Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Bournemouth Vegan Fair

Bournemouth Vegan Fair Lizzi Shaw
Left to right: Orzo coffee, vegan banquet, organiser Lizzi Shaw, experiencing iAnimal
The first surprise of the day is to find that the line waiting to get into the Bournemouth Vegan Fair looks like something from an X Factor audition. Not just the numbers, but the fact that for the most part everyone looks animated, fashionable and ready for a challenge. Where are the cardigans, the tie-dye, the man buns? As it turns out, my personal knowledge of veganism up to here is based exclusively on a food truck at Glastonbury in 1993. It will be a day of enlightenment.

Inside, the Bournemouth Vegan Fair is a celebration not just of wholefoods but of a whole lifestyle. In among the tables loaded with gluten-free, vegan, organic produce there are stalls touting vegan footware, cosmetics, confectionary and beyond.

Three approaches seem to be in play. Ethical, environmental and health. Veganism celebrates food that is cruelty free, as harmless as possible to the environment, and beneficial to the health. There’s a wealth of information to back up claims at every step. In simple terms, it involves a 100% plant-based diet that cuts out meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. That sounds like a mountain to climb for someone partial to a pulled pork sandwich, but nobody tries to convince me that kale is the new bacon. In fact, the debate seems clearly to have moved on from justifying the vegan choice. It’s here, it’s increasingly popular, and the benefits speak for themselves.

A feast of facts
Currently about 6 percent of the UK population is vegan, with about half a million followers, but this has increased by three and a half times in just 10 years. As a country, we might not be threatening India, which is 40% vegan, but we’re getting there steadily, particularly among Millennials. A major contributory factor is that it’s no longer that hard to turn vegan, with even small supermarkets and restaurants showcasing meat-free, dairy-free and ethical produce.

But let’s be honest, no one who’s chowed down on a rack of ribs is going to spontaneously turn vegan, but given the right reasons, they might reconsider. The Vegan Fair makes the case pragmatically, without proselytising. At one extreme, there’s the opportunity to immerse yourself in the horrific surroundings of a factory pig farm, thanks to the iAnimal virtual reality experience at the Animal Equality stand. It would be patronising to assume that meat-eaters aren’t aware of the conditions animals are held in, but seeing the whole process from birth to slaughter adds the necessary perspective.

On a more passive level, there’s the chance to chow down on some objective fact. I come away with a backpack full of leaflets that make grim reading. Most broiler chickens are killed at 6 weeks, while male chicks are usually gassed after hatching. Dairy cows are usually slaughtered at 4-5 years old having been pushed to their physical limits, while pigs typically reach their slaughter weight in just 6 months. From raising livestock on farms, we’ve adopted an industrial model of warehousing them for the shortest possible time. It’s death without a life in between.

It's about Waste...
Then there’s the sheer waste, and this could be the clincher as things get worse. Half the world’s cereal harvest is for animal feed and 71.6% of UK land is used for agriculture. Globally, we’re running out of fresh water, but still we’re allocating an average of 180 litres per battery egg, 2,000 litres per litre of milk, and 11,000 litres just to produce a single quarter pounder. In fact, it takes around ten times as much water to yield a kilo of meat as it does wheat.

... and of course Taste
Ultimately, though, in these foodie times, it has to taste good. The trick is not to compare vegan food with meat any more than you would criticise an appetiser because it’s not dessert. There’s plenty to enjoy among the stalls filling out the BIC – vegan ‘sausage’ rolls from Oxford’s Bakery that are missing nothing; fresh exotic fruit; rich, earthy espresso from Orzo coffee; cakes and brownies from Liberty Cakes; even chocolates from Cocoafeliz – and this is just a fraction of what’s on offer.

Bournemouth Vegan Fair

On top of it all, I had the chance to speak to Lizzi Shaw, the event organiser, who kindly took a few minutes away from the mayhem to unwittingly convert an omnivore…   

How did we get here?
This is the third Bournemouth Vegan Fest. Every year I’ve double it in size and now we have 1,900 visitors today and 90 stallholders.  Stallholders this year have come from around the country as far as Derbyshire and Newcastle. You get the real producers who really care about it.

What is veganism?
Veganism is by no means just about a diet. We do tend to differentiate between people who live on a plant-based diet but don’t practise any other sides of veganism, to what you might call ethical vegans, which is more what all this is about, who literally instil the philosophy of doing as little harm as possible into every aspect of their daily lives.

Is it no longer about justifying yourself? Have we moved on?
I think a lot more people understand what a vegan is now. We are still a minority group but we’re particularly growing in the millennials group, partly because of social media and the access to information. What I want to do is to show people that it can be healthy and delicious and then let people make their minds up.

Is it possible to make the leap without committing fully?
I promote going vegan but there’s always a transition period. Being vegan should never feel like a chore. That way it becomes a way of life. It’s totally doable but the speed at which someone goes vegan is entirely up to you. The products are all there.

If you stop everything and start eating salad, you’ll get ill, feel rubbish and give up. You have to use the support that is out there. It’s an entirely healthy way to live, but that doesn’t mean it’s all just healthy food. There’s cake and cupcakes…

Every little change makes a big difference. And we need to make sure that people make informed decisions. We have to knock down those barriers. If you want to make those steps, we can help you do it.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Dorset's Mr. Tea - Ross Tapley

Like so many Dorset food businesses that found their niche, Dorset Herbals started out with samples prepared for friends and family, and has grown to a regular presence at farmer's markets around the county. Along the way, the depth of knowledge and passion concerning tea has never wavered. Founder Ross Tapley took the time to tell Dorset Gourmet about the journey so far.

How did Dorset Herbals come about?
It wasn't a life ambition. After my uni course was cancelled 1 week in (Commercial Horticulture), I ended up doing Ethnobotany & Plant Medicine. After working on commercial nurseries for a while, I ended up working as a chef in a Punjabi restaurant. While the course had taught me the science of the herbs & spices, the chef taught me the art behind it. Combining the two meant I could act as a sort of tea-based witch doctor for friends and family. After a few health problems, I was in a position where I needed to work to my own hours and I eventually plucked up the nerve to give it a go.

How difficult was it setting up?
It really wasn't as hard as I had thought it was going to be and the Prince’s Trust certainly helped get us going. Finding the balls to do it was by far the hardest part. Since we've been going, getting a premises has been the hardest part. Being 24 & my brother 23, landlords are a bit wary of taking the risk, so we're still operating from home and looking for the right premises.

Ross Tapley Dorset Herbals
Ross Tapley 

Where did you learn about tea? 
Uni sort of started it. Not tea specifically (My dissertation is on Olives & their UK production benefits & potential), but looking at how plants still support every form of life in some way or another. Tea happens to be such an easy way to both medicate & explore flavours. I read textbooks and journals somewhat obsessively, particularly new medical research into plants.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
There has been so much! I guess “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” It's so important to listen to everything people discuss with you, but the key is knowing what to do with it. Not all advice is good, but it's rarely all bad.

Dorset Herbals

Who inspires you?
It's not any one person. When you look at farmers markets & street food (particularly the night time food abroad. We're getting there, if only it was more of a scene in the UK) and see the miracles people work with such simple ingredients, you can't help but be inspired. 

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

And what would be your advice for someone setting out on the same journey?
Festivals are great, but if you get the chance to do regular markets, do it. You obviously build up networks with the other stallholders, but discussing your products with regulars and tourists builds your confidence and depth of knowledge of your product. The number of unexpected questions keeps you on your toes and the number of doors that open are invaluable.

Dorset Herbals

What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing?
I love chatting about the products at events, and working on the artwork is like therapy for me. But when you get to the office/factory (the garage), stick on an album rather than the same old radio stations & muck about with tea all day, what's not to love!?

Is this a full-time endeavour?
Yes, sometimes to full!

Where do you see this leading? What would represent success?
We'd love to have a shop(s?) and maybe a cafe down the line, but as long as we can survive doing what we love, it's a definite success

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Social media doesn't come naturally to us & fighting bigger companies (namely couriers) is always a case of being on a hiding to nothing, but plucking up the courage to do it was by far the hardest thing.


If you would like to share the story of how you got to where you are, contact me at or leave a message below...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Menu Dorset Issue 9 is out...

You'll be hard pushed to find a better-looking magazine in Dorset. Issue 9 is now out, but not always easy to find as they go quickly. You can read the whole magazine online here

Bournemouth's Edge restaurant has one of the best views in town, but in the end it's all about outstanding food. Delighted to have had the opportunity to write this review. 

Riverside restaurant in West Bay is a regional legend, as much a part of the local landscape as the famous cliffs. They simply know what they're doing here. Great food, very friendly.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Made in Dorset #4 - Cider

Given the perception of cider as the perfect tipple to enjoy out of a two-litre bottle on a park bench, it’s easy to forget that it forms part of a noble tradition. Ironically for a drink that is often the ‘usual’ for those taking their first faltering steps in underage drinking, it’s one of the oldest drinks in Britain, a legacy of the Normans, who had been producing it in France since the sixth century. Production subsequently flourished in the warmer climate and chalky soils of the West Country, Southwest, Wales, Kent and East Anglia, and was a standard feature of the agricultural calendar when every farm had an apple orchard.

Today, cider makes up 9 percent of the UK drinks market and we guzzle 1.5 billion pints of the sugary beverage a year. Except we don’t. The vast majority of what we’re drinking isn’t real cider, but an overly sugary, fizzy catastrophe filled out with artificial flavourings.

Keeping it real
To taste real cider, which is one of the highlights of the food festivals and farmer’s markets across the county, is an epiphany. There are about 480 real cider makers in the UK, and their product must be at least 90 percent fresh apple juice, usually using our dry and astringent English bittersweet apples. Commercial canned cider, by contrast, only needs to contain around 35 percent apple juice. Real cider can be as dry as wine, as flat as apple juice, and as robust as a porter. Of course it can pack a kick, but the fruit and autumn aromas should come through most of all. The idea that cider should be carbonated is a marketing flourish more than a tradition, too.

It’s also relatively simple to make. Press late-autumn apples, introduce yeast, and allow the liquid to ferment, followed by maturing in wooden casks. The pigs get the pressed apple mulch, and counties like Dorset get big plastic jugs of West Country nectar. Look out for the following home-grown ciders...

Oliver and Penny were looking for a barn in which to do metal sculpting, and found themselves in charge of a 3,000-tree apple orchard near Bridport. They now produce 10 ciders using 11 varieties of apple, including Brown’s, Dabinett and Tremletts Bitters and rely solely on natural wild yeasts. Read more here...


Based in West Milton, near Bridport, Nick and Dawn Poole started producing cider in 2000 as a way of clearing their orchard to make way for horses. They started off making dry, clean farmhouse ciders such as Lancombe Rising, and are best known for their Dorset label: Starlight, Twilight and Moonlight. By ‘keeving’ the cider to remove natural yeasts before fermentation, they produce ciders that are naturally sweet. Read more here...

Nigel Stewart is a regular feature at shows around the Southwest, serving cider from the cask wherever there’s a cider tent. His ciders blend around 11 varieties of Dorset and South Somerset apples, which are milled and pressed using a turn-of-the-century traditional press. The cider is squeezed between racks and cloths and left to ferment over the winter. The farm’s bottled sparkling cider is a Devon County Show winner. A wealth of information and clearly passionate about cider, Nigel is the person to talk to if you want to discover that everything you thought you knew about scrumpy was a cruel deception. Often touted as ‘real’ cider, it is – according to Nigel – a marketing sleight of hand designed to package lower quality apple hooch. Read more here...

Copse House Cider on table.jpg

Bob Chaplin received an award for a lifetime contribution to the cider industry, is secretary of the Southwest of England Cidermakers Association, and serves as a judge for regional competitions. Not surprisingly, his still and sparkling ciders from Kine Bush Farm in Sandley are among the best. The original Landshire Medium is a Taste of Dorset winner. The first press of the 11,000-tree orchard was just 1,000 litres in 2012, but production is growing significantly. Read more here...

Tim Beer Marshwood Vale Cider

Up until 2010, Marshwood Vale cider was made from hand-collected apples, pressed using a Victorian scatter mill and straw press, and fermented for six months in oak barrels. The process is a bit more hi-tech now, but the final product is still Real Cider with nearly all the sugar fermented to alcohol. As well as the well-regarded Tom Putt and Dorset Tit, the farm also produces mead, one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. Read more here...


Joe Hartle, son of Peter and Hazel who created Purbeck Ice Cream, began cider production in 2006 in the Purbecks. You might have seen Joe’s Dry Cider, Dorset Draft or even the Devil’s Leaf mixed with nettles, among others. The next step is crowdfunding for a 15-acre, 5,500-tree orchard to move things to the next level. The campaign starts on July 1. Read more here...

If you have a particular cider to recommend, or just want to leave a comment, all contributions are welcome in the section below. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Made in Dorset #3 - Beer

Beer drinking in Britain dates back to Roman times and has been a standard feature of daily life since the Middle Ages. Our old towns and cities are still defined by the maltings where barley was left to germinate, the kilns where the grain was roasted, and the breweries where hops were added to the wort before fermentation. Not to mention the inns, taverns and pubs where the stuff was drunk.

Along the way, though, we almost lost it. The breweries became luxury flats, the pubs closed or turned into big screen sports venues serving Jager Bombs, and the 10-pack of supermarket lager replaced the round of drinks in the local as austerity continued to bite.

Then something happened. Within the last 10 years, a beer revolution has seen micro-breweries spring up all over the country, to the point where there are now more than 1,200 breweries nationwide producing 6,000+ ales. Dorset is fully part of that renaissance. Look out for the following next time it’s your round…

Southbourne Ales Jennifer Tingay
Jennifer from Southbourne Ales
Formerly at Ringwood Brewery and Town Mill Brewery in Lyme Regis, Jennifer Tingay struck out on her own to launch Southbourne Ales in 2013. You’ll recognise the award-winning labels, but might soon become even more familiar with the range of eight ales, stouts and bitters. Sunbather Red Ale won first prize in the 2015 The Label of the Year awards and Stroller is an International Brewing Awards silver medallist. The next plan is to open Bournemouth’s only brewery on the site of the former Bumbles Nightclub on Poole Hill. Read more here

Another small brewery, launched in 2014, that understands the importance of building a distinctive brand. John Lavers quit the corporate world to launch Piddle Brewery with his business partner Ian Siddall in Piddlehinton near Dorchester. They overhauled the brewing process to produce consistent quality, and now brew four cask and four seasonal ales, as well as ciders. It’s a fun, irreverent brand with a distinctive Dorset character. Look out for partnerships and events with local chefs and restaurants. Read more here

Founded in 1996 by Giles Smeath, The Dorset Brewing Company launched a modern brewhouse in 2011 in Dorchester capable of pumping out 1.5 million pints a year. You’ll find the Jurassic Coast brands such as Yachtsman, Durdle Door and Chesil around Dorchester and Weymouth, as well as further afield. Six new limited edition ales are introduced in 2016. Read more here


Launched in 2012 in Winterborne Kingston, Sunny Republic claims to have the most advanced brewing equipment in Britain, but is based on the site of two restored Georgian grain barns. They produce nine ales including Beach Blonde pale ale and a stout porter. Read more here

Used to be called the Town Mills Brewery, before becoming Lyme Regis Brewery in 2010. Produces five regular and several seasonal ales, including the excellent Cobb Bitter. All have won Taste of the West awards. Read more here

OK, it’s actually in Poole, but has surged from a one-barrel brewplant in 2012 to producing more than 1,788 pints a week. A total of five beers, stouts and porters, including Bournemouth Best and Wessex Wobble. Read more here

A family-owned independent brewery in Wareham, using malts from Warminster Maltings, one of the few remaining floor maltings in the UK. Produces four cask ales. Read more here

One of the exceptions to the micro-brewery trend. Founded in 1777, Hall & Woodhouse has been run by seven generations of the Woodhouse family in Blandford St. Mary. Runs more than 200 pubs across the South West and produces the high-profile Badger label, including the excellent Tangle Foot. Read more here

Another Dorset institution, this time from the brewery in Bridport. Brewing since 1794, now producing five cask and bottled ales. Given their distribution capability, you’ll find their beers across the West Country. Read more here

Launched by Scott Wayland in 2007, Sixpenny moved to Sixpenny Handley in Dorset two years later with a 2.5-barrel plant. Produces four year-round ales using Maris Otter barley, including 6D Best and Sam Fm ale, as well as five seasonal beers. Named 2015 Taste of Dorset Best Brewer, but probably best known for the on-site Sixpenny Tap, one of the smallest pubs in the UK with room for just 17 patrons. Plans to move to Cranborne to upgrade to a 20-barrel plant. Read more here

Brewing in Cerne Abbas goes back to the 10th century, courtesy of the Cerne Abbey monks. In 2014, Vic Irvine and Jodie Moore, self-taught brewers, gave the industry a reboot. Under the tutelage of Rob Martin from Piddle, and with the help of the finest North Dorset water, Cerne Abbas produces nine cask and bottle ales. Already a Taste of Dorset brewery finalist, Cerne Abbas achieved plenty of coverage recently when their beer was served in the Houses of Parliament bar – with the modesty of the Cerne Abbas giant on the label protected with a fig leaf. Read more here

Another local brewery reviving a tradition, this time in Wimborne. The five-barrel brewery produces four ales and porters, and was a Gold winner in SIBA South West 2016. Started by Steve Farrell in 2015 and now brewing three times a fortnight. Read more here

As always, if you’d like to recommend a beer or just pipe up with a comment, please leave your message below…

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