Sunday, 9 May 2010

Barleylands Farmers Market - Local Food Adventures Essex

Saturday 8th May and I woke up with a mission in mind.. From a few searches on the net I had already found out that Barleylands had a Farmers Market on.. The market started and finished early (930 – 1230), so I was determined to sacrifice my Saturday lay in and get there nice and early!

I woke up early on the Saturday and couldn’t wait to get started. We had already decided to get breakfast there so within 30 minutes of waking up we were in the car and heading towards the farmers market.

Barleylands itself is huge! It is a massive combination of Farm Park and a Jumble of Craft Shops selling everything from teddy bears to blown glass ornaments. We parked in the car park which was already very busy, rolled up our sleeves and prepared to do battle!

The farmers market at Barleylands is held in an outside barn, half inside and half outside. The first stall we were greeted by was a stall selling game, game that was shot locally, I recognised their green van instantly as it regularly does the markets in and around Essex. Next was a vegetable stall by Manor Farm and then a new stall to me called the Giggly Pig.

We were confronted by a passionate member of the Giggly Pig team who begun her pitch as soon as we were in range. She continued her rhapsody whilst thrusting a wooden toothpick into each of our hands and beckoning us to taste the various sausages on her tray.

She continued to tell us that all of the pork was reared on their farm in Harold Hill I later found out that the pigs are all rare breed Saddlebacks. She continued, they make 40+ flavours of Handmade Sausages and they are even launching a specific range for the World Cup, no doubt inspired by the countries that are in the tournament. We tasted the sausages that they were cooking behind the stall and well, they were tasty. Hot Chilli sausages spiced with Scotch Bonnet and an interesting sausage spiced with Chilli and Lime. Strangely delicious at the time but I wonder what I am going to do with them!? I also bought Hickory smoked sausages which I am looking forward too and sausages that contained whole pieces of their very own bacon. I purchased the sausages and then we moved into the market ready and primed to taste even more treats.

We wanted to recon the market so the next step was to force our way through the people and see all of the goods that were on offer.. There was about 10 stalls in the barn selling everything from sun dried tomatoes and Olives to the more traditional Chutneys and Preserves. We scouted around the market planning which route to take and then following our noses ended up at a Sausage barbecue were we picked up breakfast!

Once the sausage rolls were consumed it was to the bread stall. The bread stall was stunning. Stacks and piles of different breads in all colours and shapes. Knitted loafs to huge round buns, I had been craving some excellent bread and we were not disappointed! The bakery that provided this generous show was McCarthys of Brentwood and we were quick to take him up on a 2 for £10 deal where we had a half a round of Rye bread and a Sourdough loaf.

We moved around the market until we were at the back of the barn until we were stood in front of a small stall adorned with many green bottles. Bottles that were familiar to us both as we had been regular buyers of this fantastic Apple Juice. We were standing in front of Stoke Farm Orchards stall and the brand of Apple juice that we were so familiar with was Appletree Hill.

Speaking to the owner of the farm we discovered that the orchard was only considered to be a small orchard (30 acres or so), but my god do they create some fantastic juices! We were offered tastes of the 10 or so varieties they had on show. They press juices from many types of Apples including Bramley, Russet and Cox all which are grown in the farm in Suffolk. I settled for my favourite Cox’s Orange Pippin and Discovery. Both of which have a lip smacking taste that is just delicious!! We were also offered a home made lemonade that was very nice and another product that I also bought a cider called Dog Rapper, apparently a very dry cider and one that I am looking forward to tasting!

Sausages, Bread and Apple juice in the bag we moved just a few feet onto the next stall where a lovely older lady stood proudly behind her biscuit stall. I am sorry to reference the ladies age in the previous sentence but I do this for a reason! Baking to me is a skill that I believe takes many many years to develop. There are tricks that older cake and biscuit makers probably aren’t even aware that they are using that seem to make a huge difference when preparing these delicate treats!

The company was called the Perfectly Delicious Company and to say that the name underrated the ladies produce was an understatement. The biscuits were packed and packs of six but prior to making a purchase we had the traditional tasting!! We were offered pieces of the handmade biscuits and told that she made them in many flavours including Coconut, Ginger Snap, Shortbread and Classic Cookie flavours. The flavours of biscuit that we settled for were Oatmeal with Fruit and another essential flavour, Chocolate. Now referring back to my original point – never trust a young biscuit maker – the chocolate biscuits that I chose were amazing. The strong rich aromas of chocolate that filled the nose and the mouth were one thing but the unnatural and extraordinary crunch was something else. The dark art of biscuit baking, especially when it comes to the WI is usually a secretive world of experience and tricks but I had to know and pressed the kind lady for her secret. It turns out that the Chocolate'y biscuits crunch was down to crushed Organic Corn Flakes being added to the mix, a trick that I will now borrow and use! Biscuits in the bag we moved on to another familiar local brand Wicks Manor Farm.

Wicks Manor is a local food success story. Wicks Manor is a pork farm that produces high quality pork that it sells locally and in some Supermarkets. They are a pig farm but also have a large amount of arable land that they use to grow the food and bedding for the pigs reducing the food miles dramatically and creating an uber local and fantastic product. Personally I love their bacon. They produce a dry cured smoked back bacon that is simply delicious, I was told by the gentleman running the stall that they also smoke their pork on the farm too. The bacon, well is lovely. While I sit here writing this post I have just eaten a sandwich made from the Wicks Manor Farm bacon and the Sourdough bread bought earlier on. I grill the bacon so that the fat almost soufflĂ©’s and the tender meat crisps – stunning sweet meat! We bought two packs of the delicious bacon and moved on to the busiest stall of them all, a Cheesemonger that had set up camp in the middle of the barn.

I unfortunately forgot the Cheesemongers name; I must have been drunk on the strong smells of mature cheeses.. The stall had huge rounds and wheels of cheeses all nicely tagged with their names, countries and regions for ease of identification. The portly cheesemonger was run off his feet and the queue snaked around and past his stall obscuring a second bread stall from view. As people queued past his stall they were entertained by other people’s purchases. Soft Ripe cheeses almost needing a spoon rather than a knife to cut, a pink cheese flavoured with port and blue cheeses from all over the UK and indeed Europe.

By the time it was my turn to pick I had already made my mind up on two of the three cheeses I wanted to buy. Brie made in Somerset that had been smoked, the edges cracked and aged and the skin brown with the flavours of smoke. The second cheese a Cornish Org dressed in its coat of nettle leaves and the third I needed direction on.. I asked the stall holder for his opinion. I love Cheddar, but I love Cheddar that is seriously mature!! I want a piece of Cheddar to twang the taste buds and almost burst the saliva glands in your mouth as it releases its amazing flavours!! This is what I requested and to my amazement I was asked to taste an Austrian cheese.

Not being Cheddar or British, at first I declined until he persuaded me to taste. Well, the thin soft slice of cheese was amazing, not deeply flavoured but it did have a twang that was sheer pleasure. I enquired about a huge Cheddar standing proudly in the middle of this cheesy display and asked for a taste of this proud looking cheese. This was what I was after!! The unpasteurised cheese was delicious rounded mature flavour, tangy and delicious!! I bought a wedge and that was my cheese purchased.

My final stop was the veg stall standing at the entrance to the barn. I picked up my seasonal veg including some fat round Radish, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Spinach.

My day was not over yet as on the return journey we also stopped off at the Billericay Cook Shop, picked up some essentials at Waitrose and then foraged a few Wild Food goodies in a nearby wood.

A fantastic foody day that we are going to remember for ages. I fully recommend a visit to Barleylands Farmers Market, great selection of foods and many delicious treats available!

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