What is it about Shropshire?
Find out here...
We ask ourselves, why is the county building up such a foodie following and reputation as the place for local produce (and haunt of many a celebrity chef)?
First things first – where exactly is Shropshire? Tucked away on the English and Welsh border, Shropshire is easy to reach from almost anywhere, but like all the best places, far enough away that it has stayed comparatively unchanged.
Ludlow, with its Michelin starred restaurant Mr Underhill's and fine dining restaurant La Bécasse, is widely regarded as Shropshire's gastronomic capital. The UK's slow food movement was founded here, and it's also home to Ludlow Food Festival, Britain's first and most successful food and drink festival. So, perhaps it’s no wonder Shropshire attracts and inspires talented Chefs.
"A beautiful county"
Will Holland is a multi-award winning chef who earned a Michelin star before the age of 30. He has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the UK including La Bécasse in Ludlow and regularly features on James Martin's Saturday Kitchen Live. He was also the central region champion on BBC TV's Great British Menu. We asked him what makes Shropshire so special for him and why the county has such a great reputation for quality food and drink:
"Shropshire is a beautiful county. It’s very unique. The scenery is stunning. All the historic market towns dotted throughout the county still to this day have very traditional values which I find refreshing in this day and age. Living in Shropshire is like having access to the best stocked larder right on your doorstep. The passion food producers, farmers, food retailers and suppliers in Shropshire put into their businesses is very special and this shows in the end products.
I think the reputation comes from the heritage of the food culture in the county. Market trading has been happening in the majority of the towns in Shropshire for hundreds of years so the people of Shropshire appreciate the value of food and are very keen to carry this tradition into the 21st century. They still understand the importance of visiting a bakery for bread, butchers for meat, cheese shop for cheese, the farmer’s market for fruit and vegetables and so on, as opposed to going to the supermarket and buying the whole lot. Certain events such as the Ludlow Food Festival also help to keep the reputation alive and kicking. The Ludlow Food Festival was established long before food festivals became trendy and fashionable."
The "Ultimate Farm Shop"
Testament to Shropshire’s foodie reputation is the award winning Ludlow Food Centre – a farm shop like no other. Last year they won the highest accolade in the farm shop world when they were named Britain’s Best Farm Shop by FARMA (the farm retail association).
80% of the food it sells is sourced from Shropshire and the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Powys, and 50% of products are made on the premises. The glass-fronted kitchens which surround the food hall produce cakes, bread, cheese, ice cream, preserves, pickles, meat and deli items exclusively for the Centre every day.
Will says “I love the ethos of The Ludlow Food Centre - it is almost completely self-sufficient. It’s the ultimate farm shop. John, the head butcher at The Ludlow Food Centre makes the best coarse Italian sausages. It’s worth a journey there just to buy them!
Heading north from Ludlow and extending the foodie trail is Shrewsbury, Shropshire’s county town. Shrewsbury’s first food and drink festival took place last year in the 29 acre Quarry Park and was a huge success; contributing to the buzz surrounding Shrewsbury as its reputation for quality food and drink continues to grow.
The regional food group HEART of ENGLAND Fine Foods has its head quarters in the town, and has recently formed a unique partnership with Shrewsbury College, marking its move to their London Road campus with the opening of the new TASTE Kitchen at Origins Restaurant.
HEFF Chief Executive, Karen Davies MBE, said “Without a doubt, HEFF has embarked on an exciting and ground-breaking new era and our move to Shrewsbury College will not only benefit our food producers, but also the future generation of ‘foodies’, giving students the opportunity to learn about high end food preparation, but also business development, retailing and management, amongst other skills.”
Shropshire undoubtedly has a culture of fostering great talent. ITV's 'This Morning' regular chef Marcus Bean is a prime example. Along with his wife, Jenny, Marcus runs Brompton Cookery School and Brompton Farmhouse bed & breakfast, located in the grounds of the National Trust’s Attingham Estate, just outside Shrewsbury.
In 2010 Marcus entered a cookery show on channel 4 called Iron Chef UK and ended up beating Martin Blunos, a two star Michelin chef in a cook-off. He's never looked back. Since then he has appeared on cookery shows like "What’s Cooking" on Channel 4, "Market Kitchen" on the Good Food channel, and has written recipes for BBC online, Tesco, Sainsbury's to name a few.
"A real passion"
Marcus explained what makes Shropshire so special for him: "I first came to Shropshire 17 years ago and I never left. It's a fantastic area with beautiful countryside and lovely friendly people. Most of the people who live in Shropshire have a real passion for what they do, whether it's making their own cheese, brewing their own beer or producing milk from their dairy herd. They love what they do & it shows in the produce they make. At the moment we're very busy with the cookery school & bed and breakfast and we are developing our own produce garden to supply the school for most of the year."
Indeed, one of the many things you notice about Shropshire is just how many fields and open spaces we have - and within those fields and open spaces, there's a lot of growing and grazing going on. The good news is instead of scoffing all our local produce ourselves we share it with as many visitors as we possibly can – in our pubs, restaurants, hotels, cafés, independent shops, at our markets and food fairs – in fact anywhere you may be in need of some quality sustenance.
So, for more information about Shropshire, including welcoming places to stay for your next short break visit www.shropshiretourism.co.uk.
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