Tasting notes: Suffolk cheeses

Early in May I took up the #livelocal challenge. I learnt lots in the first week some of which I’ve already blogged about. A big part of taking up the challenge was not just to do it for a week but try to think more about what I ate, where it came from and so explore food options closer to home. And so to one of my favourite foods – CHEESE.

England has a great history of cheese making, we came a bit unstuck in the Milk Marketing Board post-war era with many cheeses being lost and production becoming very industrialised. Things have moved on, particularly from the 1980’s onwards when the likes of Patrick Rance and Randolph Hodgson started championing and supporting small cheese producers. So we are now in a position where it’s not that hard to find great cheese; wonderful examples of classics such as Cheddar, Cheshire and Lancashire and newer varieties that draw on French, Italian and Spanish styles of cheese (such as brie and soft goats cheeses).

Now I LOVE cheese in pretty much all its guises and I’m certainly not intending to give up all time favourites like Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire just because its outside the area I defined for #livelocal. I thought it might be interesting to see what cheeses are produced more locally. It transpires that the counties in my ‘local’ area are not really renowned as dairy farming areas (neither now or historically) and so there isn’t a plethora of cheeses to choose from. There’s some scathing comments in Patrick Rance’s book from 17C on Suffolk ‘flet’ cheese are being ‘mean’ – it was made with skimmed milk so probably wasn’t very rich in flavour. Undeterred I decided I’d take it county by county and see what I could find.

First up is Suffolk, mainly because I already knew of some cheeses I really love and I wanted to find more. On a recent short break in Suffolk I did a bit of cheese exploring and I came up with a cheese board of five contrasting cheeses and I’m hoping there are others I’ve still to try.

The cheeses are (L-R on the board):

Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue
Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue

Buxlow Paigle, Buxlow Wonmil, Hawkston, Shipcord, Suffolk Blue.

So what were they like?

Buxlow Paigle: This is a relatively firm textured off white cheese. Its smooth, with a nice mild tang, its quite moist and a bit like (although less crumbly than) a very mild Wenslydale. It’s made from pasteurised cow’s milk on a small farm in Friston near Aldeburgh. There is also an apple wood smoked version; I didn’t taste it this time but it worked well on a wonderful rarebit I had recently.

Buxlow Wonmil: Okay lets be honest here, this is one of my all time favourite cheeses and part of my inspiration for doing this tasting. Anyway it is quite a soft cheese, a little in texture like goats cheese but not as crumbly. It’s very young and therefore soft, fresh and tangy with a lovely lemony-ness. It’s very white in colour and is sold at only two days old. It’s a classic fresh cheese that you don’t find that much in the UK. I love it in frittata but its great on the cheese board too providing a nice contrast to harder cheeses. Again it’s a cow’s milk cheese and in case you couldn’t guess from the name it’s made on the same farm in Friston as the paigle. As you can see I love it.

Hawkston: Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and matured for 3-5 months this is slightly crumbly and quite tangy. It’s rather like the cheeses of Cheshire, Lancashire or Wenslydale in style. It’s quite white in colour and a refreshing hard cheese. It’s made at Rodwell Farm, which is near Needham Market.

Shipcord: This is made by the same dairy as the Hawston, again from unpasteurised cow’s milk. It’s matured for longer (about 6 months) and is made by a different method. It’s much firmer and yellower. Its rather like a mild cheddar or Lincolnshire Poacher. The dairy suggest its akin to some alpine cheeses and there is a sweet nuttiness to the flavour. There is also an extra matured and a smoked version available which I’ve yet to try.

Suffolk Blue: This is a blue version of Suffolk Gold. It’s made from Guernsey milk so is very creamy and rich yellow in colour. It’s a soft cheese like a firm rich brie in texture. It’s very buttery, a little earthy and has a mild blue tang with undertones of salt. It’s made by The Suffolk Cheese Company again near Needham Market.

Overall I enjoyed testing out some new cheeses that are local to me. I think my favourite of the new finds was the Hawkston but since I grew up in Lancashire maybe that’s no surprise. I’ll be adding them all to my repertoire but expect the Wonmil and Hawkston to the be the two I buy most often.

If anyone knows of any Suffolk cheeses I’ve missed then I’d love to hear about them so I can give then a try. I also need to decide which county from my ‘local’ definition to tackle next; basically there’s Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to choose from, suggestions welcome.

I found all the by just looking out what was available cheeses in farm shops in Suffolk but a useful book for English cheese spotting is ‘Great British Cheeses’ by Jenny Lindford. Its pretty up to date as it was published in 2008. It’s got good pictures and some background and tasting notes on each cheese. Unfortunately it doesn’t have an index by county!

A walk on the wild side

“Here, turn right here, this has got to be it”.


We swerve round the corner and bounce along the driveway. “Nice pond, but where’s the big house?” There’s plenty of rolling parkland and a cluster of outbuildings but no grand house to be seen.

There’s also a tall affable looking chap wearing wellies and a big chunky jumper so we slow up and roll down the window. “Here for the food foraging?” he says, “follow the track round between these buildings and you’ll see a group of parked cars and over to the right people on the lawn, that’s were you need to be.” So we drive on as instructed and sure enough there’s about 15 cars and a bunch of people standing about having coffee. I get out and amble over and my husband drives off to a day of peace and quiet.

At last, I’m at Food Safari’s first foraging event at Henham Park in the depths of rural Suffolk.

I get a coffee and Polly (half of the duo that makes up Food Safari) passes me some still warm flapjack (yum! this is a good way to start) then introduces me to the rest of the group – none of whom I’ve met before but some of whom I’ve been chatting to via twitter (yes that’s you @Farctum and @EssexGourmet). Once everyone is here Tim (the tall affable chap in wellies, he’s the other half of Food Safari) tells us the format of the day. We’re going to be foraging for wild foods here on the estate and then also down by the river Blyth (also on estate land) then we’ll be off to The Anchor at Walberswick for a lunch show-casing some of the wild foods.

Tim hands over to Jacky (aka WildFoodie) who’s our foraging expert today. She explains that we are on private land so sadly we can’t entertain any thoughts of popping back sometime to bag some more goodies; well I guess not unless we can get to be new best friends with Hektor who manages the estate, I imagine he’s probably got enough friends already though. Jacky also explains that the weather in Suffolk has been so dry recently that we probably aren’t going to find enough stuff in really good condition for us to take bagfuls home. We are going to have to be content to watch and learn, that’s the nature of foraging, it’s a real luck of the draw thing. Jacky had a scout about yesterday so she’s got lots of examples to show us and she’s been able to collect enough goodies for our meal later.

Then we move on to our first spot, I’m expecting we’re going to have to walk a good distance across the park perhaps into a wooded area, but no, there’s plenty to see only steps away from where we are. Take a look – what can you see that’s edible?

Hmmm looks like a bunch of weeds in a badly tended garden if you ask me…..but hold one we are going to find at least FOUR, yes that’s four, edible goodies in this patch.

Okay so clearly I’m in nappies on the foraging front compared to the likes of Jacky – I can’t see a thing I’d fancy eating. But with Jacky’s expert guidance we learn about ground ivy, cleavers (aka sticky willy – hmmm), nettles, ground elder, burdock and elderflower – blimey that’s six – and I don’t think Jacky was even trying hard….she tells use how to identify each of them through look, feel and even sound and also which bits to pick and even how to pick (clever scissor movement with your fingers for nettle tops). We taste as we go when things are okay to eat raw. Mostly everything we test has a fresh but quite bitter taste but there are differences between them.

Next its time to move on to the river. But before that a few of us think a comfort stop might be good so Polly takes us over to the stable block, which has been converted into a rather lovely looking B&B, and we get to use the facilities there. I also get a quick lesson in the intricacies and long running feuds of the Rous family and learn that the final version of the big grand house was knocked down (some say a fortuitous fire…) in 1953, so that’s why we couldn’t see it. There are plans afoot for a new house to be built.

Anyway down to the river – I would say bank but here the estuary is really wide and flat so it’s more like a gentle slope. The estuary systems in Suffolk and Norfolk are havens for all sorts of things and in particular marsh samphire

If you look really hard you can see the samphire at the front of this picture

I’ve had this before, bought from local farm shops and I love it. We are a little early in the season but we can see the samphire starting to sprout like some kind of mini primeval forest. We get to test the samphire and its wonderfully juicy with a salty tang –I’m looking forward to it being available in the farm shop soon and hoping we get some at lunch. We also find sea purslane which looks a bit like a succulent version of sage although it tastes nothing like sage. Again it’s juicy and salty.

Sea Purslane

And finally we head off to The Anchor pub at Walberswick with our appetites suitable whetted. But before we get to tuck into lunch we take a quick look at the pub’s allotment where Jacky tells us about poppy leaves (nice and sweet and almost pea like in flavour), hops shoots, dead nettles and chickweed (plus other assorted things you might just throw away but can actually eat!).

At last it really is time for food. We wander over to the beautifully refurbished stable block and are served with glasses of refreshing elderflower scented beer from Lowestoft whilst nibbling on fresh asparagus, tempura hop shoots and absolutely wonderful chickpea and samphire mini pancakes. These are so divine we are nearly knocking each other out of the way to get our hands on them; I’m definitely going to be trying to recreate them at home.



Mark then guides us into the stable block itself where a huge long table awaits us and a further three courses of food with matched beers. Mark is an absolute mine of information about the beers and clearly likes to surprise his guests with things such as a Gueuze he describes as having aromas of sweaty horse saddle and horse piss – great! Hektor and I try to tell him that we are not especially familiar with either of these but to no avail. Food wise every thing was delicious but dishes and flavours that particularly stood out were the chicken of the woods in the risotto, 

The chicken of the woods is the pinky/orange bits

a very meaty mushroom that might make some vegetarians shudder, the semi pickled carrots in the salad, the elderflower panacotta

and finally my favourite local cheese, Buxlow Wonmil. It makes a change to have lovely food paired with beers rather than wines and is something I might try myself. Of the beers I think my favourite was the Frambozen although the Gueuze was much nicer than Mark’s description would lead you to expect; its kind of nicely tangy and refreshing, a bit like liquid sourdough.   

Its time for everyone to head their separate ways, full of new knowledge, exceptional food and plenty of beers. I have a glass of Benedictine for the road (fortunately my husband is collecting me) and we waddle off clutching our information packs, happy foragers that we now are. 

You can find out more about Food Safari’s days out in Suffolk on their website, arrange gift vouchers for loved ones or simply book a treat for yourself. I’m hoping to try another one of their days soon.

To view the menu and other information about The Anchor at Walberswick click here. Go on treat yourself to some great food and beer.



Anyone for English wine?













This week it’s been English Wine Week, as you might imagine an event set up to encourage greater recognition (and consumption) of the wines produced in old Blighty. Its fair to say that even five years ago most people would have choked on their glass of Sauvignon at the prospect of a wide range of drinkable English wines being available, but even though many still might, they should perhaps think again. There are good English wines on offer in most of the major supermarkets and most self respecting farm shops also carry a few. Vineyard gate sales are also up.

Many of the well-known wines come from Kent (e.g. Chapel Down – who do a rather delightful wine called Bacchus that’s a good contender for swapping with Sauvignon) and Sussex where one of HM The Queen favourites fizzes comes from (Nyetimber, they do lovely stuff) but there’s plenty of options from other counties too. With my #livelocal challenge and the delightful sunny weather in mind I decided to sample something from Essex and happened upon a rosé made from Pinot Noir.








Here its is, its from New Hall vineyard, which is out towards the coast from Chelmsford. To pair with it we decided on a classic choice of lamb cutlets (local of course), simply grilling these and serving with new potatoes and wilted mixed greens. The match worked well and the rosé also stood up to being sipped on its own as an aperitif, its nice and fruity but sufficiently dry to be refreshing without too much acidity. It’s a nice mid but bright rosé colour. I thought it was a great all round wine both good on its own and with the lamb, much better than many rosés which can either be too sweet or too acidic. It’s pretty sensibly priced at about £6.00 a bottle (direct from the vineyard) and, I think, would rank well against a slightly pricier rosé.

If the weather holds like this I’d recommend you get your hands on a case, as I will be, to sip throughout the summer, with or without lamb. Go on discover some English wine for a refreshing change ;)

Coming together

I love it when things just seem to come together in the right way and its one of the things that I’m starting to love about blogging and tweeting. You swirl around the blogosphere, you play about on Twitter and suddenly a whole bunch of influences collide to make you spot a new dish that resonates for you or triggers fond memories of something you haven’t had in simply too long.


And so it was earlier this week that the influences of Browners’ National British Sandwich fun, Fran39’s watercress post and the #livelocal challenge came together to make me think of a lunch I hadn’t had in probably 10 years (yes really)  – chicken and watercress with mayo on really good bread.

So I plotted a treat, my husband is not a fan of watercress he pulls a face at the very word, the ideal opportunity was to have said sandwich on a day when I was working from home. Mmmmm. I made fresh bread rolls yesterday to have with burgers and I’d found some red watercress in the supermarket and at 11am I was roasting 2 chicken legs with a dousing of lemon and olive oil.

At the appointed lunch hour I moseyed to the kitchen, sliced open a couple of rolls, slathered them with my favourite mayo, piled in freshly roast chicken and topped with watercress, squidged on the top.

And tucked in. Heaven in a bun.

#livelocal: the first four days

Since Wednesday I’ve been trying to live a more local existence on the food front. The challenge I set myself had 4 parts to it and centred on using up things I already had in the store cupboards, buying local produce, thinking about the provenance of what I ate and trying not to nip to the supermarket in the car unnecessarily.

So how have I been getting on?

Well I’ve not even been taking a hard-core approach to this i.e. only eating local produce yet its tougher than I thought. You get set in certain ways and habits food and shopping wise and breaking them takes some effort. I thought I was pretty good in my choices already but I can see that I can be much better. I can also see there are some other issues with only eating local, such as a hugely restricted and potentially dull diet (especially if it was winter) plus how can you unravel the centuries trade around, say, coffee, spices or chocolate (even if you wanted to) without having an enormous impact on global trade and the communities that produce them. The birth of global trade and its imperialistic history may well be something to be apologetic for but equally we can’t just halt it without considering what this would do to those who livelihoods depend on it. We can work for a fairer ways for this trade to operate (and I know many of the initiatives are deemed flawed but they at least acknowledge that things need to change) but I don’t think we can just stop altogether.  

I managed to stick to eating from the store cupboard and not going on a supermarket or food only trip in the car. I didn’t manage to only buy things from the area I had defined, partly because the labelling is not always good (it often just says grown in UK, sometimes it does give the region), partly because I had three business meetings where I had very little control over the food or drink on offer and also because I only managed to find two English wines on sale despite this being English wine week! I also learnt I have enough food in the house to survive a siege…..and that making your own bread is good fun and a lot tastier even when it doesn’t go quite right.

So here are the things I had, I’ve noted new purchases in brackets:

Not at all local (can i ever eat them again!):

Mint and other fruit infusions (need to find a UK grown versions or use fresh from garden when possible), avocado, Serrano ham (have tracked down a few UK air dried hams), cheese – Parmesan, various Norwegian cheese. I had one truly local cheese from Suffolk as well; I can probably switch to almost 100% UK cheese going forward but would only have about 5 choices if I stuck strictly local. Cashews (oh but I love cashews there’d not be many nuts on a UK based diet – cobnuts and walnuts mainly), coffee, chocolate (imagine a future with neither chocolate of coffee……..), white tea, tinned tomatoes, spices, dried pasta (I could make my own as often as possible), chick peas, butter (Danish!), black pepper, sugar. Flatbrod, chorizo (I’ve now found a local supplier hurrah), lamb salami, Spanish wine (Rioja), white wine from Chile, cassis (looking for a UK producer), rice – risotto and basmati

Within my local area definition:

Filtered tap water (mind you I don’t know where it comes from do I?), pork meatballs, rapeseed oil, fresh herbs (from the garden), paneer (yes it was made in Leicestershire) – new purchase. Maldon salt, cider (bought), mushrooms (bought), bacon, sausages (bought), mince beef to make burger (bought – this and sausages from a good farm shop I have found). Mayonnaise and ketchup – both locally produced but might not be completely locally grown. Salad leaves (bought), homemade stock, asparagus.

From the UK but not specifically local or not known if local:

Cauliflower, spinach (bought), baby turnips, tomatoes (local ones not yet available these were IOW), yoghurt, flour and yeast to make bread (I know I can find local alternatives for the flour and will be switching). English wine (from Kent), frozen broad beans, Worcestershire sauce.

Not bad but not an outstanding performance – lets see how things go for the next three days. I’m thinking the bigger challenge will be to keep making the right choices after the seven days are up.



Err, hello, um, what’s all this #livelocal thing??? 

I’d seen a bit of twittering about this (hence the # tag – used in twitter to make searching easier) and wondered what it was so I headed over to Becca’s blog to find out more. Here I saw that Becca was about to spend the next 7 days (she’s started today I think) trying to only eat foods that had been grown with 100 mile radius of where she lives in Sydney, Australia.

Interesting challenge I thought and then also spotted that it was a wider initiative to get people to undertake projects and habit changes that were locally focused,such as cycling to work. 

Hmmm wonder if I can join in and what I could do. A few tweets later and I’m signed up at LiveLocal as the first UK participant (woo hoo I’m a global first – yes quite!). Then to thinking about a plan. I like Becca’s local eating idea and I already try to buy local food but its pretty easy to realise that you can do much more and that also you might have to make some sacrifices along the way.

I decide to investigate where a 100 mile radius allows me to source food from using this map tool and find that as well as a the whole of the South East and much of the Midlands, Calais and Boulogne are within 100 miles! I’m not quite sure that northern France can be called eating locally when I live in East London. So I think again, I want to do something that starts to shift my eating habits to local and decide on the following: 

  • my cupboards and freezer are stuffed full of things that have been lurking for sometime, so first part of the challenge is to start munching through these. I’ve already probably burnt a giant carbon footprint acquiring them so I really should get on with making use of them.
  • dried and frozen foods aren’t going to cut it for a whole week though are they so anything extra I need has to either come from my herb garden or be sourced from an area bounded by the Thames to the south, the east coast of England, a line up from the western edge of the M25 and a line cutting across from Norwich. I’m guessing this about the same area as 100 mile circle (or less) but seems to make more sense as to the direction I should look for food stuff.
  • I’m only to walk, cycle or take the Tube/bus to the shops but I can incorporate shopping into an existing car trip.
  • I’m going to think about everything I eat or drink and wonder about its provenance and whether I can change how I buy it. I know right now I’m not going to give up coffee so am I buying the most ethical I can and I am supporting a local roasters.


It seems easy on the face of it but I think it’s going to be quite hard, but I’m enjoying thinking about how to be more local in my choices. I’ll be blogging about how I’m getting on so come back to find out more. Wish me luck!