Tag: food and travel

How to get a taste for autumn on a cider-tasting trip to Herefordshire

James Marsden is keen to introduce me to Big Mama.

She stands tall in the middle of a restored orchard, looking good for her 300 years, with her mother-tree branches heaving under the bounty of late-harvest perry pears.

I’ve joined James to gather the harvest by hand in Gregg’s Pit orchard, located near Ledbury.

The harvest [pictured above] starts in late September and, depending on the weather, lasts four to six weeks.

Herefordshire is the historical centre of Britain’s cider-making industry — and is in rude health given the renaissance of cider as a premium, organic product.

UK cider represents 45 per cent of the global cider market with orchards generating over £33m annually, according to The National Association of Cider Makers (NACM).

‘It’s labour-intensive work,’ says James, ‘but I work with nature, using the sun to influence the sugars.’

Historic connections 

Cider has been produced in Herefordshire since the medieval period with references to ‘sidir’, meaning ‘a strong drink’ found in the 1420 Wycliff Bible at Hereford Cathedral.

As cider challenged wine in fashionable circles during the 17th century, most Herefordshire farmhouses installed grindstones to press the Herefordshire Redstreak apples popularised by the area’s cider pioneer, Lord Scudamore.

Today the region remains the largest cider-producing county in the UK with around 20,000 acres under orchard, growing high-quality cider apples and perry pears.

I set out on an autumnal morning, the countryside dappled with spotlight sunbeams and bursting with ripe fruit, to explore the southern Redstreak Cider Circuit, a self-guided tour of the region’s apple-harvest heritage between Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye.

There’s also a Newton Wonder trail, a northern loop around Hereford, with both 45-mile circuits making for a gentle weekend exploring by bike or car.

The southern circuit pivots around the village of Much Marcle, with its 14th-century church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew.

It’s also home to both Gregg’s Pit and Westons Cider, the latter selling brands like Stowford Press and exporting to 40 countries.

Westons is the new face of the cider business: modern, large-scale and based around a visitor centre with a family restaurant.

I join the tour, poking my head into the distillery where huge wooden vats groan under the weight of fermenting fruit, and the visitors’ centre, which explains the history of British cider through historic cider bottles and labels.

Country roads

I later drive on along the country B-roads, the circuit leading me through villages made up of black-and-white buildings.

Many of the cider and perry producers on the circuit welcome visitors for orchard tours followed by an al-fresco or farm-barn tasting. Local cafes, restaurants and hotels, meanwhile, offer apple-themed menus throughout the harvest season.

Orchards have been part of Herefordshire’s landscape throughout history but while some producers have scaled up for the mass market, there are plenty of small-scale operators rediscovering the region’s organic cider-making origins.

Back at nearby Gregg’s Pit, I find James on his hands and knees, collecting pears with a headtorch as the light fades.

He makes a small volume of single-variety and blended ciders and perry drinks each year, using pure fruit juice and traditional methods, including a stone press in his garden.

When I pop my head around the door of the Vat House, the heady waft means the fermentation process is in full swing.

James, who is fond of cooking up an autumnal bean stew using Toulouse sausages and cider:

‘I’m trying to create a complex, distinctive drink and see it primarily as a food-pairing product.’

‘Herefordshire feels deep rural and that’s why I’ve made it my home,’ he adds as we sit in the back garden, the sun setting over the fields overlooking May Hill and the Cotswolds, with a glass of méthode champenoise bottle-fermented perry.

Cheers.

* This story first appeared in the Daily Mail.

Get stuffed! A tastebud-tickling tour of nourishing North Wales

Local produce is a major draw for visitors to Wales.

Indeed, there’s a host of local suppliers and independent producers celebrated each year by the Great Taste Awards Wales.

In particular, the artisan food and drink sector has grown in recent years with a turnover of £4.8bn in 2018-19 and 78,000 people employed in the food and farming sector, according to figures from Food & Drink Wales.

This themed tour would be ideal for an autumn departure around the time of the annual British Food and Drink Fortnight, The Conwy Honey Fair or one of the smaller harvest festivals staged across North Wales.

This route is designed to form an overarching narrative on the theme of food and drink.

It describes the rise of independent businesses, highlighting the range and quality of local flavours, and the human story of our local food heroes.

It builds in rhythm from site visit in Llandudno, via a coach-based scenic tour in the Valley and lunch stop, to a town-centre walking tour of Cowny with time for souvenir shopping before departure.

Along the way we will enjoy product tastings, guest talks from local chefs and an opportunity to meet and sample the goods of local independent food producers in North Wales.

If your group would like to join this independent tour, then please do get in touch.

Why you should visit Lyon’s new foodie hub

My final travel assignment of the year was a return trip to Lyon.

France’s foodie hub is one of my favourite French cities for food and culture.

While my main commission was based around the Lyon Light Festival, I also had a look behind the scenes at the newly opened Cité de la Gastronomie.

The site is located next to the InterContinental hotel in the redeveloped Grand Hôtel-Dieu [pictured above].

The historic city-centre building served as its former hospital from the 15th century onwards.

The Lyon opening is the first of four similar projects — coming soon to Dijon, Tours and later Paris-Rungis in time for the 2024 Olympic Games.

The network celebrates the 2010 designation by Unesco of the French gastronomic meal to its Intangible Heritage list.

Each site will examine a different aspect of French gastronomy with Lyon’s foodie hub focused on the relationship between food and health.

The exhibition explores the history of gastronomy with a section devoted to Lyon’s most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, who died in 2018.

The upstairs kitchen, meanwhile, hosts guest chefs from across the world to create new tasting menus.

“The French gastronomic meal was given Unesco status because of the way it brings people together,” says Director Florent Bonnetin.

“It’s the community aspect of eating together that is the single most defining aspect of French life.”

Read more about my Lyon trip, both the Light Festival and the Cite de la Gastronomie, in articles to be published in the new year.

More from Only Lyon Tourism

How to visit the most historic harvest festival in North Wales

North Wales today hosts the annual Conwy Honey Fair, a historic harvest festival dating back to the reign of King Edward I.

I was in Conwy last week to preview the event and find out more about the walled city with its Unesco-listed castle.

I also visited the National Beekeeping Centre of Wales [pictured above].

Here’s a sample of my story:

The Fair dates back more than 700 years to the reign of Edward I when local beekeepers were given the right to sell honey, without charge, within the walls of the town for one day only.

Harvest festivals were always part of the church calendar but the right to hold the Honey Fair was formally decreed by the King in the town’s 13th-century Royal Charter.

“It’s an event frozen in time,” says event organiser Peter McFadden, “and still generates a huge sense of community.”

The town also hosts the Gwledd Conwy Feast, a weekend food festival with street food, show-cooking displays and live music from October 25-27.

Read the full article in Telegraph Travel, Is this Britain’s sweetest town?