Saturday, 30 April 2016

In the April issue of Menu Dorset...

A big thank you to Robin Alway, editor of Menu Dorset, for the opportunity to write a couple of articles for the magazine this month. You can read the whole magazine online here...

Nick Marshall Menu Dorset

Review of The Plantation restaurant
The chance to do a restaurant review is always a treat. In this case, it was The Plantation in Bournemouth, a Canford Cliffs pub with a tranquil conservatory that made for a warm refuge on a chilly day. The menu draws on the best Dorset has to offer. Between the two of us, my brother and I worked through a three-course menu of:

Seared scallops with king prawn and samphire.
Heritage beets with goat's cheese and candied walnuts.

Duck breast with sweet and sour sauce.
Sea bass over chorizo.

Sticky toffee pudding. 
Chocolate terrine with honeycomb. 

All washed down with a salvo of Upham brewery beers. 

Nick Marshall The Plantation

Dorset's Best Farm Shops
The other article was a run-down of Dorset's best farm shops, of which there are many. We managed to fit in the following:

The Dorset Larder in Blandford
The Udder Farm Shop in Gillingham
Washingpool Farm Shop in Bridport
Felicity's Farm Shop in Morecombelake
Turnbull's Deli in Shaftesbury
Deli Rocks in Bournemouth
Home Farm Shop in Tarrant Gunville
Pamphill Dairy in Wimborne
Hockey's Farm Shop in South Gorley (Hants)
Symondsbury Estate in Bridport
Oxford's Bakery in Sherborne
The Salt Pig in Wareham
Tickled Pig in Wareham
Olives et Al in Sturminster Newton
Charmouth Dragon in Bridport
Riverford Organic Farms in Buckfastleigh (Devon)
Goldhill Organics in Child Okeford

As always, any feedback on the above or anything else in the blog is welcome...

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Made in Dorset #1 - The Cheese Board

Shining a spotlight on Dorset's signature products, we start with the local cheeses that round off many a great dinner. From reviving 300-year-old traditions, to playing around with fresh ideas, Dorset cheese-making is ripe, full of culture, and reaching maturity. 


You'll have seen celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall singing the praises of Woolsery Cheese's spectacular goats cheeses. If you didn't, rest assured that the farm's specialty is a former winner of the Best Goats Cheese in the UK award. The farm at Up Sydling, just outside Dorchester, also produces Feta- and Camembert-style cheeses. Find out more here.

Dorset gourmet woolsery goats cheese


James McCall learnt his craft working under the late James Aldridge, often credited with leading the renaissance in British farmhouse cheese-making. Think of the Tornegus, for example. Later, James became head cheese-maker at Daylesford Organic, where he produced an award-winning cheddar and Penyston. Today, James produces his cheeses at Gold Hill Organic Farm in Child Okeford and for Cranborne Chase Cheeses. He specialises in washed rind cheeses. Try the Francis, a pungent, semi-soft cow's cheese named in honour of James Aldridge; the Burwood Bole, a log-shaped unpasteurised cow's milk cheese; and the Little Colonel. Read more here...

Burwood Bole from James's

Blue Vinny used to be the county's Stilton or Cheddar - a signature specialty tied to a specific location. But the crumbly white cheese with the blue mould fell out of fashion and could have disappeared from the cheese board forever. Luckily, in 1980 farmer Mike Davies at Woodbridge Farm near Sturminster Newton revived production. The family now retain the unique rights to produce Blue Vinny, and have expanded to production of chutneys and soups through the Dorset Blue Soup Co. You can buy a big 6kg truckle, a 'mini Vinny' or a seasonal serving in the distinctive ceramic pot. Despite its wonderful taste, Blue Vinny is a low fat cheese suitable for vegans. Find out more here...

Dorset Blue Vinny


Manor Farm in Cranborne is blessed with a single herd of Friesian cows in a rural North Dorset setting. In 2011, the farm decided to push things further with production of Chalke Valley Cheeses. Alison French and Sue James sourced antique cheese presses and cheese vats and secured the help of James McCall. In just a few years, the farm's cheeses are making a name for themselves. Try the Cranborne, a creamy Camembert-shaped cheese with a mushroomy rind; the Dorset White, a tangy, creamy unpasteurised cheese in a log shape; Tilly Whim; Old Harry, a hard cheese; and Tregonwell, a Caerphilly-style cheese. Find out more here...

Chalke Valley Cheese

If you'd like to share how you use them, or point out any that I've missed, leave a comment below...

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Bournemouth Beer Festival

If the BBC got their hands on it, the third day of the Bournemouth Beer Festival would be branded People's Sunday. The day when the ticket booths are closed, the gates thrown open, and more than 200 traditional ales turned over to the attentions of the casual fans. Free at last.  

As it is, Friday and Saturday's sunshine has given way to the kind of South Coast March tempest that only surfers can look at with excitement. By the time I clear security at the Purbeck Hall and buy my commemorative pint glass, I'm not really bothered about what lies in wait. As long as it isn't raining horizontally. This, I suppose, is real ale weather.

Hallowed Ground
Inside the hall, it turns out, is heaven. Or at least what the bar in heaven must look like. There's plenty of seating, live music on stage, snacks, and in the centre row upon row of cask ales. I'm expecting to find John Lennon and WG Grace bantering over a packet of pork scratchings, but instead discover a hushed auditorium paying sacred homage to beer.

Bournemouth Beer Festival
Heaven, around tea time
Southbourne Ales immediately catches my attention, and I pick up a half of Sunbather that is wonderfully yeasty with a touch of Marmite. Then it’s my opportunity to browse the lines of casks. I’m a bit confused. Yes, there’s a program and most people seem to be consulting it religiously, but I’m lost where to start. In panic, I pick out an Old Mill Red Goose and retreat to a table to watch the band. A wise choice, it turns out.
Back to score some more tokens, then I go crazy with a Pink Grapefruit beer, which doesn’t really hit the spot, and neither should it. I finish off by returning to Southbourne Ales for a Grockles.

Southbourne Ales
Jenny from Southbourne Ales

Keeping it Real
Admittedly, turning up on your own in an anorak to a real ale festival is hardly the stuff of Nike adverts, but once I’m settled at a table with a fruity beer in hand and the live music in my ears, I feel like George Clooney in Vegas. This is how beer drinking should be. In a vast hall, with plenty of space, no lines at the bar, no one preening or punching pulling. Take away the leather and you have Oktoberfest in Bournemouth. In March. 

And let me dispel a myth. A beer festival is no longer a beard festival. I spot only two, and I think they might be hipsters, so that has to be a good thing. The crowd is young, lively, and out to enjoy real ale at leisure, rather than pounding shots in preparation for a fight and a kebab.

In fact, my only problem with beer festivals is that they require you to think about beer. That's like convening the UN Security Council and asking everyone to chillax. Instead, I totter out into the twilight with a couple more notches in my beer glass and the strengthened conviction to never settle for a branded lager in a pub if there's something local or regional on offer. These beers carry stories. There's tales in these ales. 

If you'd like to recommend a beer, share your memories or have a rant, please post your comments below...

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Dorset's Hottest Chilli Shop

Dorset Chilli Shop

According to one US psychologist specialising in the reasons why we eat what we do, around a third of the world’s population tuck into chilli peppers on a daily basis. 

The conundrum is that those countries where hot, spicy food is a way of life also tend to find themselves in climates where even the roads sweat melted tarmac under the midday sun, from Mexico and Jamaica, through West Africa and the Middle East, to India, Thailand, Malaysia and so on. These are places where, if sanity prevailed, ice should form a significant part of the daily diet. Instead, the food ramps up the heat, like tossing another ladle of water onto the coals in a sauna. Clearly, there's something here to explore. Spice, the final frontier.   

Hot Pepper Benefits 
In fact, the answer is simple. Hot pepper, it turns out, is something of a superfood. It stimulates sweating, cooling you down. It clears the head and the sinuses. It speeds up the metabolism. It's even packed with antioxidants and vitamins. Most importantly, though, it adds a bit of vigour into dishes heavy with carbohydrates. If you’ve ever slogged your way through corn tortillas, fufu, or boiled plantain, you’ll know how welcome a dash of pepper sauce can be. Similarly, it also cuts through some of the fatty mouthfeel in meat, one of the reasons why it’s such a big deal in Southern US barbecue culture. And if we're going to be emotional about it, the searing pain from chilli helps release endorphins that produce an addictive high.

Hallelujah! If anywhere needed cheering up, it’s austerity's England. Luckily, chilli is increasingly in vogue here, and 10 years ago, the very epicentre of world spice was West Bexington near Dorchester, after a Dorset couple cultivated the world’s hottest chilli, the Dorset Naga which registered 923,000 units on the Scoville scale. Things will only get hotter. 

Dorset's Own Chilli Emporium 
Proof of just how hot chilli is right now was the opening in March 2015 of The Dorset Chilli Shop in Bournemouth. Run by Lisa and Andy Guy, the colourful store in Winton is an emporium dedicated entirely to chilli. The shelves are lined with 63 sauces, 33 jams and relishes, and a host of other snacks, rubs and powders, all of them promising a legal culinary high. 

Lisa and Andy Guy
Lisa and Andy

A little digging, and the motivation becomes clear. Not only are both Lisa and Andy passionate cooks, but each spent a formative period in a country where spicy food was the norm. In Andy’s case, a two-year stint in Singapore, a culinary crossroads of sambal, curry, South Asian influences. Lisa, on the other hand, lived for 12 years in Jamaica, where a single Scotch Bonnet pepper slipped into a goat curry or oxtail stew can make grown men weep.  

The couple were initially inspired by Brighton’s chilli shops, went travelling, and returned with the idea of supplying Dorset and beyond.
“We’ve got one of the biggest Chilli Festivals in the country, but nowhere to continuously buy chilli unless it’s online,” Andy explains. “We have that street presence.”  

Searing Ambition
Add to that a devotion to chilli. As well as stocking blends from UK producers, Dorset Chilli Shop produces 25 of its own products from a certified kitchen. These range from the blistering Antidote sauce with Carolina Reaper pepper to the fruity Dorset Knockers chilli raspberry dressing. In between are Dorset Fire, using Naga pepper, the Caribbean-style Dorset Sun with Scotch Bonnet, and the Thai-inspired Dorset Meadows.

Dorset Chilli Shop range

The shop supplies the napalm-themed needs of many local food outlets. Websters butchers in Winton takes the winged hot sauce, Smoking Outlaw, The Sloop and GuavaVibe the Dorset Fire.

Both admit to being hooked on pepper. “Once you have chilli in your food, you have to continue,” warns Lisa. “Food is bland without it.”

It's Not About the Scoville Scale 
That said, both are ambivalent about the perception of chilli as a benchmark for virility. Yes, the shop stocks sauces with names such as Doomsday, Slaughter, Crazy Bastard and simply The End, but chilli is no more about heat than good wine is about ABV.
“It shouldn’t take away the taste,” says Lisa. “If it’s taking away the taste and adding heat, then it’s too hot for you.”

A good hot pepper sauce should be fruity, aromatic, viscous and complex. The cheaper mass-produced brands tend towards thin and vinegary, whereas those with skulls on the label err on the side of apoplexy. Neither adds much to a dish. 

Quality chilli brings out the flavour and depth in food, no more so perhaps than in Mexican cuisine where dried ancho, habanero and chipotle chillies are used to bring smokiness and finish to stews, with fresh jalapeno and serrano lending brighter zip to salsas.

Fusion Chilli 
You can see the commitment to chilli in the variety of spin-off products on sale. Samba relish to add some pizzazz to burgers, Bacon Jam with Chipotle for BBQ. Riffing on the delicious fusion of chilli and chocolate, there’s chocolate chilli and even fudge with homegrown Trinidad scorpion peppers. After all, Mexican food uses chilli in sweet dishes just as it uses chocolate in savoury. At the regular tasting evenings held by the shop, Lisa shows visitors how to bake chocolate cakes with chilli, as well as work in ideas on what to do with it in humus, Greek yoghurt, mayonnaise and even a rum with pineapple juice and Pestilence chilli syrup.

Personally, I've get to get higher up the Scoville Scale than the Scotch Bonnet pepper, partly because I'm spooked by Ghost Peppers and beyond, but mostly because howling over a curry no longer has the appeal it once did. If you've subjugated the Naga, Carolina Reaper or Trinidad Scorpion and come out unscathed, however, share your story below...

Dorset Chilli Shop
682 Wimborne Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH9 2EG
Tel: 01202 536679

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