Once known as the “larder of London”, the Chilterns has always been a fantastic centre for food and drink production. You may have tried a traditional Chilterns speciality. Perhaps a roasted Aylesbury duck? Or maybe a “clanger”, the savoury dumpling popular with nineteenth century farm workers that made a comeback thanks to the Great British Bake Off.
In researching the Chilterns Recipe Book, I visited the region’s best producers in their bakeries, distilleries, dairies, fermentaries and farms. I learned all about the great care they take over their ingredients and the high quality of the food and drink they make.
The Chilterns special terrain gives our food and drink its wonderful and unique “terroir”, or taste of the locality. Breweries in the area benefit from hard water and high mineral content. The flinty soil is perfect for winemakers as vines prefer well- drained land. Climate change means the microclimate around Henley-on-Thames is much the same as the Champagne region of France now. Whilst animals grazing here need to be hardy to cope with the chalky ground, the high silica and calcium soil is great for growing fruit and veg.
“The Chilterns’ high silica and high calcium soil gives you very firm, disease resistant fruit”, says Lindsay Engers of Chiltern Heritage Orchards. “There’s very good topography, very good soil and we’re near centres of population. All the factors that made growing successful here in the past, now work in our favour again.”
There’s also strong movement across the Chilterns towards organic farming. This is great for the planet and better for our palates too. The food being produced is higher quality, more nutritious and more flavoursome.
“It’s a brilliant time for small artisan producers like us but we rely on people appreciating what we do”, says Rose Grimond of Nettlebed Creamery. “We’ve got to thank all the people who make the extra effort to go to the farm shop, independent butcher or cheesemonger, who are keeping all those passions alive.”
Please support these outstanding producers wherever you can. A small change to your shopping habits makes a huge difference to your local community and our wider world.