If, like me, a key part of visiting a new country or region is sampling the best of the local food and drink then visiting the south west of England is like finding a piece of paradise. Arguably the centre of the Artisan food and drink scene in the UK, the region abounds with small businesses handcrafting all manner of foodie delights ready for you to sample.
Why, you may ask, is this the case? My own theory is that the geography of the south west meant that large ‘monoculture’ farming practices never took hold. Farming in general here tends to be on a smaller scale and be more mixed. Unable, and often unwilling to compete on price or compromise on quality, farmers have instead focused on ways to produce ‘premium’ ingredients and have then diversified into associated products to further add value to their business. In addition, many chefs drawn to the region initially for the ingredients have now found new careers as brewers, bakers and the like.
And with a recent surge in demand for ethically produced, high quality and fully traceable food, the south west food and drink sector is booming!
With so much choice so close at hand there’s really no better option than to visit on a self-catering basis. When staying in a self-catering holiday cottage, ‘getting the shopping in’ becomes an adventure in its own right, giving you free reign at the many farm shops, farmers’ markets, or indeed visiting a producer, to indulge your taste buds and bring back to your holiday cottage all manner of fine ingredients to cook with.
If you fancy a night off from the cooking, you’ll also find that many of the cafes, pubs and restaurants have also embraced locally sourced produce, making it really possible to stay away from the humdrum fare that seem to pervade every high street these days. Behind the bar you’ll also find an amazing array of locally-made drinks - whether your tipple is beer, wine or cider, a liqueur, an apple brandy or perhaps even a little more exotic (milkvodka anyone?).
Of course, you could use your trip to learn a new foodie skill. There are numerous opportunities to join a class at some big names such as at the Rick Stein Cookery School and River Cottage HQ as well as ‘Cookery School of the Year 2013’, Ashburton Cookery School, but you’ll also find many high quality (and often cheaper!) classes run by local producers themselves, sharing their own passion for what they do.
With so much choice on offer, it can be a challenge to know where to start. The Classic Guide helps you plan out a food-based itinerary around your other holiday activities or the recent launch of the FoodFinderSouthWest iPhone app put together by local organisation ‘Taste of the West’, helps you pinpoint not only producers you may wish to visit and/or try, but also farm shops, pubs and restaurants that showcase south west food and drink. You might also wish to visit my blog, An Artisan’s Life, where I profile local producers, telling you a little more about their stories, as well as reviewing workshops and classes.
For a foodie holiday heaven, self-catering holiday cottages in the South West allow you the freedom to explore and tempt every taste bud. But I warn you, with food and drink this good you may end up like me and visit, but never leave!