Cheese, cider, cycling: a tasty tour of the West Country

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‘What much bash you request than bully food and a solid of cider?” I’m astatine Batch Farm, successful the Somerset colony of East Pennard, and cheesemaker Malcolm Dyer is genially mounting retired his stall. The workplace is 1 of the highlights of the Somerset Food Trail, a 10-day solemnisation of the county’s smaller-scale nutrient producers moving until 24 July. The way aims to item the area’s bounty, offering visitors the accidental to research farms, conscionable growers, picnic successful assemblage farms and “food forests”, sip cider portion watching section bands, and mostly guzzle, graze and store to their stomach’s content.

Bruton map

Somerset is simply a amazingly extended county, truthful the trail’s organisers person helpfully sliced it into 11 areas. Setting retired to get a sensation of the terrain successful advance, I determine to absorption connected the spot I cognize champion – Bruton, Castle Cary and Wincanton – but to research it anew connected 1 of Bruton Bike Hire’s guided electrical rhythm safaris. Ten of these tours volition beryllium moving during the event, on 2 antithetic routes, and I’m trialling the bluish loop.

I conscionable my guide, Robin Balme, connected Bruton’s High Street. This tiny municipality has punched its mode into heavyweight nutrient circles implicit caller years with the opening of At the Chapel, Roth Bar & Grill, Matt’s Kitchen and Osip. Propping them up, however, is simply a thriving farm-to-table country and – erstwhile Balme has acceptable maine up with a bike, helmet and hi-vis vest – the purpose is to delve into it, fork-first.

Dowdings Nether Compton Orchard cider pome  harvest.
Dowdings Nether Compton Orchard cider pome harvest.

Pedalling northbound retired of town, we commencement with a ascent – archetypal up Coombe Hill , past up tunnel-like Snakelake Hill. As we go, we’re deed by wafts of precocious chaotic garlic, the flowers warmed by shards of sunlight. We halt astatine the top, connected Crow’s Hill. Not to drawback our breath; we’re connected Bosch-engined Cube electrical bikes and, arsenic we navigated the steep rise, Balme had tactfully suggested that I mightiness privation to deed turbo (I did). It’s much that the presumption is excessively bully to zip past: it soars down implicit hedgerows and dimpled fields into Batcombe Vale.

From present we rhythm down and up again to Westcombe, astatine 1 constituent squeezing betwixt a shiny reddish van and a cottage truthful garlanded with roses I wonderment if we person stumbled into a Postman Pat TV set. But portion Somerset sometimes feels otherworldly successful its pastoral prettiness, its nutrient producers, arsenic successful truthful galore cultivation communities, are facing precise existent challenges linked to climate, biodiversity loss, proviso chains and the outgo of living. Against this backdrop, events similar the Somerset Food Trail aren’t conscionable a delicious mode to walk a play but besides a captious means of connecting consumers with section growers and producers.

One of the second is Westcombe Dairy’s Tom Calver. As helium shows maine astir the dairy’s hi-tech food cellar, helium tells maine he’s been looking progressively astatine biodiversity successful a holistic way, making connections betwixt the microbiome of the ungraded each the mode up the nutrient concatenation to radical eating his cheese.

Racks of accepted   farmhouse Cheddar cheeses astatine  Westcombe.
Racks of accepted farmhouse Cheddar cheeses astatine Westcombe. Photograph: Alamy

Westcombe is champion known for its accepted farmhouse cheddar, though it produces 8 types of cheese, and has besides branched retired into charcuterie and has a manus successful Landrace Bakery, successful adjacent Bath, the adjacent signifier of which includes mounting up a flour mill astatine the farm. With The Wild Beer Company and Brickell’s Ice Cream besides based successful the dairy’s outbuildings, determination is plentifulness of scope for experimentation and collaboration; Brickell’s makes a stracciatella flavour utilizing Westcombe’s ricotta, for example. “We’ve besides started experimenting with agro-forestry,” says Calver. “Switching from an intensive farming strategy to paddock farming meant we needed to make shadiness for the cows, truthful we planted effect trees and shrubs, choosing berries successful the anticipation that Rob, astatine Brickell’s, tin usage them successful his ice-creams.”

Full of the joys of regenerative farming – and bites of Tom’s addictively tangy cheddar – we rhythm on, freewheeling past past orchards and enjoying the odor of sun-baked hay. Dipping down into cocoa container East Pennard, we rotation up astatine Batch Farm.

Owner Jean Turner’s parent started making food present successful 1963, and Turner is inactive turning 27kg cheeses herself astatine 69. Walking done the food cave, surrounded by rows of mould-marbled, cloth-bound cheddars, I get a chiseled earthy whiff of maturing cheese, and an knowing ofthe attraction that goes into the process. After the tour, Malcolm Dyer hands maine a hunk of 16-month-old accepted mature cheddar, affluent and nutty. I motion my caput successful appreciation, and Turner approves (it’s her favourite).

‘Something that wouldn’t look   retired  of spot  successful  Napa’ … vineyards connected  the Somerset Food Trail.
‘Something that wouldn’t look retired of spot successful Napa’ … vineyards connected the Somerset Food Trail. Photograph: Rhiannon Batten

In a erstwhile life, Balme worked arsenic an electrical technologist astatine Glastonbury, and we gossip astir the festival arsenic we pedal connected on the aged Roman Fosse Way to Wraxall Vineyard, established successful 1974. The owners, Lexa Hunt and David Bailey (not that one), bought it 18 months ago, transforming it from a sleepy English vineyard into thing that wouldn’t look retired of spot successful Napa. Beyond the vines themselves (which the mates are overhauling with the assistance of adept viticulturists), plans see cellar doorway sales, workshops, tours, parties and vineyard stays. The centrepiece is simply a striking glass-walled lawsuit abstraction with an bonzer presumption implicit a vine-covered hillside to what looks similar the Somerset Levels but is, successful fact, the misty bluish reaches of Dorset.

“The archaeologist astatine The Newt [a adjacent plot and edifice that’s opening a reconstructed Roman villa this summer] is an adept connected English vineyards planted by the Romans and helium believes this was connected of those,” says Hunt. It’s not hard to conjure a bacchanalian imaginativeness from 2,000-odd years agone arsenic we sensation a trio of wines – a sparkling white, a raspberry-nosed pinot noir rosé and a fruity bacchus.

On the motorcycle tours, bare cyclists volition halt present for a vino tasting and Somerset Lunch – a banquet including sausage rolls, charcuterie, salads from Pinsents deli successful Castle Cary and White Lake goat’s cheese. Today, though, we’re pedalling connected for glasses of Harry’s Corker cider astatine adjacent Alhampton Inn and what Balme calls his “emergency ploughman’s” – a feast of Westcombe cheddar, homemade breadstuff and pickles stashed successful his pannier that Batch Farm’s Malcolm Dyer would surely o.k. of.

‘A local’s favourite’ … Chapel Cross Tea Room.
‘A local’s favourite’ … Chapel Cross Tea Room. Photograph: Rhiannon Batten

From present it’s a gentle 20-minute rhythm backmost to Bruton and the extremity of my magic buffet ride. Or, nearly. The adjacent time I instrumentality connected my ain to sojourn a fewer much producers. In Galhampton I conscionable grower Tia Cusden astatine Wild Garden, a bucolic integrated marketplace plot wherever way visitors tin picnic by the pond and chemoreceptor astir a neat patchwork of leafy greens and edible flowers. Then there’s the Somerset Spirit Company, extracurricular Castle Cary, wherever entrepreneur Anthony Gaster’s beverage vodka, beverage gin and “wheysky” are made utilizing discarded whey from Wyke Farms and sells retired astir arsenic rapidly arsenic helium tin marque it (he is presently moving connected a cheese-cave-aged mentation of the wheysky).

My last halt is astatine Chapel Cross Tea Room successful South Cadbury. Run by Rose Adams, it comprises a pocket-size arts venue, a circus-style outdoor cafe and a tiny herd of Golden Guernsey goats. Last winter, Adams built her one-woman dairy from scratch, milking the goats conscionable erstwhile a day, successful a horsebox milking parlour, truthful that the kids tin enactment with their mothers. The resulting 2 cheeses (a nutty semi-hard and a gorgeously gooey soft) are delicious. Yet different foodie Somerset occurrence story.

The Somerset Food Trail runs from 15 to 24 July. Guided e-bike Food Trail safaris outgo £100pp, all inclusive, oregon from £30 a half-day for e-bike prosecute alone. Operators successful different regions of Somerset are besides moving motorcycle tours during the trail

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