The last time I spent a week in Devon I decided it would be a fun idea to embark on #crabandicecreamchallenge. An innocuous-sounding quest to eat crab and ice cream every day of our week long trip. After an incident with a giant crab in Ilfracombe, where I nearly lost my sanity (and my lunch), I did manage to make it to the end of the challenge unscathed, if a little green - like the crab - around the gills.
With this in mind other, saner, individuals might have wanted to relax and enjoy their forthcoming week in the West Country; but my gluttony was still piqued. Surprisingly, the Ewing, far from despairing at another of my hair-brained schemes, was remarkably receptive; although she did have to gently point out fish and chips for seven days in a row was probably going to end with hardened arteries and bigger trousers.
As we were pretty much driving past the home of Britain’s most loved cheese, we had to swing by to buy some. That and Spurs were playing Huddersfield on Saturday lunchtime and it was going to be on the telly box.
After the boys in blue and white dishing out a comprehensive thumping, enjoyed over a fine lunch of prawns and whitebait and Otter Ale we headed down to the cheese factory, who proudly advertise themselves as the only remaining cheesemakers in Cheddar. If my memory serves me right the last time we were here you could stroll in and and out of the cheese making bit gratis, but this time it was a couple of quid to be allowed to press your nose up to the glass of the hallowed room where the magic happens.
Still, it’s worth it if you time a vista during the ‘cheddaring’ of the curds - stacking "loaves" of curd on top of one another in order to squeeze additional whey out of the loaves below, which make the cheese unique. You can also see their maturing rooms and gen up on a potted history of possibly the world’s most well-known coagulated milk product.
While they offer a full range, from a beginners version, right up to vintage, as well as cheese that is naturally blue or flavoured with additions such as port, wild garlic and herbs or even Marmite, we chose cave aged, as the proliferation of natural caves were the reason the cheese was originally produced in this area.
The next stop is one of Somerset’s gems - I would say hidden, but Roger Wilkin’s Farm is firmly on the radar, despite its rural location and ramshackle infrastructure, as attested by the throngs of Millennials and bearded locals milling about excitedly and knocking back scrumpy in the open shed as we arrived.
Having had such a good time on our previous visit, I wondered if it would live up to the memories but it was as endearing as ever. We were also lucky enough to bump into the man himself and hear about his most recent cider-making experiments while sipping our tankards of Wedmore’s finest, poured straight from the barrel. A real must visit at any time of the year, but especially if your trip coincides with harvest time when you might get to see the hydraulic Beare press in action.
Sunday morning meant a visit to the charming Curious Kitchen, where we forwent cheese in order to eat bacon and peanut brittle doughnuts washed down with piccolos. Just as glorious as it sounds. That was swiftly followed by lunch overlooking England’s busiest fishing harbour, at Rockfish Brixham, so it was a wonder we could manage any cheese or cider (I’d already had a pint of Sea Cider at lunchtime, just in case).
But manage it we did, with a visit to West Country Deli on Fore Street to pick up a chunk of Devon Blue, a cow’s milk cheese made by Ben Ticklemore (who also makes Beenleigh and Harbourne from Sheep and Goats milk respectively. The former often described as England’s Roquefort, which is certainly no Bad Thing).
We then headed up the hill to the Queens Head, a lovely real ale pub that also had both keg and cask Hunt’s cider on the bar (we had the Andsome Bay and the Hazy Dazy) alongside a vast array of scratchings and crisps plus a banging-looking Sunday roast. The perfect place to drunkenly write postcards, before leaving them on the table…
On Tuesday morning an innocent wrong turn, about ten minutes from Sharpham Vineyard and Dairy, lead to a detour of knuckle-whitening proportions that almost ended our marriage somewhere down a tiny lane just outside Dartmouth. As it was we arrived rather late and rather dishevelled, but to a stunning backdrop of the sunny Dart estuary that cheered our spirits somewhat.
Our rush was to make it in time for the midday tasting session, which wasn’t actually running due to staff shortage. Fortuitously they also offered a DIY guided tour of the vineyards with a self-guided cheese and wine tasting after, that actually worked out far better for us as it meant we could faff and wander and bicker at our leisure with no one to hear us for miles around.
After our very pleasant, and remarkably bad-temper free walk, we reconvened for a wine tasting ‘basket’ of four different wines of your choosing plus a cheese platter with crackers and chutney. I’m not sure if it was the Devon air, the views, or the booze going to my head, but this was one of the best parts of our whole trip. The cheeses - their brie plus Sharpham and Sharpham with chives, that you can see being made at the factory next door - were delicious, the wine even better and the company exceptional.
Of course we wanted a bottle to take home, and after some careful consideration between seven of our eight choices, we had decided on a bottle of the barrel fermented bacchus. Of course, on trying the final (and most expensive) one the Ewing was smitten, and it was very nice when eaten with a rib of Devon Red beef when we got back home the following Sunday.
After such a clement morning it seemed too much to expect the weather to hold, and sure enough the afternoon turned damp and drizzly. Undeterred we set off for our second yomp of the day, from our base just outside Brixham; past St Mary’s Bay and along Berry Head to the Guardhouse Café, chosen because of the local cider and the Devon cream teas.
I’m really not sure there is anything so pleasurable as sitting down at four o’clock to a plate of fluffy scones, anointed with lashings of thick clotted cream and good jam (cream applied first, the Devonian way), washed down with pots of good strong breakfast tea.
The Guardhouse did not disappoint, with freshly baked fluffy scones supplied with limitless cream and jam and a pot of hot water for a second cuppa. The cider – the normal and pink from nearby from Ashridge - was entirely superfluous, and I’m not sure the sweetness of the apple was the most suitable accompaniment, but it was very welcome anyway and helped ward off the cold on the trek back home