the best Flatbreads he has ever tasted – which is a great boost as I have plans to develop the Forest Flatbread for production and put the Forest of Dean on the map in the same way the Cornish Pasty has  done for Cornwall!” Yvette commented.

“I run a ‘Hire A Chef’ catering service as part of the Cookery School, so I was well prepared for the hard work and the rewards really were fantastic,” she continued.

The new series sees Nigel Slater meet devoted home cooks across multi-cultural Britain to discover how food in this country has never been so exciting. From noodles, to dumplings and custard there are some dishes we all love to cook wherever we originate from in the world. In this series Nigel gathers inspiration from the distant cousins of some of his favourite recipes, finding out culinary secrets from across the world and discovering what makes different cultures within Britain tick.

For more information www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk or contact Helen Hayes: helen@hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk

@NigelSlater  Instagram.com/thenigelslater