Make local food focus of rural life, say experts

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The future is suddenly brighter for Black Country faggots and Leicestershire hunts cake. Britain's local and regional food specialities should be boosted by a new national agency, the Government will be told next week by the post-foot-and-mouth inquiry into the future of farming and food.

The future is suddenly brighter for Black Country faggots and Leicestershire hunts cake. Britain's local and regional food specialities should be boosted by a new national agency, the Government will be told next week by the post-foot-and-mouth inquiry into the future of farming and food.

Marketing strategies should be developed, the inquiry report will say, for the specialised produce of different areas, such as cheeses or meats or drinks, as part of a huge effort to put the troubled farming sector on a sounder economic basis in the years to come.

The inquiry, set up by Tony Blair last August to take a "root and branch" look at agriculture's future in response to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, wants the new body to be forged out of the existing agency Food From Britain, which at the moment concerns itself almost entirely with marketing exports.

Food From Britain will be asked to look inwards and work with the various Regional Development Agencies, to make sure that English regional culinary specialities are developed and promoted far more than they have ever been.

A source close to the inquiry said: "There is huge potential for this across much of rural England, but it is not being harnessed. For West Country cheeses you could almost have something like the French appelation contrôlée system for wine. The marketing operations for these products need to be much more organised, rather than ad hoc, because one farmer producing good local produce can't market the stuff on his own. We also need local food economies, where the produce of an area is ... kept within the area."

The new emphasis on local produce will be welcomed by the English tourist industry, which recognises that such expertise is under-promoted, and has a pilot project on local food and drink, being run on behalf of all regions by the Heart of England Tourist Board, based in Worcester. The board has set up an award scheme for restaurants who source their ingredients locally, with a display mark and a database to help people to find them, and is creating "food trails" for people to travel across the Midlands eating local produce.

Sue Thomas, the board's spokeswoman, pointed to Staff-ordshire oatcakes, Market Drayton gingerbread, Stilton cheese – it must be from Leicestershire, Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire – Black Country faggots, Leicestershire hunts cake and Herefordshire perry (pear cider) as goodies that could be consumed in the region. "We could find you somewhere to eat and drink each of these," she said.

"We have research that shows that food is a significant element of whether or not a holiday is enjoyable for 66 per cent of people, and we're looking at how we can improve the quality of local holidays by the quality of local food."

The inquiry, officially the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, chaired by Sir Don Curry, former head of the Meat and Livestock Commission, will report on Tuesday. It is likely to recommend sweeping changes in agricultural organisation, calling on farmers to be paid more for looking after the countryside in future than for producing food. It will suggest farmers should be required to hold a licence guaranteeing they will work the land in an environmentally friendly way to qualify for subsidies, and that the amount of EU support money spent on environment activities should be doubled.

Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust and one of the inquiry members, will today tell the national conference of the Soil Association, the organic farming pressure group: "The Government now needs to move from simply recognising that the future of farming depends on the health of our countryside to making far reaching changes to farm spending and support. The devastation of foot-and-mouth disease should forge a new commitment to deliver early and radical changes in national farming and rural policy."

Traditional fare

The Staffordshire oatcake: it is peculiar to the Potteries areas of Stoke-on-Trent. Baked with white flour and oatmeal, it is commonly used as a substitute for bread. It looks like a pancake, but is stuffed with different fillings and eaten rolled up. Sainsbury's stores sell a packet of six for 49p.

Market Drayton gingerbread: has been baked in the Shropshire town for more than 200 years. The delicacy is made with honey, ginger and cinnamon. Eaten as a sweet, it is often dunked in a glass of port.

Faggots and peas: a traditional dish from the West Midlands. Black Country faggots, as it is known, consists of animal offal wrapped up in a pig's bladder and green peas. The meal is placed in the oven and cooked until well done, and served with bread.

The Melton hunt cake: also known as Leicestershire hunts cake, has been made since 1854, when it was created by John Dickinson. The cake is made with dried fruit, almonds, pure butter, eggs and Jamaican rum. It was originally supplied to members of the Melton Hunt, who would have a slice with a glass of sherry before setting off.

Herefordshire perry: has been produced in the county for more than 400 years. It is prepared with locally grown Perry pears and cider apple juice, which gives the perry its fruity flavour and bitterness. Tesco sells a 1.7l bottle for £3.84.

Nottinghamshire Bramley apple pie: the Bramley cooking apple, which is its main ingredient, is a star of the apple world. The variety was named after the butcher who bought the garden where it was first found in the 18th century.

Worcestershire sauce: one of the best-known regional delicacies. It is less a sauce, more a flavouring. The recipe is a closely guarded secret. A dash lifts almost any savoury recipe, especially casseroles, soups, grilled meats and cheese dishes. It was invented by Lord Sandys, a native of Worcester.

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