Are you a foodie? Or perhaps, you are someone who enjoys a drink or two? Well, Devon has much to offer to tantalise any tastebuds, from cheese to wine via coffee and gin. We decided to take a leisurely drive around some of the top hotspots in the county and dive into this food and drink haven.
We’ve read several reports pointing to people looking to make more conscious decisions around the foods they buy and eat. And lockdown has contributed to this trend whereby more people are arming themselves with local food knowledge, including its background story.
The trend is shaking up the food industry, and we spoke to several business owners in Devon about the food and drinks they produce and how local food trends have affected their business.
Salcombe Brewery Co.
I drove down to Devon the evening before my busy three-day food tour schedule so I could feel fresh and ready for the morning staying in the multi-award winning Bayards Cove Inn in Dartmouth.
This wonderful boutique hotel dates back to the 1380s and is just a stone’s through from the historic Bayards Cove at the mouth of the River Dart. With its beautifully decorated, luxurious rooms, delicious food and an incredible feeling of welcome, I felt fully rested ahead of my first stop the next day at the award-winning SALSA accredited Salcombe Brewery Co.
I met co-founder John Tiner who talked me through their journey into brewing beer in 2016. Both he and business partner Gerry had fallen in love with the area after 35 years of holidaying in the nearby popular seaside destination of Salcombe.
Based in Ledstone, Kingsbridge, the Estuary View brewery nestles in the Devon countryside above the Salcombe Estuary. It is one of the few places in the UK where you can find the rarer of the two species of seahorse, which is seen in their branding.
The brewhouse sits on the site of a decommissioned water reservoir that utilises the natural ambient temperature of the underground facility, making it ideal for storing beers at perfect conditioning temperature. You can see this as part of the tour experience where you can learn about ales, see how they are created and, of course, taste them.
Their Heritage range represents traditional British cask and bottled ales which were the first beers they produced. This range, which includes Devon Amber, Salcombe Gold, Seahorse and Shingle Bay, has developed over time with tradition, at the heart of every pint.
Their rapidly expanding Discovery collection of keg products includes recently launched Breeze and Salcombe Pilsner, as well as Salcombe Pale Ale, Sun Drop, Island St Porter and Ocean Cider. Lockdown saw the rise of online orders, and the popularity of their beers increased both locally and further afield. In addition, they’ve recently started to sell their drinks to around 40 Morrisons stores.
Sharpham Cheese in Totnes is heaven in Devon if you like cheese. But the journey of bringing this place into existence was not straightforward. According to the locals, a gentleman by the name of Maurice Ash purchased the estate in the 1960s with a vision to make French-style brie on the land. He was so determined he is rumoured to have transported a herd of cows from Essex on the train.
Production of velvet-soft and semi-hard cheese began, followed by the planting of a vineyard on the banks of the River Dart. Today in the hands of owners Greg and Nicky Parsons (above) since 2019, Sharpham Cheese is now operated as a separate business from the winery, which has moved location after 40 years.
I was only able to see the cheese-making process through viewing windows. Still, it was a fascinating insight into how the cheese is churned here as cheesemaker Pete explained the process of it being turned into creamy truckles, placed in colanders to be turned, drained and ripened.
Using rich milk from their Jersey cattle and vegetarian rennet, the unpasteurised cheeses are stocked in every good deli in Devon. During the height of lockdown in 2020, Greg and Nicky launched interactive Zoom experiences partnering with nearby cheesemakers to send out a cheeseboard for fans to try at home. The feedback from the customers was that they wanted to spend more money on good quality cheeses.
Sandridge Barton, the home of Sharpham Wines
With the winery having moved across the water in 2021 to its new location, it was time for me to check it out and have a chat with Sandridge Barton’s CEO and head wine-maker . The newly-renovated premises is located next to 25 acres at Sandridge Barton, which, in recent years, has been supplying the majority of Sharpham Wine’s premium wine-making grapes.
Duncan talked me through the company’s 25-year history and the horticultural challenges, such as badgers who love grapes.
Their traditional and new world techniques to produce good quality balanced wines have earned them numerous awards at regional, national and international levels. As we walked through the winery, he talked about the various wines produced here and pairing suggestions. That’s always good to know when you’re hosting a dinner party. The new visitor centre, complete with a shop, café and tours, will be launched in June 2022.
After taking overnight respite at The White Hart Hotel in Moretonhampstead, I was ready for day two of food and drink discovery starting off with some meat. We live in a time when there’s a mass drive toward getting people to eat plant-based food, so I was intrigued. I joined Luke Dale-Harris, co-founder of Farm Wilder, for breakfast to hear more.
Tired of working on stories about how wildlife was disappearing from farms everywhere, Luke, a former journalist, met wildlife film-maker Tim Martin (above) in 2017, and they decided to take matters into their own hands.
The pair hatched a plan to bring wildlife-friendly food to the table raised by farmers who have adopted regenerative farming practices. The farmers are bringing more wildlife back to farms, improving the health of soils, thus adding more carbon and enabling the soil to hold more water. The meat is 100% grass-fed, genuinely free-range and from well-cared-for animals.
Farm Wilder supplies this meat in boxes direct to doors via its e-commerce site from farms on Dartmoor, south Devon and east Cornwall. Luke and I drove around the moorland of Dartmoor, and he explained the problem with intensive livestock farming, including the loss of carbon from degraded soils and methane emissions from the animals themselves.
But farming using regenerative means is the best way to bring wildlife back and increase the numbers of near-extinct common species like hedgehogs, sparrows, butterflies and bees. Furthermore, planting trees and hedges captures even more carbon, creates better habitat for wildlife, and improves the welfare and diet of farm animals.
Buying from Farm Wilder means consumers can directly support farmers in the Westcountry who are working to deliver critical environmental changes the world needs.
While tea is still the most popular choice as a hot beverage in the UK, coffee consumption is on the rise. And to reflect that, many independent coffee roasters have cropped up.
One of them is Owens Coffee, which sources the finest organic and Fairtrade beans from ethical estates at their custom-built roastery in Ivybridge. I caught up with owner and managing director Lorraine Bridden.
Lorraine comes from a science background, having spent years working in the biotech industry. There is a lot of science behind great-tasting coffee, so when Owens Coffee (then just a fledgling start-up business) came up for sale, Lorraine felt this was her calling and immediately snapped up the opportunity to run.
Embarking on a fairly steep learning curve, learning about the coffee roasting business, heading out to markets, and adjusting, cupping and fine-tuning coffee along the way. Lorraine and her small team have managed to produce excellent coffee that is 100 per cent Fairtrade and certified organic by the Soil Association. The company regularly wins awards locally, nationally and internationally for their range which includes house blends, single-origin and single estate coffee.
Before lockdown, 80 per cent of their business came from the retail market, but this figure dropped drastically, so they chose to tread their toes into online trading. The demand was there, and they offered numerous online barista courses.
With restrictions eased, people can again visit the roastery to enrol on an in-person barista masterclass or coffee tasting and brewing experience. If you love coffee, the smell that permeates the whole area here is divine.
Even my room at The Ness Inn, Shaldon, Teignmouth, started to waft having walked out of Owens with some coffee to indulge in once home.
Luscombe Drinks produced great tasting adult soft drinks long before they became fashionable. In 1997, founder Gabriel David (below) returned from a spell in Sicily to join his father in the family business on the Luscombe Estate. Inspired to bring home the evocative flavours of his travels, he began crafting classic English soft drinks and juices from organic ingredients.
Every drink was – and still is today – entirely free from concentrates, additives, preservatives, colourings, artificial flavourings or enhancers. Luscombe Drinks is still a family business and continues to amass a collection of awards and accolades, undoubtedly helped by the recent alcohol-free movement. It’s even sipped by the royal family to whom they’ve been supplying for many years.
People here seem to care about food and drink on a different level, and it’s no wonder many have chosen to move here and make it their home. Just before heading back to mine, I stopped to fill up for lunch at The Bucket & Spade Café (below), which is based at Coast View Holiday Park in Shaldon, Devon.
Their spacious sea view terrace really does give you the ‘holiday’ feeling and the perfect spot to soak up the coastal views no matter what the weather. The café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner to both the public and residents alike. Expect to find locally sourced food cooked in an open kitchen. A gym and an indoor swimming pool below it will help burn off any unwanted calories.
There are currently 172 Scandi-style lodges of varying sizes, with more scheduled due to demand. During my three-day visit to Devon, I only scratched the surface when it comes to the food and drinks industry. But from what I learned during my visit, I was surprised to see how passionate and knowledgeable the folk of Devon are when it comes to the food and drink scene.
I’m not surprised so many people choose Devon as their go-to destination year on year, and others make it their permanent choice of residence.
Devon Food and Drink – Where and How?
Food Drink Devon is a not-for-profit membership organisation of food and drink producers, retailers, hospitality venues, and related businesses dedicated to serving the county’s best produce. With a focus on quality, sustainability and provenance, Food Drink Devon’s aim is to support and promote its members and raise Devon’s culinary profile. To discover the best of Delicious Devon, visit www.fooddrinkdevon.co.uk.
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