Christmas Food & Drink: The new mail order

A live lobster, an alligator steak and a suckling pig are just some of the first-class foods you can buy mail order. Rachelle Thackray on how to get your Christmas dinner by post
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The Independent Culture
If You feel it's time for a change from the usual Christmas turkey, don't settle too hastily for duck or goose - not when you could order in wild boar, emu, kangaroo or even a pret-a-manger suckling piglet. This year, there are more alternatives than ever to choose from, with many foods obtainable simply by contacting the supplier a few weeks or days beforehand.

For a complete change of menu, you could serve up luxury smoked salmon medallions, supplied by London's oldest-established salmon-monger, H Forman & Son. "There's a particular cut of salmon we refer to as a Royal Fillet Vintage Russian," says Lance Forman, whose great-grandfather Harry set up shop 93 years ago, and who is a firm advocate of wild salmon, although he does supply farmed salmon too. "A lot of people think smoked salmon is a Scottish tradition but it actually came over from Eastern Europe" he says, adding that the quality of Scottish fish, brought down to London's Billingsgate market, was quickly found to be better than that of the original Baltic fish. Salmon-mongers in the city then developed the "London cure" which aims to present the fish as near as possible au naturel.

Forman, who counts John Major, Eurostar and many of London's top hotels among his clients, says the Royal Fillet has been especially popular since being relaunched with new packaging in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, with some profits going to the memorial fund.

"We give it a particularly light cure, with less salt, and instead of slicing it the way we normally do, we chop it into medallions half a centimetre thick. The taste sensation is completely different; smoked on the outside but almost raw and delicate on the inside. It's beautiful - you can serve it with sour cream or even caviare. It's a very traditional way of preparing the fillet; very upmarket and aristocratic."

Meanwhile, Barrow Boar Farm, near Yeovil, is riding the wave of a demand for more exotic Christmas fare. Three years ago, it expanded its existing range of wild boar, partridge and pheasant, adding peacock, kid goat, alligator, crocodile, kangaroo, ostrich and emu, and specialities such as locusts, crickets and frogs' legs.

"Christmas last year was hectic, and this year it'll be even more so," says Marilyn Burrough, one of the small team running the 300-acre farm. "We buy in bison, ostrich, emu, kid and peacock from British farms, but import alligator carcasses from Florida and crocodile from Zambia." Kid is proving a popular choice this year; Marilyn recommends it served with roast potatoes and light vegetables - or perhaps a sprig of lavender.

If you're looking for the perfect complement to your main dish, Chatsworth Farm Shop boasts more than 2,500 speciality foods, and can deliver hampers almost immediately. The shop's Sandy Boyd says: "Our philosophy is to first try our own farms, then local producers, and then look for the best of the British. We have developed our own insulated boxes, with teabags of gel that keep the temperature below five degrees for overnight delivery."

Former Mail on Sunday shopping editor Leslie Geddes-Brown knows most of what there is to know about getting the very best Christmas specialities without setting foot in a shop; she has spent two years researching the best mail- order buys. The result is Christmas Made Easy (Columbine Press pounds 7.99), which lists around 450 suppliers.

"Last year, I did all my own food shopping by mail-order; I didn't go into a supermarket. I timed myself, and I could have done it all in one day. Christmas can run smoothly - the answer is to cheat."

Mail-order, she believes, is taking over from the "dying breed" of speciality shops. "Many companies are run as one- or two-man bands; these are the people who will chat over the phone and solve your problems direct. If you phoned up and said 'I haven't got a present for my dog,' they would helicopter over a bone."

Deadlines for mail-order have shortened with the advent of vacuum-packing and overnight delivery, making the thought of avoiding long queues, heavy parcels and the Christmas crush all the more appealing.

Leslie, who recently set up her own Christ-mas Made Easy Internet website (http://www. g-vis.co.uk/ChristmasMadeEasy/index.html), has had grateful responses for her information from as far afield as Hong Kong and California.

"We have had a lot of people coming to us from the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, the Scottish Highlands, plus a lot of ex-pats who are saying 'This is wonderful - we are dying to have a real English Christmas pudding.'"

Food guru Henrietta Green has also been hard at work on behalf of food shoppers; she launches The Food Lover's Christmas (Ebury pounds 5.99) this year, after the success of last year's Food Lover's Guide (BBC pounds 12.99). As well as providing details of specialist mail-order suppliers, she reveals many of their food preparation tricks.

The obvious drawback to mail-order is that you can't actually go and handle what you're buying. Quality is dependent on the supplier. But of course it saves time to order a ready-to-cook pre-packaged alligator - it's a lot easier than going out to catch your own.

MAIL ORDER SHOPPING GUIDE

GOOSE

For goose ready-stuffed with pork and pheasant or chicken and pheasant, try G B Geese (Lings View Farm, 10 Middle Street, Croxton Kerrial, Grantham, Lincs NG32 1QP, 01476 870 394) who offer an overnight delivery service.

TURKEY

The "Rolls-Royce" of turkeys, according to Henrietta Green, is the Kellybronze (pounds 48 for a 7kg bird including overnight delivery), available from Springate Farm (Bicknacre Road, Danbury, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 4EP, 01245 223 581). Alternatively, try one of the oldest breeds, Norfolk Black, from Peele's (01362 850237).

DUCK

Peking ducks or a Duck Banquet Roll (pounds 5.80 per pound, plus delivery) are available until 5 Dec from the Holly Tree Farm Shop (Chester Road, Tabley, Knutsford, Cheshire WA16 0EU, 01565 651835). Richard Waller (01494 772744) breeds the pure Aylesbury duck at pounds 1.40/lb.

PIGLET

A Pugh's (Bowgreave House Farm, Bowgreave, Garstang, Lancashire PR3 1YE, 01995 602571) suckling piglet costs pounds 50 plus pounds 12 delivery and arrives with its head on - not for the squeamish.

SALMON AND SEAFOOD

Turbot, scallops and live lobsters are sourced by the Fresh Food Company (0181 969 0351) from Cornwall.

READER OFFER: H Forman & Son (6 Queen's Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN, 0181 985 0378) who supply salmon made to the London cure is offering IoS readers the chance to order a 450g (1lb) Royal Fillet at the special price of pounds 24.99 (usually pounds 29.99), including overnight delivery, to any address in the UK. The fillet serves between six and 10 people, and comes boxed and ready-prepared. To order telephone 0181 985 4321 by 14 Dec quoting your credit card number. A donation of pounds 1 per fillet sold will go to the Diana Memorial Fund.

EXOTIC MEATS

Wild boar (pounds 9-24.60/lb plus pounds 8.50 delivery) is just one of the meats on offer from Barrow Boar (Foster's Farm, South Barrow, Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7LN, 01963 440315). Game including venison, pigeon, grouse and mallard is available from Fayre Game (Lodge Lane Nurseries, Lytham, Lancs FY8 5RP, 01253 738640).

CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS

Chatsworth Farm Shop (01246 583392 or write to Stud Farm, Pilsley, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1UF), which caters for the Duke and Duchess among others, produces 150g, 450g, 900g and 2kg cakes, suitable for vegetarians (pounds 2.95- pounds 18.50 plus postage) and will take orders until 15 December.

CHEESE

Iain Mellis (205 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh EH10 4DH, 0131 447 8889) has 14 years of experience, concentrating on hand-picked cheeses from the UK and Ireland. His Christmas recommendation is a Baby Dunsyre, weighing about 1lb, and costing pounds 8.32 plus delivery.

CHOCOLATE

For truffles, try The Old Smokehouse (Brougham Hall, Brougham, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2DE, 01768 867772). The Chocolate Society (01423 322230), which opened its first shop last year in London, is based in Yorkshire will take orders for a huge range of standard and novelty chocolate until the last days before Christmas. Rococo (321 King's Road, London SW3 5ET) will take orders for their range of speciality chocolate until 14 December.

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