Suffolk's culinary surprises
Friday 09 October 2009
Just an hour or so from the capital and around 68 miles long, much of Suffolk is agricultural. Market towns and chocolate box villages punctuate the landscape from Essex to Norfolk. By rail or road, it's a pleasing commute from London. However, a romantic route to the North Norfolk coast isn’t all Constable country has to offer.
Produce-wise, Suffolk rocks. This small area churns out a disproportionate amount of good quality food and drink. Within a ten-mile radius of Ipswich you can stumble upon fruit farms, smokeries, tasty Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses and award-winning micro breweries. The producers behind these businesses are essential to the local economy and many of them have been contributing to it for generations.
Take for example the legendary Newmarket sausage. As civic boasts go, surely this is one of the finest. Musks the butcher, which lays claim to its original recipe and has produced the sausage for over 100 years, enjoys a royal seal of approval. Its by-appointment banger reflects a busy Suffolk pork industry.
In fact, it is said there are more pigs than people in this fertile county; one which also houses Blythborough Pork and Jimmy Doherty's rare breed Essex pigs. Aspall Suffolk Cyder is also produced nearby in Debenham, making it a proper pork and apple paradise! Recently voted the county's "Producer of the Year", Aspall has been fermenting apples from the same village site since 1728. Its tasty selection of cyders are made from a blend of bitter-sweet and culinary apples. Aspall sources the majority of these locally and works with the region's growers to ensure long-term sustainability.
In high summer the county’s neon yellow fields are evidence of a quite different crop. The burgeoning rapeseed oil industry is enjoying new attention via Hillfarm Oils. A healthy and versatile ingredient, rapeseed oil is fast becoming a culinary essential. Hillfarm Oils has been farming the fields of Suffolk for over 35 years and in 2004 became the first to produce cold-pressed rapeseed oil. It simply cold presses the rapeseed, filters the oil and bottles it, meaning nothing is added. Use the oil in dressings, for roasting and even baking. Hillfarm Oil is a food purist's dream; traceable, non GM, lower in saturated fat than olive oil and best of all, British. Oh, and it tastes pretty good, too.
Move just west of the Rendlesham Forest to unearth another Suffolk secret. The world-famous Gressingham duck is farmed here. A cross between a wild mallard and a Peking, this bird makes for good eating and great value. Gressingham Foods exclusively owns the license to farm it.
Now, pound for pound, duck is an expensive meat and the recession has seen its price rise further. So if you’re going to spend the money, go for a Gressingham. The producers claim around 20 per cent more breast meat than other same-weight ducks, respectable welfare policies and good availability.
It is lower in fat than you'd think and boasts impressive nutritional values. A duck dish, in my opinion, needs no fuss or frippery. Gressingham breasts are sold in separate packs. So for a succulent supper, season the breast skin well, fry skin side down until crisp, then finish in the oven. Serve with homemade chips and a crisp green salad. What could be better?
Helen Tudor is the publisher of the Great British Food magazine
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