Friday, 25 March 2011

Lower Hardres Farm Shop, Canterbury

For the first Farm Shop Friday blog, complete with mini celebration of Bacon Connoisseurs' Week, I'm looking at the lovely Lower Hardres Farm Shop just outside Canterbury.

While on our recent jaunt around the East Kent coast one of the highlights was the fabulous farmer's markets and farm shops we visited. In fact we didn't need to visit the supermarket all week (apart from a dash around Ramsgate Waitrose booze aisle to pick up some Gadd's beer) as we could pick up everything we needed locally.

Only five minutes down the road from where we were staying the Lower Hardres Farm Shop quickly became our local corner store.  Farm shops can sometimes be disappointing; dusty displays of tired looking food, no local produce, over-inflated prices or twee displays of strange jams and fancy biscuits, but nothing you can actually cook for dinner.
As soon as we walked through the door I could see we were going to get along. The large range of Kentish apple and pear juices instantly captured my attention and the Ewing was equally attracted to a display of chocolate Goupie (a locally made chewy confection).  I love the way that different apples produce juices of such varying flavours and colours.  After seeing the fate of the magnificent Howgate Wonder on the People's Supermarket TV programme a few weeks (too sweet to be a cooking apple and too big to be an eater) ago I knew I had to buy some juice.  It was lovely, slightly tart and pleasingly cloudy, a world away from the bright, sweet commercial stuff.  I also picked up some bottles of mixed bramley/cox juice.  Two great British stalwarts which, when combined, make a aromatic and tangy drink.

Another big highlight was the Paul Hollywood bread.  Based just down the road in Aylesham the Great British Baker currently only has a few outlets where you can pick up a loaf.  We tried the walnut, which was full of nutty chunks and great with goat's cheese, and the yummy black and green olive loaf which was great with everything.

Cheeses include a selection from the Cheesemakers of Canterbury and Ellie's Dairy.  The Ashmore is a tangy, cheddar style unpasteurised cheese which is great with pickle, and the Bowyer is a wedge shaped brie style soft cheese that was a little too ripe for me.  The Goat from Ellie's Dairy was firmer and drier than I was expecting, but was smooth and fresh tasting. I found the dried mixed herbs it had been rolled in a bit too dominant and would choose the plain version next time to really taste the sweet and delicate flavours.

Other treats include their own free range eggs, complete with lovely, slightly knobbly shells,  local milk, cream and yogurt and a range of Kent made cakes and biscuits.  On our visits we saw this is a place where you can pop in for a few bits and pieces, or come for the weekly shop. From small purchases like a cauli and a piece of cheese to big boxes laden with Canterbury brewed beer, sacks of potatoes, ice cream and joints of meat you can pick it all up here.  There's even a corner dedicated to instant coffee, loo roll, white sliced and other little essentials.

The real jewel at this place is the butchery at the back. The pork comes from rare breed saddleback pigs (proud photos of the pigs adorn the butchery walls which is touching or disconcerting depending on which way you look at it) and is also used to make fantastic pork pies, sausages and bacon.

And what bacon; this is the stuff of my porcine dreams; sweet, smoky and cut in generous slices bacon like this deserves to be recognised and gets my vote for anyone wanting to celebrate Bacon Connoisseurs' Week this week. I know these things are very often cynical marketing ploys, and it would be hard for me to pig out (sorry!) on bacon much more than I already do, but when it gives people a chance to promote beautiful, local produce made with such care and attention then it gets my vote.

I often tell myself I'm going to give up bad bacon (yes, it does exist) but occassionally I'm tempted by the big piles of wafer thin, watery pink stuff on offer at the supermarket. I then watch with inevitable disappointment as, instead of crisping, it sits in a pool of white gunge steaming in the frying pan.

This bacon is different; with a deep smokiness and gloriously crispy fat it's impossible not to eat it and feel it's not doing you some good (albeit to your well-being rather than you're waistline!) Eating these slices of porky perfection I have decided that enough is enough; not only does decent bacon mean happier pigs it means a happy consumer too. I would rather eat a fabulous bacon sarnie as a treat on Saturday morning than flavourless, dry imitation bacon everyday.

I can think of no better reason to relish that rasher.  So get to your nearest pork purveyor, if you're lucky it may be somewhere like the Lower Hardres Farm Shop, and enjoy some proper British bacon this weekend.


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