I remember going on a school geography field trip to Wookey Hole in Somerset, but clearly my interests at the time lay elsewhere as I have no recollection of hearing about cheese making going on there ! Apley Farm Shop’s delicatessen counter is one of the stockists for the Wookey Hole cave aged cheddar & has chosen it as Cheese of the Week.
Wookey Hole cheese is created & stored whilst it’s wrapped in cloth & lard in the Wookey Hole caves in Somerset, which naturally maintain a temperature of 11 degrees all year round. The high humidity in the caves stops the cheese from drying out during the maturing process, giving it its distinct taste & texture, a practice that has been going on for 400 years.
It’s produced by Ford Farm who also produce Cave Aged Cheddar Truckles or just wedges & Cave Aged Goats Cheese. It has been widely recognised and rewarded by the crème de la crème of the cheese industry, with a raft of prestigious awards.
Their website describes it like this: Deep in the heart of the Wookey Hole caves lies a powerful secret. Adventurers on the hunt for the holy grail of cheddar should follow their nose and head north from Chamber One negotiating the craggy overhanging rockface that dates back thousands of years towards a gated chamber. Behind the wrought iron gates lies the coveted secret – deliciously moist, creamy, nutty and tangy Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar.
All ingredients are available from Apley Farm Shop, except currently the balsamic vinegar, port & thyme (the herb beds have been moved to make way for Apley Plant Centre which is opening very soon). Our currently potatoes are Wilja, not Maris Piper.
My favourite things from the Farm Shop which are filling my fridge this week are Apley Walled Garden kale, ‘Joosed’ juices, olives from the Delicatessen counter, herb loaf made by Catherine’s Bakery in Bridgnorth, Bings Heath smoked Scottish salmon & Wenlock Edge Farm antipasti selection. It goes without saying none of them stay in the fridge for very long !
Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin the Fields in London, spoke recently on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 about food – how, when, where, who, what, why (what I call The Six Questions). It struck a chord with me, as Apley Farm Shop in Shropshire focusses on local food to local people, from local producers. We’re all about real food – consumers can easily know the provenance of the food they’re buying. Eating should be a sharing & sociable activity – it should be one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s true that food is our medicine & we are what we eat, so we should give it the attention it deserves. Apley is where you find great food, great fun, great shopping – you can find good food in Apley Farm Shop & share it in The Creamery Café, Pigg’s Playbarn, on the Skylark Nature Trail or back home.
Although I think I eat very healthy food, I’m guilty of eating out of necessity (it seems there is never enough time in the day) & not socially – eg. I almost never sit down for breakfast & lunch takes 5mins, but I do always sit down with our family for a proper family supper. Mealtimes, whether with family, friends or neighbours, give time for sharing news & making plans – they’re not just about eating.
Dr Wells kindly allowed me to give you opportunity to hear him again – just click HERE.
This subject of food & eating is closely linked to sport, which I believe holds the answer to many of today’s problems – globally. There are many charities encouraging children to get into sport, but also theatre, which has similar benefits – but they need to reach the parents first. They have appreciate the importance & benefits of sport, as they’re the ones organising their children’s time & getting them to the sports venues. A possible solution is perhaps teams (if necessary, volunteers) who go to the homes of children whose parents don’t want to go out themselves, to collect the children, take them (by minibus or on foot) to the sporting activities & then return them home again (all with parents’ consent of course).
Along the same lines (or cycle lanes in this case), just think how the simple bicycle holds the answers to 3 of the First World’s biggest problems – environmental pollution, depression & obesity – so go Dutch & get on your bike !
Apley Walled Garden issues a weekly crop report to our Shop supervisor in Apley Farm Shop (Andy), our own chef in The Creamery Café (Martin), the catering manager of the University of Wolverhampton & other local restaurants. It tells them visually (Lauren takes the photos) & in writing (Phil sends me he the details) what’s growing & when it’ll be available.
All this helps us 1) to eat seasonally & 2) to keep our food miles very low – both issues are at the heart of Apley Farm Shop’s ethos. To learn to grow these all successfully yourself, just sign up to one of Phil’s gardening courses: The next beginners’ course is on Wed 27 May & the second part (don’t worry if you missed the first part) of the Three Seasons Gardening course is on Wed 17 June.
Here are details (more photos to follow) of some of the crops produced in Apley Walled Garden this week:
‘Lobjoits green’ lettuces
1856. Originated in France. Once went under the name of Vauxs self-folding lettuce. None of the cos varieties have a finer flavour.
‘Marvel of four seasons’ lettuces
Before 1880. Also from France. Known as Merveille de Quatre Saisons. Large lax butterhead lettuce. It has shiny dark bronze outer leaves topped with red & crisp creamy heart.
‘All the year round’ lettuces
Before 1856. Also from France. Gives an all year round supply of butterhead lettuces from Jan to Dec.
A Japanese herb for seasoning & garnishing. The whole plant can be used – sprouting seeds – flowers – mature leaves. The famous Japanese sour plum pickle, Umeboshi is made with perilla leaves. Perilla is both used to flavour cooked dishes & cooked in its own right. Red & green available.
Rhubarb – Timperly
Early 1920s. Can be harvested as early as Christmas. Has long & slender stems. One of the best
Rhubarb – Victoria
1837. A giant among Rhubarb. A single stem can weigh a kilo. The oldest variety still in general cultivation. Excellent for cooking, freezing, & making jam & wine.
Rocket – Wild & cultivated
Originated in the Mediterranean region. The oil extracted from the leaves has been widely used since early times & was said to cure both major & minor ailments. Seed was mashed in honey to clear face blemishes. The flowers make a nice garnish.
Originated in Southern Europe & Turkey. Used to flavour meats & some perfume cosmetics. In ancient Rome it was used for garlands & coronets, & was thought good for head & heart. It’s been used as a cure for everything from bubonic plague to bad eyesight & jaundice
Originated in China & Japan. Mizuna can be used at any stage but mainly has a small leaf in mixed salads. The secret with Mizuna is to cut plants regularly so that a fresh crop of tender leaves is continually being produced. In the Far East Mizuna is mainly used for pickling vegetable.
Then after lunch, I got an emal saying that the tourist attraction closest to Apley Farm Shop, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, “has won the top Gold Award in the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category of the prestigious VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2015. Intended for venues that welcome more than 50,000 visitors per annum, it was judged on the overall quality of the experience provided.” It’s very well deserved – we’re delighted for them !
Then this afternoon we rode along a bridleway we’d never even seen before, let alone ridden along, through carpets of wild garlic & bluebells, with gorgeous sunshine shining through the bright lime-green new leaves. Blissful. Venetia said “Mummy, this is like riding through the pages of a book or being in a film.” If only England had more days like today. We saw quite a few local residents including Phil Allen, Apley Walled Garden’s Head Gardener who’s sending me his news tomorrow.
On the way home, we spotted Foo-Fighter, one of our bulls, in with the cows & calves. On the Apley home farms, this week Adrian has been drilling fodder beet, doing yet more fencing & has planted more of the environmentally-friendly stewardship bird seed & flower mixes, plus some game cover. Winter barley was planted in Sept 2014 & will be ready by end of July 2015.
We’re delighted to announce here that the Apley Plant Centre is opening soon at Apley Farm Shop. Some of you may have noticed the building work, particularly the unusual wall design. They’ve just sent me through this announcement:
“Apley Plant Centre is opening soon in the Apley Farm Shop courtyard – the perfect setting for an independent, boutique-style plant centre, where plants will take centre stage.
Uniquely, Apley Plant Centre will be stocked & managed by Shropshire’s largest producer of garden plants. We will offer our customers a broad selection of plants for their gardens, ranging from small alpines to large specimen stock, from staple must-haves to the more unusual that will entice & interest the garden expert.
Enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff will be on hand to give advice on plant selection, garden design & plant husbandry. And, if what you want is not available at Apley, our staff will do their best to source it for you direct from the nursery.
Alongside our plant sales we will offer a small selection of plant-related goods to enhance & complement the plants we sell: we’ll be stocking a range of composts, tools, decorative plant pots & other high quality garden sundries. Whether you’re looking for a single plant or the inspiration to design a whole garden, visit Apley Plant Centre & talk with experts”.
Gavin was out & about on the Estate earlier this week & sent me these photos of a machine felling the poplar in a spinney (a small area of wood). Poplar was extensively planted in the post war years because it grows fast & is suitable for wet areas. A lot was contracted for match manufacture (boxes of matches) & also decks on lorries (as it does not splinter). Unfortunately these uses have disappeared in Britain (eg cheaper lighters) so the trees are worthless. They are now fully mature & as they’re brittle, they are liable to snap in the wind making a mess & causing a high clearing/ tidying cost. Also they are not aesthetically suitable for the Park, being a non-native species. As a woodland tree they are taking up space which could be used by more valuable wood & a native species.
Therefore we were delighted to be recently approached by a business who will use this timber. Smaller parts for chipping (as in the photos) & saw logs¹ for export for furniture manufacture. The chips are being trucked to Yorkshire as biomass fuel. The chipping machine is one of 5 in existence & the only one in the UK. It filled a 27 tonne truck in less than 1 hour. Gavin said it was amazing to see !
¹ Saw logs is the term for straight lengths of log which go to be sawn into planks/ other timber cuts.
The show season is approaching. I’m taking our children to our first horsey show this weekend (where they’re not riding !). Meanwhile, we’re preparing our own Apley Farm Shop stand at 3 local shows – Newport, Burwarton & Beckbury. Come along & see us on the day for free tasters of local Shropshire food & drinks.
11 July – Newport Show http://www.newportshow.org/
6 Aug – Burwarton Show http://www.burwartonshow.co.uk/
12 Sept – Beckbury Show http://www.beckburyshow.co.uk/
Related to this is a quick story about one of my recent proudest-mother mini-moments: On arriving home on Friday nights, one of the first things I do (after saying hello to our ponies), is to open my post. Last Friday, as I opened one letter, I glanced at the Burwarton Show programme & said to Venetia “oh look, that looks like Simon [her pony]”. Then as I opened the next letter, I glanced again & said “and that looks a bit like you”. And before I’d opened a 3rd letter, I glanced again & said “THAT IS YOU !” So here it is … !