Swine and Cheese

A passion for Pigs and Food

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Neale’s kitchen garden

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March

Last time I mentioned about Neale’s first attempt at growing a variety of fruit and veg in his four raised beds was back in March when he had just created the actual beds. It’s amazing how quickly, just four months on, we now have a glut of the most delicious vegetables. We’re learning hard and fast from our mistakes as well as our successes such as one large lettuce a day is too much for just the two of us, peas need covering with netting to prevent the pea moth maggots from spoiling numerous pods and our broad beans are covered with little black bugs. As for the raspberries, big mistake not covering them with netting. Every morning for the last week I walk past the raspberries on my way to feed the chickens but if I don’t pick them there and then they are gone by the end of the day. I’ve even caught a pheasant repeatedly jumping to snatch gooseberries from our standard gooseberry trees – quite cute to watch!

One of the nicest parts about growing your own is deciding what to cook based on what looks ripe and ready right outside your door. All the food magazines have countless seasonal recipes to try and it has been really fun to try lots of them out such as the chicken with broad beans in a creamy dijon sauce; linguine with goats cheese, peas and broad beans; spinach & red chard lasagne; french bean, pea & hazelnut salad; raspberry and gooseberry jam; beetroot in white sauce; lamb with carrots, new potatoes, shallots, garlic, peas & broad beans ……  The other really good reason for growing your own apart from the freshness is the savings it’s made to my housekeeping budget. I have been surprised though at how little difference there is in flavour to freshly dug or picked to some of the veg you can buy locally at farm shops or even supermarkets. Perhaps that has more to do with the varieties we have chosen to grow this year but I must admit I was expecting to be blown away by the flavour which I haven’t been for the most part. All tastes perfectly nice and I’m sure side by side with the usual supermarket veg ours would have the edge on flavour. We have much to learn – a work in progress as you might say!

June

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Written by Sarah

July 11th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Fino Olive Oil

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Fino Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fino Extra Virgin Olive Oil

You may remember from my previous post, “Andalucia Trip”, how much I raved about the wonderful olive oil produced by our friend Susie Taylor. Using olives grown in her olive groves around the Andalucian town of Casarabonela she produces a range of superbly, robust and extremely tasty olive oils. I am delighted to let you know that we are about to launch 2.5 litre tins of her fabulous Andalucian extra virgin olive oil available exclusively through Dukeshill. This quantity seemed just the right amount for us to be offering based on our own personal usage at home and the typical quantities ordered by a Dukeshill customer. We use it every day in all sorts of ways. Since coming back from our weekend at Susie and Rupert’s stunning villa in Casarabonela, we have adopted the habit of having crusty bread dipped in Fino olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning for the odd breakfast. With just a simple orange it is a divine way to start the day rather than the ubiquitous cloying, sugary cereals and sugary spreads. Invaluable in dressings, in soups, for baking, grilling, roasting, marinading and even neat! I use the oil when baking cakes when I want them to be particularly moist such as for carrot cake, in vegetable dishes such as aubergines with honey, potatoes and garlic, in gazpacho etc…. It’s versatility is endless and if I had to list my top ten cooking essentials this would most definitely be one of them. Fascinating to go back thirty years when it wasn’t readily available in the UK or even mentioned in cookery books. My Mother never, to my knowledge, used olive oil at all until the eighties and yet it is now everywhere. How our eating habits have changed, though sadly for many families still not for the better. However that is not the case with Susie’s fabulous oil in your larder!

Olive oil is, and always has been, a staple of Spanish life as it is in most Mediterranean countries, and has become increasingly so in the UK in the last decade. Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and there are over 100 million olive trees in Andalucia alone – they adorn even the tiniest plots of land – every Juan Dick and Harry has one!  Some of the olives are marinated with delicious herbs and then eaten but the majority are pressed for olive oil. Olive oil classification is fairly complicated, like wine, but the highest grade oils are “extra virgin” (which means they have an acidity level of no more than 1%).  This Fino olive oil is an “extra virgin” oil blended from a variety of olive types grown in and around the village of Casarabonela – arbequina, hojiblanca, manzanilla – it is great for salad dressings, drizzling, oven roasting, baking, sauteeing or just dipping – the great flavour will perk up even the plainest cooking.  And don’t forget it’s really healthy too.  Do give Susie’s Fino oil a go and see what you think.

Don’t forget for smaller quantities and for the delicious Fino blended oils you can order direct from Susie at Fino.

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Written by Sarah

April 14th, 2010 at 11:32 am

Andalucia trip

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Susie & Rupert's finca

Susie & Rupert's finca

About 50% of the living/kitchen area!

About 50% of the living/kitchen area!

Luckily for us Neale and I were invited to stay last weekend with our great friends Rupert and Susie at their stunning Spanish finca set in olive groves near to the town of Casarabonela in Andalucia. Called El Pueblecillo the finca is the culmination of a three year adventure Susie, Rupert and their three children took back in 2003. The idea was to immerse themselves in Spanish life completely, learning to speak Spanish fluently and to navigate the unbelievably complicated local planning laws and the black and white markets(!) involved as well as making many friends along the way. To their credit Rupert and Susie threw themselves and Emily, Ben and Eliza into Spanish life. The kids were taken to the local school and left to fend for themselves and Rupert and Susie took Spanish lessons whilst at the same time searching for that elusive plot of land with a ruin (plus roof) to renovate. Apparently you can only renovate if there is a roof still attached! Finally after nearly a year of searching they found their dream location and plot. Two years of hard work later they have created what must be the most beautiful Spanish home I’ve ever seen. It is just that, a home, not a holiday home. Susie’s family are incredibly artistically talented, St Martins School of Art and Slade being the two art schools various family members have attended. As such Susie’s flare for not only interior design but the whole vision of what she wanted to create for her family has resulted in a home of generous proportions and amazing light, art, panoramic views of the surrounding olive groves and overall beauty.

The swimming pool

The swimming pool

Rupert & Susie with olive grove in background

Rupert & Susie with olive grove in background

Rupert and Susie returned to the UK to live three years ago so that their children could attend English schools for their senior education. Fortunately they were able to to keep their Spanish home with a view to spending winter months there in their retirement, many years off! The finca is available to rent from rsvillas and I would highly recommend it. Six large bedrooms, multiple bathrooms/wetrooms and a vast, stunning living/kitchen area with enormous fireplace and views. Also a wonderful swimming pool, boules pitch, trampoline and numerous shaded areas for sleeping or reading and an idyllic setting only 40 minutes from the coast, with day trips to Cordoba, Granada and Seville possible. Picking what must be the juiciest, tastiest oranges from their orange trees by the swimming pool for breakfast was simply wonderful. To be honest though when you’re there you’ll probably just want to sit outside in the sun (22′C daytime temp this Feb weekend!) cradling a very large glass of delicious local wine, dipping bread into the divine olive oil Susie has made from their own olives whilst soaking up the view and tranquility. Heaven!

Susie’s oil business Fino has now grown to the extent that not only does she use her own olives but also the locally grown olives from various friends’ groves surrounding Casarabonela, cold pressed at the local co-operative to produce a range of extra virgin olive oils which she imports, decants into beautiful bottles and sells both by mail order and at various fairs. At Dukeshill we used to stock an excellent extra virgin olive oil called Mani Olivenol Blauel made by Friedrich Blauel, an Austrian who set up his olive oil business in the Messinia region of Greece. His olive oils have won many awards and his oil was featured recently on the BBC Radio 4 food programme. Green with a herby smell and slightly peppery after taste it was delicious. Susie produces a single variety oil, a blended oil and several infused versions using the blended oil with fresh basil, garlic lemons or chilli.

I have to say although I love the Mani oil it is quite an intense taste and since we delisted it from our product range, due to poor sales, I have consumed vast quantities of Susie’s oils, slugging platefuls of food with her delicious blended oil. It is now the only olive oil I use. If ever I ended up on a desert island I would hope it would be with a never ending supply of this! I highly recommend it to you.

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Written by Sarah

February 8th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

The Killing Fields

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our happy hens

our happy hens

Very sadly after our weekend on Dartmoor last week we returned to find a fox had killed three of our chickens. It was our fault as we normally have house-sitters but thought we’d chance it for a weekend having seen no sign of any foxes for the last five years. Five years ago our entire flock of sixteen were torn to shreds. Luckily of the three killed this time two were the old Light Sussex hens but annoyingly the fox had also taken our new Buff Sussex hen. They’d certainly put up a fight as the blood and feathers were strewn around the chicken orchard and the pig pen. Fortunately the remaining nine hens seemed fine and remarkably stress free. Perhaps we should be using hens for combat in Afghanistan!

We’ve had our run in with foxes over the years. We used to have a wonderful Welsummer cockerel called Prince Naseem who was huge, proud and a real fighter. When the fox first attacked Prince Naseem’s flock he took on Mr Fox and amazingly survived, but ended up with a permanent crick in his neck. From that day onwards his head was always at an angle which is presumably why he didn’t win the second round with the fox, who came back to massacre the entire flock leaving all of them injured and dying. Before Prince Naseem I had a wonderful White Jersey Giant which I had hatched out after buying her as an egg from the rare breed centre at Onibury outside Ludlow. Edwina was beautiful and very tame. She was the only hen at the time who ate from my hand. When the fox got her he slashed her in three places but I thought she might survive so I kept her alive for three days but eventually she died. I felt terribly guilty for prolonging her agony.fox-hounds-copy

I was so cross when all the chippy, ill informed, anti foxhunting crowd and townie lot were calling for foxhunting to be banned all those years ago. If I had my way I’d kill every single one (fox that is!). Fortunately the ban has been totally unenforceable with the result that just as many foxes are being hunted and destroyed anyway, with farmers resorting to shooting them as well. If anything the fox is worse off and what is so ironic is the foxes have moved into the cities where they are causing havoc with domestic cats, bins etc.. I just wish that less time was wasted in this country on making laws that are ill thought through and useless, based on an appalling lack of knowledge and facts. I don’t personally hunt but I have many friends who do and they are a friendly bunch from all walks of life with an innate understanding of country life and respect for country ways where man and nature have co-existed successfully for centuries.

I have now replaced my latest three casualties with two Marans and a Welsummer from Gobbets Rare Breed Farm near Burwarton. They are twenty weeks old so should start to lay in the next month, fingers crossed.

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Written by Sarah

January 23rd, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Gidleigh Park

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Sanders Cottage, Lettaford

Sanders Cottage, Lettaford

We went to Dartmoor last weekend to stay in a wonderful Landmark Trust cottage. In fact we had booked to stay in a Landmark cottage up in Scotland but sadly the housekeeper rang the day before we were due to go to say that it was inaccessible because of the snow. We normally plan our stays by researching the area and working out nice walks and pubs etc.. However with only 24 hours notice of our new destination we were unable to check out the area as much as we would have liked to. Having said that Neale was very excited to learn that our cottage was only a few miles away from Gidleigh Park, the two star Michelin restaurant and hotel run by Michael Caines. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss so as consolation for not making it to Scotland I decided to try and get a reservation. The lady I spoke to was absolutely lovely and when she heard about our cancelled stay in Scotland (hence the very last minute request for a table) she squeezed us in on the fully booked Saturday night.

Unfortunately our cottage had a useless open fire which kept spewing smoke into the main room every now and then. As it was our main form of heating with a few night storage heaters we persevered but ended up choking and smelling dreadful. Neale did make the comment that Landmark are a bit up their own ! when it comes to preserving these properties authentically. Certainly when it reached -10′C I couldn’t help but wish for some discreet central heating. At least we’d taken our dogs, Sydney and Otto, and our dog-cat Gus (who thinks he’s a dog) to use as body warmers. Nevertheless we managed to present ourselves at the hotel the next night in a reasonable state. To be met outside reception on a freezing night for the chap to park our car was the first nice touch. I thought the guy was going to tell us to park our muddy Nissan X-trail round the back out of view but he was friendly and charming without being sycophantic! The drawing room was lovely, welcoming and warm and I rather liked the fact they had three separate, cosy dining rooms which they filled up according to your reservation time so you weren’t left with a lot of empty tables around you at the start and end of your meal.

The food was fab. We had the usual flourish of yummy canapes to go with our aperitifs. My starter was pigeon salad with foie gras and hazelnuts which was exquisite but Neale’s starter of quail with truffled egg yolk and potato gnocchi produced such groans of ecstasy from him that he ended up doing a very realistic re-enactment of the famous scene from “When Harry met Sally”! My main course was beautifuly cooked but I realised I should have ordered something lighter. The lamb with boulangere potatoes and a red cabbage creation was unctious and rich with so many clever flavour explosions but I was very full by the end. Nevertheless the pudding of prune and Armagnac souffle was to die for, Mr Creosote eat your heart out.

The staff were all really friendly, informed and discreet. The sommelier was particularly good and a really interesting chap to talk to. His recommendation of a delicious Cote de Nuit was superb and the iced cider to go with Neale’s pudding was a revelation, delicious. It is made in Canada by using apples on the tree that have been frosted (iced) for three consecutive days, before picking, pressing and cold fermenting them. It is so rare to go anywhere in the UK where the service is just right. So often they can be supercilious, rude, too eager, intrusive, sycophantic, indifferent etc. but at Gidleigh Park they were all excellent. A wonderful, albeit expensive, experience but at least here you could see exactly where your money was going. Far too often we have had the misfortune of eating in various restaurants locally in Shropshire and the menu is predictable (too ambitious), the staff hopeless and the cooking poor and consequently the bill unpleasant. I don’t begrudge the Gidleigh bill one little bit but I might frame it!! If ever you get the opportunity to go DO.

Alternatively if your budget is tight there was a delightful pub nearby called the “Ring of Bells” at North Bovey which I would highly recommend. A lovely, welcoming bar, roaring log burners, nice staff and locals and a very nice evening meal. Don’t bother with the separate dining room (too cold) and Sunday lunch wasn’t so good (they had run out of roast anything) if a traditional roast is what you’re after, but all in all a great find. Apparently owned by Jennifer Saunders brother?!

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Written by Sarah

January 18th, 2010 at 1:24 pm