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After turkey chaos, local food goes to the top of the menu

Friday 16 February 2007

Our countryside and rural affairs commentator John Sheard, who considers himself a bit of a gourmet, celebrates a marvellous week which struck a huge blow against factory-farmed-food and saw the birth of a Yorkshire drive to put local produce back on the top of the (posh) menu

WHEN I was nobbut a lad, and my mother found me looking a bit glum, she would ask: "What's a matter with you: you look as though you have lost a shilling and found a farthing?" To translate that roughly into today's monopoly money, which would have meant losing a fiver and finding 5p.

Well, despite a week of exceedingly good news on the food front, I feel like that today because, earlier this week, I found an incredibly tasty Yorkshire-made blue cheese on a market stall - but having gobbled it up, I can't remember exactly where it is produced and who produces it.

cla local food
On the hunt for local food: Sophie Peters (left) of the
Malmaison, with the CLA's Dorothy Fairburn

Now this might seem a trivial concern in this worrying world of ours but this story has a long history. It goes back to the days when France illegally banned British beef during the aftermath of the BSE crisis and I vowed that I would never buy French food or wine until President Jacques Chirac was out of office - or in jail if all the alleged corruption allegations against him are true.

Quite frankly, I have not missed the wine one jot: there are dozens of New World bottles at the lower end of the market which are both better and cheaper. But to give up French cheeses, not just for Lent but for years, has been a real struggle.

I have got by with some passable Somerset brie and, of course, Blue Stilton is up their in the fromagery heaven. Shropshire blue is not bad either and we have our every own Wensleydale here in the Yorkshire Dales for everyday consumption.

But when it comes to those soft, creamy, mouth-watering French blues made from sheep's milk, there is a yawning gap. They are as individualistic as the singing of Edith Piaf, totally irreplaceable. Until this week, that is, when I found, and lost, my Yorkshire blue.

The good news is that I know it exists. I shall launch a quest this weekend to find it. But there was even better news for Yorkshire farmers and market gardeners this week - and that does not include the fact that the Suffolk avian 'flu debacle has made the Bernard Matthews "bootiful" label the most unpopular brand name in the UK, according to a consumer survey carried out on Tuesday.

Anything that makes the public turn up its collective nose up at factory farmed food is, to me and thousands of others, good news. The move back to locally produced food, whether it is meat from healthy, happy animals or vegetables and fruit that have not been drenched in pesticides, has grown apace in just the past few months.

New labelling in supermarkets has shocked millions of housewives and mothers with the realisation that they have been stuffing their families with excess fat, salt and sugar for years, bringing obesity to hundreds of thousands of youngsters.

We congratulate the Malmaison, one of the top restaurants in the North of England, and the Country Land and Business Association

But farmers still have to sell their produce if they are to stay in business, a business we all gain from because of their unpaid work in husbanding the countryside, particular in areas like the Yorkshire Dales. And that brings us to yet another bit of good news, the growing trend by caterers to boast of locally produced food on their menus.

Until now, this has been largely confined to the country pub market, where the publican and his wife know local farmers and can do much of their buying over a friendly pint. But this week, it spread to a very posh restaurant in Leeds which has set out its stall to persuade Yorkshire producers to put their fresh food on its elegant tables (See News, Wednesday).

We congratulate the Malmaison, one of the top restaurants in the North of England, and the Country Land and Business Association for getting together to launch this scheme. We hope that it will catch on in other posh eateries.

But enough of this. I must rush off. It's market day and I have a culinary quest to pursue. Must establish a regular supply of Yorkshire Blue. Eat your heart out, Monsieur le Fromager.

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