FOOD & DRINK: Post-haste goodies

You've decided on a special Christmas treat. But where to find it? Mail order may be the answer, says Michael Bateman. Here is his pick of the country's best
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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK, in our luxury food feature, we highlighted foie gras, truffles, lobsters, caviar and oysters. These are high-priced items, but if there's one time of year many of us splash out it is now. However, if they are out of reach, there are other more attainable indulgences to which we can treat ourselves and our friends.

We have enlisted the aid of Henrietta Green, compiler of a new, enlarged edition of the Food Lovers' Guide to Britain (BBC pounds 9.99). Here are some of her top choices, all available by mail order. Check, when ordering, that the supplier can get items to your address by Christmas if that's your aim.

CAVIAR, TRUFFLES AND FOIE GRAS

The big London gourmet food stores, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols can provide these items, as can high-class delicatessens. Selfridges (0171-629 1234) will deliver fresh foie gras from the celebrated Paris food stores, Fauchon, in the London area for Christmas. Caviar, foie gras and truffles can also be ordered through WG White Ltd, 68 Churchfield Road, London W3 6DL (0181-992 8764)

LOBSTERS

The Fresh Food Company will home-deliver Christmas orders of live or cooked Cornish lobster at pounds 10-pounds 12.50 per 450g/1lb plus p&p. (Also, boxes of Cornish fish, organic fruit and vegetables). From 326 Portobello Road, London W10 5RU (0181-969 0351). New England Lobster Company supplies both to trade and public: 20 Smugglers Way, Wands-worth, London SW18 1DR (0181- 877 1175)

POTTED SHRIMPS

James Baxter and Son, Morecambe. Bob Baxter's family has been potting shrimps for 200 years. They make 500 pots a day. The shrimps are caught from boats in the estuary, and boiled at sea in sea water. They are covered with seasoned butter (mace and nutmeg primarily). A magical treat. Can be ordered in 57g/2oz (minimum 10 pots, pounds 24.50) and 200g/7oz tubs (minimum five pots, pounds 39). Thornton Road, Morecambe, Lancashire LA4 5PB (01524 410910)

SMOKED SALMON

H. Forman and Son, Hackney. London's oldest traditional smokery has evolved a new gourmet salmon cut, a 30cm/12inch fillet (or loin) without bone, no trimming needed, no waste. Cut into 1cm/12in discs to serve, four per person, with salad, topped with caviar and soured cream, for a special Christmas starter. 6 Queens Yard, White Post Lane, London E9 5EN (0181- 985 0378)

SMOKED FOODS

The Galloway Smokehouse, Newton Stewart. The best smokehouse in Britain, says Henrietta Green. Allan Watson has a forthright view: he cures and smokes to please himself. His smoked salmon is dark and moist, firm and sweet, but there's not much he doesn't smoke in his characteristic way - trout, eel, cod, cod's roe, herring, mussels, chicken, duck, wild venison, bacon, cheese. Carsluith, Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway DG8 7DN (01671 820354)

SMOKED EEL

Brown and Forrest, Hambridge, Somerset. The clean upper waters of the Test, Avon, Itchen and Stour produce plump, succulent fish. Michael Brown smokes them and sells them whole (weighing about 900g/2lb) or in 450g/1lb and 230g/8oz packs, skinned and neatly cut in fillets. The Smokery, Bowden's Farm, Hambridge, near Curry Rivel, Somerset, TA10 ODR ( 01458 251520)

OYSTERS

Loch Fyne Smokehouse. Pacific (rock or gigas) oysters are grown here, and hardened off before sale on the loch shore, where they learn to survive out of water for eight hours at a time. This makes them good travellers for the journey to you. Other smoked fish and fresh seafood can be ordered too. Clachan Farm, Ardkinglas, Cairndow, Argyll, PA26 8BH (01499 600217)

FRESH FISH

Quayside Fish Centre, Porthleven, Cornwall. Fish caught locally is sold by ex-fishermen. Expect to be able to order sea bass, red mullet, John Dory, lobster and crab by their overnight delivery service, which goes anywhere in Britain. Make your own selection, or they will make it up for you at an agreed price. Harbour Road, Porthleven, Helston, TRI3 9JU (01326 562008)

TURKEY

Kelly Turkey Farms, Chelmsford. It has taken Derek Kelly and his son Paul eight years to breed to perfection the Kelly Bronze, a mixture of Norfolk Black, Cam-bridge Bronze and Rolstead White. The Rolls-Royce of birds, it has a deep, lingering, gamey flavour and crispy, juicy skin. Springate Farm, Bicknacre Road, Danbury, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 4EP (01245 223581)

GOOSE

Seldom Seen Farm, Leicester. Geese are fed on potatoes and corn from Claire Syming-ton's own farm, giving them a distinctive flavour. An oven- ready 4.5kg/101b bird to feed eight comes with roasting and carving instructions. Ask about the three-bird roast: boned goose, stuffed with boned chicken, stuffed with boned pheasant. Billesden, Leicester, LE7 9FA (0116 259 6742)

DUCK

Hereford Duck Company. Barry Clark has developed a new strain of duck, the Trelough, which has been bred for flavour, texture, and a high meat- to-bone ratio. It has good-sized breasts, about 230g/8oz each. Birds weigh around 1.8-2.25kg/4-5lbs, and even come a large as 2.7kg/6lbs. Trelough House, Wormbridge, Herefordshire HR2 9DH (01981 570767)

HAMS

Mooreland Foods in Cheshire are Henrietta Green's nomination for the best ham and bacon producers. They use only the best pigs, often rare breeds such as Tamworth, Berkshire and Gloucester Old Spot. Traditional cures mean that the bacon they produce doesn't shrink in the pan. Their York hams are dry-cured for six to eight weeks then matured for a whole year. You can order a complete ham or 225g/8oz or 115-170g/4-6oz packs. Vost Farm, Morley Green, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5NU (01625 548499). Also delicious are Richard Woodall's Cumbrian Hams from Waberthwaite. Remarkably meaty, sweet and moist, they are sold as half hams, boned or unboned, or as steaks. But his great new speciality is air-dried ham, which is sold thinly sliced to be eaten like Parma ham. Lane End, Waberthwaite, near Millom, Cumbria LA19 5Yl (01229 717237)

CHRISTMAS CAKES AND PUDDINGS

Crosse Farm Bakery, Exeter. Harriet Helli-well uses only prime, fresh ingredients in her fabulous cakes and tarts baked in an out-building on the family farm. There is no shop, so don't turn up; order by telephone: eveything is cooked at 24 hours' notice. The only mail-order items are Christmas cakes and puddings. Cheriton Bishop, Exeter, Devon EX6 6JD (01647 24442)

MEAT

Piper's Farm, Exeter. The caring face of meat production from Peter and Henrietta Grieg, who favour traditional breeds. Home-reared Devon beef slaughtered at 212 years, giving it time to develop flavour; and superb lamb and pork from English and rare breeds that's beautifully butchered and well-hung. Cullompton, Exeter, Devon EX15 lSD (01392 881380). The Griegs also have a shop, at 27 Magdalen Road, Exeter.

CHEESE

Ram Hall Dairy Sheep, West Midlands. Stephen Fletcher's Berkswell ewes' milk cheese was Gold Medal winner at the 1994 British Cheese Awards, standing out a mile in its purity and depth of flavour. He also makes two fine, soft Coulommiers-style cheeses: the herb-flavoured Kelsey, and the two- tone Marlow. Ram Hall, Berkswell, West Midlands, C77 7BD (01676 532203). Ticklemore Cheese, Devon. Robin Congdon is one of Britain's great cheesemakers. You can order his incomparable Beenleigh Blue from ewe's milk, Harbourne Blue from goats' milk, and Devon Blue from Ayrshire cows' milk. Not to mention his non-blues: a dry-salted Ticklemore from goats' milk, and Ticorino, the ewes' milk version. 1 Ticklemore Street, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5EJ (01803 865926)

SOURDOUGH BREAD

De Gustibus, Oxfordshire. American-born Dan Schickentanz makes 59 kinds of esoteric breads in the country town of Thame. The six-day sourdough has a long keeping life (10 days or so), and is available by post from 9 Greyhound Walk, Thame, Oxfordshire OX9 3DY (01844 214040)

ITALIAN FOODS

Antonio Carluccio's Italian gourmet foods are now in 40 stores across the country, including the original Carluccio's at 28A Neal Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9PS; a Piccolo Gourmet Christmas Hamper is available by mail order for pounds 30. For details (and free catalogue) ring 0171-240 5710.

PRESERVES

The Bay Tree Food Company, Somerset. A Georgian manor house is the home of this imaginative new company making relishes and pickles of all sorts: cucumber; marinated figs; cranberry and orange; caramel-ised apple compote; salsas. Packed in Kilner jars, refills available. Perridge House, Pilton, Somerset BA4 4EN (01225 310754). Also from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge.

APPLES

Charlton Orchards, Taunton. Matthew Freudenberg grows some 20 varieties of apple chosen purely for flavour. He can mail a 2.7kg/61b box of traditional varieties: Cox, Suntan or Ashmeads Kernel (or a mixture of all three), hand-wrapped in tissue. A perfect present. Charlton Road, Creech St Michael, Taunton, Somerset, TA3 5PF (01823 412959)

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