Britain’s reputation for having a wretched food culture still seems to stick to it like beef stew and dumplings stick to the ribs. This despite having a capital city which offers some of the best, most creative and diverse cooking in the world. And it doesn’t begin and end with the world-class, competitive heights of Michelin starred cooking or the trendy, cutting-edge food ‘concepts’ in London. In fact, much of what is great about British food is found across the whole British Isles. You can’t have good food without good ingredients, and Britain’s green and pleasant lands are full of bounty!
British cheeses are amongst the best in the world and we have over 700 varieties (compared with 250 in France and Italy)
One of the most dynamic and growing sectors in the British food industry is the artisan cheese sector. Britain has always had an honourable tradition for cheese making and although industrialisation did almost succeed in snuffing it out, thankfully the days of mass-produced, bland cheddar blocks are being countered by a thriving renaissance of farmhouse cheeses. The British Cheese Board claims that today Britain has approximately 700 varieties.
The two daddies on the British Cheese landscape have to be Cheddar and Stilton, both of which have been recognised with European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Of the original West Country traditional Farmhouse Cheddars, Montgomery’s, Westcombe and Keens are among the most revered.
Stilton still hangs on to its crown as the King of English cheeses and the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association only recognise 6 (excellent) dairies. Stichelton has been controversially excluded from this list for its more historically authentic use of raw, unpasteurised milk, though this has not stopped it from gaining legions of dedicated, cheese-loving fans.
Other favorites to look out for include Tunworth (a strong Camembert style cheese), Berkswell (hard sheep milk cheese), Innes Log (creamy goats milk), Stinking Bishop (maybe stinky, but mild Perry washed rind cheese) and Lincolnshire Poacher (intense cheddar style cheese)
British heritage breeds have been bred and crossed the world over for their unparalleled quality and the lush pastures of the UK makes for some of the most flavorsome beef you
Most of the best beef from all over the world will have originated from, or being bred with, British cattle. This is because Britain’s meat is of such a high quality that breeding livestock and genetics from our native breeds have always being sought after by farmers across all continents.
Although most of what you find in supermarkets today is insipid meat from modern cross-breeds that are faster growing and have been fed on grain rather than grass to fatten them up, we still have a strong tradition of good husbandry and native breeds which produce amazing, deep, tasty beef. Aberdeen Angus is probably the most successful beef breed as it matures quickly on grass, but there are countless others you should seek out too, including Herefords, Devon Red Rubys, Dexter and Belted Galloway. These rare breeds need a longer time to mature and don’t grow as large as commercial continental cross breed cattle. But it is this slow growing nature that gives the meats its flavor.
Also, when it comes to beef, grass is best. It’s what cows have evolved to eat and gives the best flavor, as well as being much better for us. Our lush green pastures provide the best conditions for the best beef; with all the rain we get its one significant compensation.
Farmed since Roman times, native Colchester Oysters are considered the best in the world. Essex, Kent, the South West, Western Ireland and Scotland are the regions best known
for their prime quality mollusks.
Being an island it is surprising we don’t have a stronger tradition for fish, though we do have Scottish Smoked Salmon, fish and chips and incredible oysters.
There are oyster beds all around Britain with the best found in Kent, Essex, the South West, Western Ireland and Scotland. Loch Ryan Scottish oysters are highly prized, Whitstable has an annual oyster festival in celebration of its bivalve mollusks and Colchester in Essex has been farming oysters since the days of ancient Rome, with which it fed the Empire. Their mineral, saline smack is widely considered to be one of the best in the world.
Happily, by eating oysters you can also directly contribute to the protection of the marine ecosystem as oysters filter and clean the water and help increase fish stocks. The oyster beds create a habitat for spawning fish helping support a whole ecosystem around them; just in case you needed another excuse before shucking in!
4 English Wine
With 434 vineyards and competition-winning sparkling wines to rival Champagne, English wine has matured and should be taken very seriously indeed.
Wine may not be the first product that comes to mind when you think of British agricultural output, however the number of vineyards has increased from 761 hectares in 2004 to about 1,500 hectares today. The country now has 434 vineyards. True, English and Welsh wine has been sniffed at as a curiosity -more a novelty than a drink of merit- though over the last few years there have been some serious wines standing their ground on the international stage and winning prestigious competitions, particularly in the sparkling wine category (four gold medals at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) last year thank you very much).
This shouldn’t come as too much as a surprise given that Kent and Wales share a similar chalky soil to the Champagne region. The temperate climate also means grapes mature more slowly and produce smaller yields, which help give greater depth of flavour. The result is some pretty interesting sparkling wines, with their own unique character. English sparkling wines tend to be richer than champagnes and have a significant, pleasant acidity. They are not the cheapest of bubbles though and certainly can’t compete with Cava, Prosecco or the more generic champagnes, but some of the
best are well worth a try.
Look out for Neytimber in West Sussex; Camel Valley in Cornwall; Ridgeview in Sussex; Gusborne Estate in Kent and Hush Heath in Kent.
With over 2,000 varieties of apples, and a fine tradition of cider and perry, Britain’s heritage fruits and agricultural traditions should be treasured. Who needs a Pink Lady when you can have a Red Pippin?
As well as soft fruits, pears and plumbs, Britain has an astonishing range of apples. Over 2,000 varieties are grown in Britain according to Brogdale which collect and protect heritage varieties. Get down to Brogdale in Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, to visit their orchards and try from over 4,000 varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries, cobnuts, currants and quinces.
Another great tradition derived from our apple production is Cider. Forget the mass-produced, sweet, alcoholic apple juice touted as ‘cider’, and get involved in the real stuff from the West Country; proper scrumpy, farmhouse cider. Particular cider apples are used, such as Kingston Blacks for cider and Blakeney Red pears for Perry. You wouldn’t want to eat them, but they make fantastic, dry, fruity, thirst quenching drinks.
With a strong history of beer culture and brewing expertise, today the UK is at the forefront of the international craft beer movement.
Building on a historic brewing tradition and expertise, the craft beer scene seems to have gone crazy with micro-breweries opening up and down the country. There are now over a thousand microbreweries in Britain
CAMRA’s beer-loving army of beards and sandals may have been replaced by a new beer-loving army of beards and tattoos, and while there may be a palpable whiff of occasional pretension mingling amongst the herby aroma of hops, bready yeast and nutty malts, largely these are great beers made with a single-minded intent on quality and flavour.
Although the British craft beer movement does refers to the UK’s brewing heritage, ironically, when before it was the Americans who came to learn from the UK brewers, today the most popular beers are made in the big, hoppy US style.
Meantime Brewing in Greenwich were arguably the first craft brewery in London, though as Brew Dog took on the establishment from Aberdeenshire and Kernel Brewery arrived on the scene, momentum pitched up and things really started to take off. In 2006, there was only Fullers Brewery (who make London Pride; a fantastic traditional ale) and Meantime Brewing making beer in London. Today there are more than 50 breweries, and counting…
Look out for Meantime Brewing, Greenwich; Kernel Brewery, London; Camden Town Brewery, London; BrewDog, Scotland; Black Isle Brewery, Scotland; Redchurch Brewery,
London; Brodie’s, London; Brixton Brewery, London; Summer Wine Brewery,Yorkshire; Bristol Beer Factory, Bristol
7 British street food
While street food in Britain is going through a creative reinvention and moving up a few gears, it’s impossible to turn our backs on Britain’s original meals on the go; from pork pies,
fish and chips, Cornish pasties to proper soft yolk scotch eggs, the classics are still hard to beat.
The ‘street food revolution’ has certainly captured people’s imagination and there is no doubt as to the swagger and culinary creativity that some new traders are bringing to the scene. However, the good old classics are still hard to beat. Traditional street food generally evolves as a wholesome meal-in-one that you can handle and eat on the go. That’s why fish and chips wrapped in yesterday’s news, hearty Cornish pasties, proper pork pies or soft-yolk scotch eggs will always hit the spot.
In their best form the Gastropub is a place where you can find an authentic expression of contemporary British cooking that respects seasonality, local ingredients and tradition in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere.
While Italy has its Trattorie and France has its Bistros, we have our Gastropubs. Taverns have historically always provided food, drink and board to weary travelers though it wasn’t until the 1990’s that pub grub gave way to restaurant quality food in pubs and today many even hold Michelin stars.
The term has not been met without derision however, particularly as it has spurred a few landlords to try and make some easy extra cash by transforming their pubs into identity-kit eateries selling overpriced, reheated ready meals. The other end of the spectrum is when the warm pub vibe is snuffed out by over labored pretention.
Nonetheless, gastropubs have saved many pubs from decline and in their best form the Gastropub is a place where you can find an authentic expression of contemporary British cooking that respects seasonality, local ingredients and tradition in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere.
The first ever pub to install an open kitchen was The Eagle in Clerkenwell. Other game-changing gastropubs that followed include The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, the Harwood Arms in London, the Star at Harome and the Sportsman in Kent.
9 Maldon Sea Salt
The world famous natural sea salt from the marshlands of the Essex coast can be found in Michelin starred kitchens across the globe.
If you sneak a peek into Michelin starred kitchens across the globe you will most likely find Maldon Sea Salt sitting alongside their cooktops.
The flat tide-washed marshes and low rainfall along the Essex coast give the water a high salinity that is ideal for salt making. As such, Maldon, in Essex, has been a site for salt making for at least 2,000 years when seawater would have been partially evaporated and then heated in clay pots over open fires. The process hasn’t much changed since then. Maldon is the last of what used to be a thriving business of salt makers along the Essex coast and with a little help from Delia and a Royal Warrant awarded on its 130th birthday in 2012 it is becoming one of our most iconic British
10 Artisan distilleries
Drawing on the UK’s considerable heritage, across the country individuals and small companies are producing exciting hand-crafted whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums in small
Britain is well known for its spirits, with whisky one of its most important exports. The Scottish malts remain iconic but across the country individuals and small companies are producing exciting and innovative hand-crafted whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums in small batches and which appeal to their heritage.
There are now four English distilleries producing whisky. Cotswolds Distillery is the newest and plenty of boutique gin distillers are opening in the country’s capital, the spirits’ historical home. Sacred’s Gin launched in Highgate in 2009 using English grain and paved the way for others, including Butler’s Gin, produced in Hackney Wick, East London, who celebrate the history of gin in
Britain by drawing on a Victorian recipe. Sipsmith are among the most well known and are now tapping into growing international interest, while Battersea-based distilling company, The London Distillery Company, has been granted London’s first license to produce single malt whisky in over a century.