Chalk Stream Hampshire Trout

Our Hot and Cold Smoked Trout comes from Chalk Stream Foods, based within Hampshire – on the Rivers Itchen and Test. Interesting fact: Did you know that there are only 210 chalk streams in the world and 160 of those are in England!

Chalk streams occur when water is filtered through chalk hills, the chalk acts as an aquifer (filtration system). Water is filtered through the chalk and re-emerges lower down the slope in springs/rivers. The temperature of the emerging surface water is fairly stable and rarely deviates from 10°C (50°F). On cold winter mornings, it can look as though steam is rising above the relatively warm river.

The Trout Farm on the Test

The Trout Farm on the Test

From the image above, you can see that the river enters the farm at the lower right corner. (Only some water is diverted, the River Test continues to run alongside and around the farm.)  The water, which is Class 1A, the highest water rating you can get, is diverted through the farm and is used like a treadmill for the fish so they are constantly on the move, making them tasty, rich and lean.

They don’t just divert the water into the farm, they oxygenate it for the fish as well to compensate for the carbon dioxide produced by the weed at night. As water flows into the farm a sensor measures the amount of oxygen and will add oxygen when the reading is below a certain level. It is hugely important to maintain constant oxygen level to create a stress free and stable environment for the fish to live in.  There are several other points throughout the farm that also measure the oxygen levels.

Chalk Stream water flows in one direction through every tank and returns to the Test on the other side of the farm (top middle). It returns to the river in the same Class 1A bracket as when it entered. This is achieved as the water from the farms goes through the settling canals that are deep and wide that act like gravity filters for suspended solids and waste products. Every couple of years the canals are dredged and the fertile silt spread on the surrounding fields.

The trout are fed on pellets that are mostly made up of protein and oils from soya and rapeseed with a small percentage of fish meal and oil that is sustainably sourced from Chili that is fully  traceable. For every kilo of fish meal and oil used in the feed the farms produce in excess of one kilo of chalk stream trout and so are a net producer of fish.

Fry Tanks

Fry Tanks

All trout stock is from UK eggs and when the fry are delivered they are placed in these tanks. Each tank holds 50,000 fry, from there they are thinned to 20,000 and moved along the farm into bigger and bigger tanks, thinning as they go.

The trout are sustainably grown in these gin clear waters and take about 2 years to get them to the 2 Kg mark. The fry are hand fed and as they get larger, are fed by machine that is always operated by the farmers to prevent over-feeding that stresses the fish causing more waste. The farmers are extremely passionate about the trout they grow, with many of them spending the majority of their working lives there – Pete, the Farm Manager, has been working here for 35 years.

Crystal Clear Waters of the Test

Crystal Clear Waters of the Test

Hampshire Chalk Stream rainbow trout is some of the tastiest, richest and leanest in the UK as a result of their unique natural habitat.

Fishhh

These world-famous spring-fed chalk streams with crystal water, constant water flows and excellent light and vegetation create havens for the fish, making them rich and lean with a distinctive, sensational taste.

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They are one of the only trout suppliers in Hampshire to fillet and smoke on-site. This guarantees freshness and taste, as well as reducing the environmental impact of operations as a result of unnecessary travel to smokeries.

The farms are long-established with sustainable operations, approved by GLOBALG.A.PFreedom Food and Quality Trout UK.

A few old photos from 1978 show that working of the farm hasn’t really changed all that much and that for over 40 years traditional trout farming produces the best tasting trout.

Not much changes.

Not much changes.

Farmer’s Choice are seeing Stars!

GT 15 3-star

The world’s most coveted blind-tasted food awards, Great Taste, has just released the Great Taste stars of 2015 and Farmer’s Choice Free Range Ltd is amongst the producers celebrating as its Rose Veal Club Roast (3 Star), Steak Mince (1 Star), Dry Cure Back Bacon (1 Star) and Slow Roasting Lamb Breast (1 Star) are now able to proudly carry the little gold and black Great Taste logo.

Rose Veal Club Roast

Judged by over 400 of the most demanding palates belonging to food critics, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, producers and a host of food writers and journalists, Great Taste is widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers.  When a product wears a Great Taste label it carries a badge of honour but more importantly, the Great Taste logo is a signpost to a wonderful tasting product – hundreds of judges have worked tirelessly to discover the very best, through hours and hours of blind-tasting a total of 10,000 different foods and drinks.

We have been established for over 30 years sourcing and providing quality free range British meat to our customers.  This year we decided to enter some of our produce to see if the judges thought the same as our customers.  We couldn’t be happier with the outcome – Jason Crotty, Director.

Recognised as a stamp of excellence among consumers and retailers alike, Great Taste values taste above all else, with branding and packaging ignored. Whether it is cheese, ale, steak or chutney being judged, all products are removed from their wrapper, jar or bottle before being tasted. The judges then savour, confer and re-taste to decide which products are worthy of a 1-, 2- or 3-star award.

There were 10,000 Great Taste entries this year and of those products, 130 have been awarded a 3-star, 597 received a 2-star and 2,382 were awarded a 1-star accolade. The panel of judges included Masterchef judge and restaurant critic Charles Campion, TV presenter and cook, Aggie Mackenzie, Great British Bake Off winner, Frances Quinn, Masterchef the Professionals finalist, Adam Handling, food buyers from Harrods, Selfridges, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, and chefs including James Golding, Chef Director of The Pig hotel group, who have together tasted and re-judged the 3-star winners to finally agree on the 2015 Top 50 Foods, the Golden Fork Trophy winners and the new 2015 Supreme Champion.

Finally, check out all our Great Taste award winning products.

just some of our award winning products

just some of our award winning products

Is it time for an oil change?

If you are looking for a healthy, light alternative to other cooking oils, rapeseed is a great choice. If you are looking for a UK grown/produced product, look no further than Rapeseed Oil.

Rapeseed Fields in Full Bloom

Rapeseed Fields in Full Bloom

Rapeseed Oil is a healthy cooking choice. It has less unhealthy saturated fats than other cooking oils – 50% less than olive oil!  It is perfect for cooking with as it has a high smoke point, which basically means that it can cook at high temperatures without the fats breaking down and burning, maintaining its flavour and character.

It can be used in a variety of different ways, drizzled over salad through to cooking (frying, roasting or baking).

Even on a comparison with Coconut Oil, overall, rapeseed oil is a healthier choice due to its lower content of saturated fats and high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

On a bitterly cold morning in February we drove out to Clare Park Farm, Crondall in Hampshire to see Charlie, The Cold Pressed Oil Company Ltd.

Charlie's Barn, is surrounded by rapeseed fields.

Charlie’s Barn, is surrounded by rapeseed fields.

The farm nestles within 2500 acres of arable countryside and Charlie’s business is run out of a converted barn within the farm.  The barn is surrounded by fields the seed comes from, ensuring that the food miles are kept to an absolute minimum (*the barns original use was to house the dryer).

They plant several different crops; linseed, barley and rape, in rotation to keep the nutrients within the land rather than use chemicals and when we were there, they were dressing the seed in preparation to sow.

Come harvest time, it is gathered up and stored in the working farm barns (having been dried to between 7-8% moisture). They bring up the seeds as and when they are ready to press.

cleaning processThe seeds are then fed into the press. To press a tonne of seed takes a whopping 40 hours.

Pellets left after pressing

Pellets left after pressing

There is little wastage in this process, the pellets that are left after pressing go to cattle feed (a herd of holstein friesian cross cows on the neighbouring farm). After pressing 2 tonnes of seeds, there is only about 1 kg of waste remaining.

The oil is then fed through to the clean room and collected in the first vat. It comes through initially as a dirty looking oil.

oil after the first press

oil after the first press

But, after it’s been through the filter several times it looks more like something we all recognise…a clear, clean beautiful golden colour.

Oil ready for bottling

Oil ready for bottling

This is then bottled, labelled and sent out.  Nothing is added nothing is taken away. A pure product, locally grown, locally processed.

They have just produced Lemongrass & Thyme Infused Rapeseed Oil and Rosemary & Garlic Infused Rapeseed Oil along with their Chilli Infused Rapeseed Oil. If you like heat, you’ll love this! But, at 6 million scovilles, be careful!

The dressings and the chilli oil are not produced onsite, the oil is sent to a unit nearby where the products are made thus keeping the production local.

Check out all the new products online and see for yourself.

What is Rapeseed? It is the seed from the rapeseed plant, the same family (Brassica) as the health enhancing vegetables broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. The rapeseed plant flowers in the springtime, you know, those fields you drive past on the motorway that are the brightest yellow – that’s rapeseed.

Not bad for an office view

Not bad for an office view*

*Medieval origins

The earliest known references to Clare Park (or Clere as it was then known) date back to 1215, when grain was sent to Waverley Abbey, and 1246, when timbers were selected for building work in London. The origins of the name ‘Clere’ (also variously known as ‘Cleere’ and ‘Cleare’) almost certainly lie with the De Clere family who owned or rented the land from the 13th to 16th century.

The use of the area as farmland seems to have continued since then and the current house is on the site of a 15th century farm residence called Cleere Place.

Godshill Orchards – Isle of Wight

Thatched Cottages in Godshill

Godshill is a picturesque English Village with a medieval church, thatched-roofed cottages and winding main street, boasting some of the oldest architecture on the Isle of Wight.

It can justifiably feel proud that it has within its parish boundaries the only cherry orchard on the Isle of Wight.

Godshill Orchards

Back in 1992 the cherry orchard was conceived, planned and implemented by two well known, distinguished native Islanders and the following year the husbandry of the enterprise passed into the hands of the Medway Family.

The Medway Family, initially from West Wight, formed a partnership with the Pierce family and continue to improve the proud record of cherry production on the island.

Rob Medway and Stuart Pierce (with the support of their families) tend the orchard which contains about 5000 trees, varieties include Colney, Hertford, Lapins, Merton Merchant, Merton Glory, Sasha, Stella, and Sunburst.

Cherry Trees bursting with life

We initially had a flying visit to the orchard at Easter but it wasn’t until we went back in the middle of May that the trees were showing signs of the juicy fruit.

Cherries

Rob and his son Simeon took us on a tour of the orchard showing us the fruits of their labour.

These little fruits come with so many old wives tales and claims. Rob has researched these and published a book on his findings – “The Compleat Cherry”.

We all know the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” but Rob’s research turned up information that cherries may be even better for us. From arthritis to inflammation, eye care to blood pressure the cherry, it would appear, is a super fruit.

Cherry Blossom

The cherry season is from the middle of June until the beginning of August, but with new varieties introduced this could extend the season by a further couple of weeks – good news for us not so much for the pickers.

Cherries need to be picked quickly and put into the cold store. They are picked in the evenings when it’s cooler then put into the cold room from where they are sold/moved to the mainland the next day – Fresh and Local.

After a very nice slice of homemade ginger cake and a cup of tea we were driven to a secret location on the Island to see their latest venture – APRICOTS. UK grown apricots. 1 of only 3 known orchards in the UK to grow apricots and the size of this orchard makes them the biggest apricot producers in the UK.

Apricot Orchard on the Isle of Wight

Back in 2010 they planted 10,000 trees but it would be a further 3 years before they saw any fruit – that’s a long time to wait to see if you’ve got it right but, with the assistance of the apricot growers in France, this year will see a harvest.

Growing Apricots

Simeon, Rob’s son, is in charge of this orchard and tells us it’s been a steep learning curve.  He had recently gone through the orchard thinning out the fruit, which would appear wasteful, especially after a few years of no fruit, but it is a necessity to produce a tasty fruit for picking this year.

Thinning out the Apricots

Apricots should be available from the 14th July and we will keep you informed as to when they arrive.

They will also be growing green gages and pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) – so watch this space.

Along with this delicious fruit, they also produce Coulis, JamsChutneys and Juice– each one just as tasty and moreish as the fruit.

produce

 

Goodwood Home Farm

Goodwood Home Farm EstateAs many of you may have noticed we are delighted to be selling Goodwood organic milk, cream, cheese and even rose veal and it would seem that every time we go to visit Goodwood Home Farm the sun comes out for us. Goodwood Estate Goodwood Home Farm is set at the heart of the 12,000 acre Sussex estate and is one of the largest lowland organic farms in the UK. One of the 92 fields Goodwood Home Farm manage Organic farming has run through the Richmond family for many years, in fact, The Duchess, The Earl of March’s mother,  was one of the founding members of the Soil Association in the 1950s and passed her passion and knowledge down through the family who are equally dedicated to environmental enrichment, sustainability and the importance of good, healthy food. They very kindly gave us a tour of the farm, we are not jealous at all of their office!!! This is the view from Tim’s window (Tim Hassell, Home Farm General Manager). Dairy cows out enjoying the sunshine Home Farm raise native breeds, some indigenous to the Sussex Downs. The girls in the image are taking a rest after milking. They have a herd of 200 milking cows, mostly Dairy Shorthorn cross with a Sussex bull, a breed which originated in the 16th century. The milk is non-homogenised, to you and I means it tastes just like milk used to as the cream sits on top and you have to shake it before use! The milking and bottling is all done at Home Farm. These girls can produce 30 litres of milk a day each – 15 litres each per milking.very full udder I think this pregnant cow is ready to be milked. Goodwood Milk now online at Farmer's Choice The mothers and calves are kept inside for while after giving birth but the majority of these girls and their calves will stay outside in the grounds of Goodwood all their life. They are fed on forage grown on the estate; this is a mix of clovers, oats, whole crop barley, whole crop silages and wheat, beans and vetches.  They also graze the prime grassland around Home Farm ensuring they are naturally healthy, thus producing wholesome, excellent quality meat, milk, cream and cheese. Dairy cowes just calved Goodwood use the organic milk to make their range of handmade cheeses in the cheese room next to the dairy. Charlton is a creamy, firm textured farmhouse cheese with long rich flavours and a tangy finish. Levin Down is a deliciously rich and creamy soft white cheese which melts in the mouth, whilst Molecomb Blue is an award-winning soft blue veined cheese which is rich, full bodied and irresistible with a dark smokey grey crust having won a gold star at the Great Taste Awards and we stock them all. Sam (Sam Naylor who deals with the wholesale side of the farm) gave us the exciting news that their Charlton Cheese won a Gold Medal, at the British Cheese Awards, in the Traditional Cheddar Category and got Best Organic Cheese – 1st out of 75 entries. Award winning Charlton - hard cheese Their male Dairy Shorthorn calves are fed on the same home grown food as the other cattle. They are allowed to roam outside during the summer months and in deep straw barns year round to produce deliciously tender Rose Veal. Male Dairy Shorthorn calves out enjoying the sunshine The Southdown breed of Lamb has flourished on the South Downs for hundreds of years. Southdowns lambs are bred purely for their meat and graze particularly well on the chalk ground of the South Downs. The leg of lamb won Gold Star at the Great Taste Awards whiles the Southdown shoulder of lamb has been awarded two Gold Stars. The sheep grazing in one of the 92 fields Home Farm manage. All Goodwood produce can be traced every step of the way from field to fork. They are totally committed to the care of their livestock and to the sustainability of the countryside. No pesticides or fertilisers are used ensuring that the wildlife, hedgerows and centuries old natural ecosystem is protected and that the produce is as wholesome as the land from which it comes. We finish up at Goodwood by taking a drive around the estate – not all 12,000 acres, just the fields surrounding the racecourse to get a glimpse at some of the 92 fields they manage.  The Estate views are second to none! Goodwoods Racecourse held within Home Farm Estate Some days are so much better than others.

The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm

Bank Holiday weekends are to be spent exploring, especially for some of the staff at Farmer’s Choice.  Easter was spent on the Isle of Wight visiting many of our producers. One of those was the Garlic Farm, Mersley Farm at Newchurch.

Nestled in a sheltered position below Mersley Down the Garlic Farm is surrounded by unspoilt scenery. The Farm itself is a working farm growing garlic and asparagus, has a shop, restaurant and holiday cottages. If you were to walk up to the top of the chalk ridge you would be rewarded with views of the Island, over the Solent to England and far across the channel.

The highland cattle at the Garlic Farm

The highland cattle at the Garlic Farm

Before we started our tour of the farm and its many fields, Colin (Boswell) sat us in the restaurant where we were treated to a cheeky red squirrel feeding just outside. Unfortunately, the little fella was too quick, I failed to get a photo but I am sure if you visit, you will see him…with a never ending supply of nuts, he won’t stray too far!

Colin starts by telling us the story of the Garlic Farm – Back in the 1950’s his parents moved to the Isle of Wight to take over the running of the farm. His mother was a keen gardener and admirer of the inspirational food writer Elizabeth David who introduced post-war Britain to the rich world of Mediterranean food. She was inspired to conjure up the tastes of Italy and France in her own kitchen but soon realised that a courgette, an aubergine and a garlic bulb were still considered aliens specimens by shopkeepers in the local town. She made room in her kitchen garden and began her search for good garlic planting stock. She soon realised she didn’t have to go very far to get this.

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The many sources and dressings, most of which we have online.

Garlics association with the Isle of Wight begins 30 years prior to this.  The island was being used as a base by the Free French Forces during the Second World War. A neighbouring farmer had owned a pub in Cowes which was popular with French fighters, and missing the taste of home, they asked if he might grow some garlic for them. The neighbour had friends in the RAF who at that time were flying Lysanders in and out of German-occupied Auvergne in Central France, delivering and collecting members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He persuaded a couple of them to slip a few bulbs into their packs and so the first garlic bulbs were brought back to take root in the Island.

Thirty years later his mother started her first trails with this very same stock. In the late 70s Colin and his wife Jenny joined the family business. It’s now a thriving business with the entire family involved, but in the beginning, to get the brand ‘out there’ they used to drop the kids up to London, and get them selling on the streets and at The Borough Market.  Not necessary now, they get on average, around 200,000 visitors to the farm every year!

After a cup of tea, we are taken to the fields of Garlic spread out around the Island.

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Colin explains about the different varieties.

Green Garlic – Before garlic has fully matured, it can be harvested as green or ‘wet’ garlic. The papery dividers between the cloves have only just started to form, the bulb can be eaten whole, together with the stem. Milder than mature garlic, much like a spring onion. Goes very well in salads.

Hardneck – Produces a flower but this must be snapped off almost as soon as it appears to encourage the plants resources to go back down towards the bulb.

Softnecks – Produces a softer stem with no flowers, more cloves to a bulb and bunched together in tight circles. Varieties include, Early Purple White and Large Provence. This would be the better bulb/clove to cook with, more powerful and will carry on into any dish.

one of the many garlic fields on the Island

one of the many garlic fields on the Island

A new field is a must for planting out fresh garlic and luckily the Island has plenty of available space for this.

Harvest time – they used to do this by hand – that’s some back breaking work, but they now have a machine that does it.  The machine picks up 2 rows of garlic at a time, gives it a good shake and bags it, right there in the field.

The Garlic Farm currently has up to 40 acres of garlic fields.

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Garlic is best kept somewhere dry, to prevent mould, at room temperature, to inhibit sprouting, and somewhere with good air circulation. A clay pot with ventilation holes is ideal. Avoid plastic to prevent mould and only store green garlic in the fridge.

Colin says that as a nation we have become attuned to the garlic odour, that back in the 1980’s if we had got on a bus or train and someone in that carriage had eaten garlic, it would have been overpowering. Maybe it’s just that everyone is eating it now, not only for its taste but for its documented medicinal properties, that we don’t seem to notice it as much or at all.

Serving Suggestions – Stuff a broken down blub of garlic inside a chicken and roast as normal. Then, when you take the chicken out of the oven, remove the cloves, squeeze out the garlic flesh and rub all over the chicken, serve!

Garlic Origins – garlic has been established in many cultures for thousands of years. It is believed that it originates from the hills of Tien Shan (China-Kazakhstan border), as wild garlic. The first records of garlic were in 3,000BC in Ancient Egypt. In 42AD there are records of the arrival of garlic in Britain with the Roman Conquest and 1975 The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.  It is due to Colin’s investigative work that the garlic grown on the island is the same species that was found in Tien Shan.

Wild Garlic...this can found at the side of roads or fields and is recognisable by the pungent smell.

Wild Garlic…this can found at the side of roads or fields and is recognisable by the pungent smell.

Ben Brown’s Farm – The Isle of Wight

A E Brown Farms are based on the Isle of Wight producing high quality asparagus, sweetcorn, and wide range of vegetables. They are one of the best known Isle of Wight producers and over the Easter break, we went over to visit Ben and his asparagus fields.

Asparagus is one of the most sought after vegetables. Its subtle flavour offers a real treat during the short time it is in season.

Ben's Farm on the Island

Ben’s Farm on the Island

On the tour Ben took us inside a large Farm Building where the asparagus is taken once picked. This is where the sorting machine is, last year this machine processed 70 tonnes of asparagus (250g bunches = 280,000 bunches), an enormous amount of asparagus considering the asparagus season is only 10 weeks long!

This is the machine that trims and grades the asparagus

This is the machine that trims and grades the asparagus

This machine takes the freshly picked asparagus in one end, cleans and cuts it ready for optical sorting, meaning it passes through many cameras inside the machine which is constantly scanning the asparagus for diameter, length, curvature, head shape, and colour. During this sorting process, the asparagus spears are rotated so that 100% of their surface area is photographed. An incredible piece of kit that can process the asparagus from field to packing and fogging (a system that stops the asparagus dehydrating during transport to allow it to remain as fresh as possible) in 45 minutes.

The asparagus beds

The asparagus beds

Ben then takes us to the asparagus beds. These beds are as far as the eye can see, but when we arrived this is all we saw, bear in mind that this was Easter and they will start picking 2 weeks after this!

When planted, the crown will be about the size of a jam jar lid, this will then stay in the ground sending up fresh tasty and edible shoots for approximately 12 – 15 years. Eventually, the crown will become the size of a dustbin lid. Each crown can produce up to 70 shoots during the season.

Asparagus grown by the Brown family, was served as part of the lavish Jubilee banquet attended by Her Royal Highness the Queen and 700 guests at Westminster Hall and was served as part of the banquet for the celebration of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.  

Once the short asparagus season it’s over to the Sweetcorn production.  At this time, the fields are covered in plastic to protect the young plants from any remaining frost that might still be lingering. Once they are sure the frost is over, the plastic will be replaced with fleece.

This tasty crop will be ready to harvest on the 22nd – 25th July, 2 artic lorries a day will leave this farm ready for delivery to the mainland.

These crops are hand-picked by only 8 workers, that’s a lot of corn.

After the corn is finished the farm moves onto Squash and small pumpkins and after that they go into a steady harvest of cauliflowers.  This farm is constantly on the go.

Ben showing us his fields of asparagus, or, where the asparagus will be in a couple of weeks time.

Ben showing us his fields of asparagus, or, where the asparagus will be in a couple of weeks time.

Interesting facts:

  • The asparagus season traditionally runs from St George’s Day to the Summer Solstice.
  • Asparagus contains A, B and C vitamins, fibre and folic acid, and is virtually fat-free. These nutrients can boost your immune system, maintain healthy skin, nails and hair, and are good for the heart.