From cheese-making to cider brewing, Somerset has always been a natural destination for foodies, but it continues to gather pace with exciting pop-ups, new gastronomic businesses and markets that champion and take pride in local, seasonal and organic food. Continue Reading…
Whether in the woods, the countryside, or by the coast, there is always a free meal to be had in Wales. Continue Reading…
Italian chef and Sawday’s hotel owner Giancarlo Polito uses traditional techniques to create authentic Italian dishes with locally grown ingredients. Here he shows us how to create a dish worthy of world-class restaurants at home.
· Soak the Cicerchie for 12 hours and wash under cold water
· Chop the onion and the celery into squares and sauté over low fire until golden brown
· Add the Cicerchie and cover with stock
· Whencooked, blend and then strain in a small hole colander in order to obtain asmooth and shiny consistency
· Cut the Calamari in tagliatelle-shaped strips and marinate with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, green pepper and lime rind
· In the oven dry out the red pepper together with a few slices of Prosciutto San Daniele (½ cm thick). Once they are completely dry blend them until powdered
· Serve in a soup plate: ease down the Cicerchie velvet sauce, add the Calamari tagliatelle, a quenelle of Squid Ink, sprinkle with Prosciutto and Pepper Powder and finally decorate with Watercress.
Try Giancarlo’s signature dishes at La Locanda del Capitano and enjoy one of the 400 wines on offer. Take a cooking class, go on a truffle hunt and take a visit to local wineries and producers.
Paolo Ciccioli, professional truffle hunter and owner of Agriturismo Ramuse in the Italian region of Marche, shares his journey from city centre truffle trading to running a remote agriturismo.
What inspired you to start your own Agriturismo, Paolo?
It has always been my lifelong dream to build Le Marche Agriturismo Ramuse on the grounds of my Grandmother’s fruit farm. Starting in 2004 and finishing on 2007 I used the finest materials to completely reconstruct the two buildings you see today.
What were you doing before this project?
Before I started the Agriturismo business, I was selling my truffles to many top chefs in London and Oxford and in London’s Borough Market.
Why did you choose the Ascoli Piceno area to set-up?
I was born and bred in the Ascoli region and so this is where my heart is. After my experience in London, I decided that the best solution is to taste the truffle in the place where it is found to appreciate the maximum fragrance and the magic of their perfume.
Were there any challenges that you faced getting started?
The main challenges were having the right craftsmen available at the right times, along with sourcing proper materials such as vintage bricks and stones. Sometimes bureaucracy slowed the project down.
What has been the best bit about your new life?
Although it is hard work, running an Agriturismo allows me to always follow my heart. Each morning I wake up to a truly beautiful panorama of nature.
What tips would you give anyone else trying to set up a hotel/B&B?
You need to plan and re-plan. Also, whatever your budget is, you will need 50% more!
What do you think makes your place a really special place to stay?
Le Marche Agriturismo Ramuse is set in a tranquil beautiful valley that brings you close to nature, being ideally placed between the Adriatic & the Sibillini mountains.
I only use local products, many from my own farm such as Oliva Ascolana Tenera (a tasty olive), eggs from the free range black Ancona chickens, and our special pink apple the mele rosa dei Monti Sibillini. We have fresh peaches, cherries, apples, homemade jams and nuts to eat throughout the year. Having worked in the wine trade, I also have a very good knowledge of the local wines and have a selection available for any time of day or night.
Tell us about your truffle hunting, what does a typical day as a truffle hunter involve?
A day in the life of a truffle hunter begins with checking the weather. It has to be dry so that Trilly my truffle dog can smell the truffles. Next we have to dress in the hunters outfit and with our special digging tool we are ready to set off.
What we bring back depends of the time of year. Truffles are seasonal with the stronger smelling White Truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) being found around Ramuse between October and November, and the Black summer truffle (tuber aestivum) from May to October.
How do you use the truffles in your cooking?
My favourite meal is freshly scrambled eggs with grated black summer truffle on top, simple but delicious!
To ask me about Italian food is to unearth a store of memories, all of them delightful. Each one conveys a different taste, an almost visceral memory. The sensuality of Italy is there at every turn, its ability to make one feel alive and human.
My first memory is of dinner in the home of the bus driver who was driving me and a group of travellers around Italy in the 60’s. I was goggle-eyed at the generosity, the huge plate of antipasto and then the primo piatto, a giant dish of lasagne. Well, I Iove lasagne, and this was the first time I had eaten it in Italy. It was lushly, softly, tasty – a wholly new experience. My host’s wife, the proud and slightly nervous cook, urged me on with ‘mangia, mangia’. So I ate a vast second helping until I was full to overflowing. It is an old story of foreign ignorance: the next course was not the dessert but a chicken dish of enormous size. How I managed I cannot remember, but I was young, foolish and constitutionally stronger than now. I hardly slept, but felt I had begun a journey.
In Bologna I ate, in the main square, at an eye-wateringly smart restaurant that served a lasagne that has served to make every one since then a disappointment. I have lost the name of the place, but it showed me how simple things can be beautiful.
In the very early days of Special Places in Italy,I visited a house in Tuscany run by a South African. He served lunch at the bottom of the garden,nothing but pasta, salad and a glass of white wine. It was done with panache and confidence, every mouthful perfect. It needed no ornament. I wonder how long it takes for an outsider to
become irretrievably steeped in Italian pride in their local ingredients.
Reflecting on those memories, I can see that the Italians have the gift of combining simplicity and perfection. The finest
ingredients, a touch of panache and beauty – and ecco! Even the 5-course meal I had at the Frantoio in Puglia last year was simple in its way, but proud too, everything grown in their garden and altered only subtly by their skill. My notes reveal: panzerottini con ricotta e bietoline selvatiche (fried pasta with ricotta and wild Swiss chard), cicorielli selvatiche assise in cesto di pecorino (wild chicory in a basket of sheep’s cheese), morbido di caprino allo zafferano con pere e composta di pere (soft goat’s cheese with saffron, pears and pear compote), zuppa con funghi cardoncelli e fagioli ‘Nasieddu rosso’ di Sarconi (mushroom soup with Sarconi beans), agnello con patate in coccio (lamb and spuds).
On the Isola Tiberina in Rome I ate carciofi a la romana, stuffed with garlic, mint and parsley – a wholly new way of eating artichokes and their leaves. I can still taste that crunchy, nutty outer leaf. Simple but stunning.
Having said all that, there is a sense of humour about food in Italy, too. In the Crete Senesi, we were served 36 courses – most of them ‘tasters’. Sixteen would have filled us. One of our party collapsed, hysterically, into the final course, her face lost in cream.
But let not lasagne and pasta dominate these memories. In Torino last year, boiled meats and tongue reminded me that there is much, much more to Italian food than I knew. (I never eat pizza, anywhere. Too much pastry for me, but I suspect that I am being unfair on Naples.) From the great Torino Slow Food conferences and shows, one learns about the thousands of small-scale growers who battle to keep their products alive in the face of cynical competition from the big boys. Italians really do love their food, and are proud of their regional diversity; they can talk about it with a passion that most of us reserve for other things. I love them for it.
Where did the inspiration for Chase Distilleries come from?
I was travelling around New York in 2007 and saw the rise of craft distilleries, yet nothing was happening here in the UK. On returning back to our business at the time, Tyrrells Crisps, I found we had a huge surplus of smaller potatoes, too small to turn into crisps and at the time were just fed to the cows.
We built the distillery in 2007, and were crowned the world’s best tasting vodka in 2010. Gins, liqueurs and soon whisky too have followed suit. In fact, the brand is doing so well that we’re now selling our vodka to Russians – coal to Newcastle you might say. While we distill a range of products, everything in our business leads back to vodka and since selling the Tyrrell business we are 100% focused on spirits.
What makes your spirits different?
Our farm is based in Herefordshire, a region that boasts some of the richest farmland in the world. It’s here that we grow King Edward and Lady Claire potatoes for the distillery, as well as cider apples for our Naked Chase Apple Vodka and Williams Gin.
Having the distillery located on the farm allows us to keep a watchful eye over how our potatoes and apples move from field to bottle. It’s this single-estate approach that makes us different – something you can taste in our award-winning vodka.
Very small volumes are produced: 16 tonnes of potatoes makes only 1,000 litres of alcohol, which after 40 hours can be disheartening, but it is testament to the quality of our vodka– a supreme quality over all of the other mass produced vodka. Most gins on the market buy in what’s called a neutral grain spirit and simply re-distill, which can be sourced in the market for around 50 pence a litre. Our base spirit costs around £4 a litre to produce, so the cider is a great way of showing off the pedigree of our gin.
Where do you get ideas for new flavours?
We try to preserve quintessential British flavours; things like Seville orange marmalade or rhubarb vodka, which we hope will evoke lost memories and tastes. They are all distilled in season but can be enjoyed all year round.
What are your bestsellers from the range (and your personal favourite)?
Our Single-Estate Potato vodka is still the best selling spirit and is of course my personal favourite, closely followed by the Elegant Gin!
What would you have been in another life?
Over the years I have had a growing appreciation for good wine, understanding all the different elements that go into its production affecting quality are fascinating. So I suppose a wine maker, but that’s not too far off from what I’m doing already….
Feeling fruity? Try the Chase distillery cocktail of the month:
The story: Our brilliant barman, Harry, is going off to be a captain of a yacht and sail around the world. We are going to miss him terribly, so he left us this recipe to make sure we will never forget him!
60ml Chase Elegant Gin
10ml Chase Elderflower Liqueur
25ml Fresh lime juice
10ml Gomme (Sugar syrup)
Shake hard, with loads of ice and double strain into a cold Martini glass.
Have the master cocktail makers mix it for you and take a sneak peek tour around the distillery at The Verzon Hotel
Stylish rooms, attractive prices, an informal vibe and some lovely local food make this a great base for the Malvern Hills.
Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it was another 20 years before Mark and Sarah swapped life in the big smoke to take the great leap into wine production on the soils of Sussex. They offered an insight into the trials and tribulations of starting their own vineyard…
Why did you make the big move into wine-making?
Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it took a further 20 years before we found the perfect site for a vineyard and Mark had retired from the city enabling a new venture in wine production. Following a two year course in viticulture at Plumpton College the dream started to take shape. An initial planting in 2012 produced the first harvest in 2014 and an expectation of our first Sparkling wine in 2017.
Out of all of the places that you could have set up in, what was it that made you settle in Alfriston?
The South Downs share the geology of the “Paris Basin”, a triassic geological feature that also encompasses the vineyards of Champagne. Our vines should flourish on the South facing chalky soils that are so essential to the development of the great sparking wines. Rathfinny was the perfect site in terms of size and location to realise our ambitions. Sussex isalso an important location for the development of the English wine industry as a whole. We hope to be contributing up to 1 million bottles a year by 2020 to English wine production.
Has the venture turned out how you expected it would?
We always knew it was an expensive, long term investment. We are on track with our plans in terms of the development of the Vineyard and buildings on site. We have also established a strong team with key members including New Zealand viticulturalist Cameron Roucher, who has left New Zealand to join the new venture, while Epernay-born Jonathan Médard is Rathfinny’s winemaker. It’s challenging and a huge learning curve.
It sounds like you’ve been pretty busy! Do you have any new projects coming up at the site?
We are about to open our Flint Barns – seasonal workers accommodation during pruning and picking but available for special interest groups and schools to visit as well B&B visitors. Our Cellar Door in Alfriston, which sells locally sourced and wine related products, will stock a small release of our first still wine in May and is the starting point of the Estate Tours. The Rathfinny Trail is due to open in May.
We are also holding a three-day Chamber Music Festival in June which will be the inaugural weekend of many for our resident ensemble, the London Conchord Ensemble.
Seasonal workers are invited to stay at Flint Barns during pruning and picking as well as B&B visitors. More “poshtel” than hostel, find chunky doors, reclaimed oak floors, view-filled windows, bedrooms with luxurious mattresses, crisp white cotton, good lighting and shower rooms worthy of Babington House.