An ophthalmologist friend of mine has this theory that myopia is far more prevalent amongst city dwellers than country folk. I suppose this makes sense when you think about it. In the countryside you frequently get to cast your gaze out far and wide over huge vistas of emerald and azure; while – let’s face it, in the city any hopes of visual exercise are swiftly mugged by the inevitable urine stained brick wall no more than arms length away at any given time.
So my poor deprived peepers hungrily suck up the feast as I gaze from the minibus window across endless, luxuriant carpets of green, and I find myself humming the Bengali national anthem under my breath- the lyrics seem strangely apt somehow. The gallant young Douglas Blyde has invited a few of us on a mini food break down in the West Country, and it’s the first properly sunny weekend we’ve had for time.
We stop off at Barbers Cheddar Farm where they’ve been making cheese since 1833. That’s six generations of cheesemakers. What this lot don’t know about cheese making clearly isn’t worth knowing. I sample some extremely moreish two year old cheddar, freshly cut from the box. It’s spicy, tart and creamy all at once. I pretend I didn’t get to taste any just to have a bit more. We compare it with some of that“seriously strong” branded cheese, you know, the stuff you find in your local supermarket. It’s a genuine shock to realise how sweet and cloying it actually is, a bit like fudge masquerading as fromage.
Over a nice pub lunch I chat to our Romanian driver, Gabriel. He tells me how he’s only been in this country for 6 months but absolutely loathes it. He drives for a living and his wife works for the Romanian government. As we marvel at the surrounding lushness, he decides that he has no other option but to pack in his job and become a goat farmer. I ask him if he gets homesick and he just groans and holds his head in his hands. I worry that I’ve gone too far. When I gently ask him if he’s ok he tells me that he’s worrying about his wife who at this very moment is out having fun on Oxford Street with his credit cards.
Later that evening at Riverford Farm we are subject to a bit of a feast. Dishes like crispy pressed breast of lamb, creamy potato gratin, carrots roasted with almonds and huge bowls of spring greens are laid out for us. Everything tastes so intense, almost like a caricature of itself. Later I realise it’s because it’s all so fresh – the vegetables were picked only hours before we ate. The puddings are a joy and impossible to choose between. After a few spoonfuls of ambrosial sticky toffee pudding and rhubarb pavlova I am defeated.
The next morning we are given a bumpy land rover tour of the premises and it’s a lot of fun driving from field to field plucking leeks, dandelion, wild garlic, PSB* and rhubarb from the soil. Apparently the papers are saying that we’re going to run out of food because of the volcanic ash situation. As I survey the acres and acres of land, brimming with produce it sounds like a bit of a bad joke. Our final stop is at the Burts Potato chip factory where I get to tentatively stir some crisps in a vat of bubbling sunflower oil. I’m pretty impressed at how quickly they manage to get it from potato to packet. We leave with an enormous bag stuffed with a spectrum of flavours from firecracker lobster to mature cheddar.
Back in the smoke, I roast my broccoli with chilli, lemon and garlic, add my wild garlic and leeks along with some chunks of cheddar and apple to a quiche, bake my rhubarb with the lightest touch of vanilla sugar and put the crisps somewhere hard to reach.
*(purple sprouting broccoli)