The tartars of cream

A taste of ... the West Country. Nikki Spencer observes the gentle cream wars between Devon and Cornwall
Gooey yellow cream with a crust on top may not sound very appetising. But few visitors to Devon and Cornwall leave without having sampled a traditional cream tea - and as far as the locals are concerned, the lumpier that cream, the better it is.

"Some people do find the idea of the crust on clotted cream worrying. They think it's gone off and even try to scrape it away," says Philip Rodda, whose family has been making clotted cream commercially near Redruth in Cornwall for more than 100 years. "But as far as I am concerned the crust is the best bit. It tastes richer and has a nice, almost nutty, texture."

He says the West Country tradition of clotted cream has much to do with the area's abundance of rich milk. Yet no one, it seems, is quite sure where the art of making what Gladstone called "the food of the gods" originated. One theory is that it came with the Phoenicians when they arrived to trade for tin around 500BC.

The longstanding friendly rivalry between Devon and Cornwall is reflected in clotted cream. Both counties claim it as their own and both maintain that theirs is the best. Custom has it that a true Cornishman will always spread on the jam first and top it with cream, while a Devonian will do the reverse.

Clotted cream trails

n Roskilly's, Tregellast Barton, St Keverne, Helston, Cornwall (01326 280479). The Roskilly family makes clotted cream ice-cream and fudge with milk from Jersey cows. Visitors can have a cream tea in The Croust House Restaurant ("croust" is the Cornish name for food that was taken out to the farmworkers in the fields). As well as the usual scones, they serve "thunder and lightning", a Cornish speciality of a split with clotted cream and syrup. Entry to the farm is free.

n Rodda and Son, The Creamery, Scorrier, Nr Redruth, Cornwall (01209 820526). Rodda's has been supplying cream by post since the Twenties; regular recipients include the Queen Mother. You can sample it next Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Royal Cornwall Show in Wadebridge (01208 812183 for further details).

n For traditional Devon clotted cream try Weston's at Kersdown Barton, Bampton, near Tiverton (01398 331272). This family farms sells direct to the public.

n More than a dozen places serving cream teas in Devon and Cornwall are featured in The Tea Council's guide, Best Tea Places 1998 (price pounds 5.99 from The Tea Council on 0171-248 1024).