The Unbeatable Barley of Holkham

Barley is indispensable to brewing and for the best brews only the best barley will do. Nick visits the Earl of Leicester’s Holkham Estate to see how they grow the finest barley for the varied beers of Marston’s Brewery.

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall. Palladian Perfection

‘We listen out for geese at night, you wake up sweating’. Holkham Farm Manager James Beamish is telling me in his wonderful Norfolk accent how natural predators such as geese can undo months of work. The flying pests can eat a lot of barley and in a very short time.

It’s a natural hazard they have to deal with at Holkham, the massive estate of the Earl of Leicester made up of 10,000 hectares of farmed land of which 1000 acres are are give over to game, pasture and conservation.

Rotating, not standing still

At Holkham they use the crop rotation system created back in the late 18th Century by the Earl’s ancestor Coke of Norfolk, which is basically swapping crop after crop through the year to make best use of the land and naturally increase productivity.

Barley grains

Barely a tiny percent of all the Barley

Back then it was four crops, now it’s six including potatoes, sugar beet and of course barley. Coke’s name by the way is pronounced Cook, ‘so it is!’ says James, who ends most of his statements with this rather charming second-affirmative, presumably a local dialect.

Holkham Farm Manager James Beamish

Holkham Farm Manager James Beamish, so it is

Crop rotation, when done properly alongside other organic techniques, reduces the need for artificial fertiliser and pesticides. It feeds the soil and puts it in balance so as to cut disease, build nutrients, and grow yields all in a natural un-forced manner.

As we drink warming mugs of home-made ‘Horlicks’ (made from farm barley) Director of Farming Poul Hoveson explains that when he first arrived on the estate the roads and lanes were swimming in the run off of artificially-applied nitrates, while the soil itself looked barren and sad. Not anymore. Careful, sensitive stewardship of the land has made it very productive and one of their special crops is the Flagon variety of barley.

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Bringing in the barley

Field to Fork

You never tyre of a good pun

It’s special because here in Norfolk, where frosts are virtually unheard of, they can grow this winter barley ensuring supply to their biggest customer Marston’s Brewery who have been at the brewing game since 1834 and work closely with the barley growers. Malt which comes from barley is indispensable to brewing, the barley is dampened until it begins to produce tiny sprouts then gently kilned for an alluring ‘Horlicks-like flavou.

The sugars of the barley feed the yeast that creates the alcohol in the beer, as well as delivering the flavours. It’s a massive operation with the barley stored in huge hangars after harvest. The unwanted parts of the plant are fed into two giant anaerobic digesters, ‘basically enormous cows’ stomachs,’ says Paul, that convert it all into methane gas which is sold to the national grid. All very green.

The estate he’s in

Estate Sign

Green Is Good

Management of the estate in an ecologically sound way is important to the 4th Earl who pops up, rather like Ralph from the Fast Show, in videos playing in the fascinating Farm to Fork exhibition at his ancestral home Holkham Hall, a beautiful mansion at Wells Next The Sea.

Much of the land on the estate is set aside for wild growth to encourage birds, insects and small creatures who all help defend against pests. Larger animals such as cows are chosen by breed to graze on suitable land for their needs and the sheep are also the ‘Golden Hoof’ of ancient times; their movement, and their bowel movements, all helping to naturally till the earth and fertilise it. And when the mechanical plough is needed, it digs very shallowly to preserve the soil structure.

Shooting off to lunch

It’s all rather fascinating but what about some beer? We head off to an old shooting lodge called The Temple in the Holkham woods near to the Hall to have a spot of lunch and some liquid refreshment as Marston’s brewer Callum Turner has turned up with a lot of samples.

Pigeon Pie

Pie eyed, not legless

Two small batch beers from the Marston’s DE14 nano brew kit are served up with Chef Michael Chamberlain from The Victoria Inn’s venison sausage and pigeon pie in front of a toasty-warm wood burner.  Freekeh and pomegranate molasses beer is an interesting one, freekeh being an ancient form of grain picked while still green. The molasses adds a sweetness that works with the game meat.

Molasses Beer

Not your everyday beer

Similarly effective is a second beer made from smoked wheat and honey, which tastes rather like mead. Neither perhaps will ever get to mass-market, but are examples of Marston’s constant desire to experiment and innovate in order to excite the nation’s beer enthusiasts.

Sand and sea

We decamp to beautiful Holkham Beach, where Gwyneth Paltrow once ambled in the film Shakespeare In Love and where locals hint that you can occasionally see Her Other Majesty, Elizabeth II, walking the dogs. It’s stunning and kept that way by the Holkham Estate’s careful management so that it’s a paradise for dog walkers, birds and for bird watchers or twitchers as they’re known.

Holkham Beach

Wide skied and not legless

I’m a bit twitchy myself, thirsting for some more Marston’s, so we crack some bottles of Marston’s EPA (English Pale Ale) a light, citrusy, beer that’s very refreshing, although perhaps not best drunk in the freezing dusk wind that’s now storming inland. We head back to the nearby Victoria Inn for some cold beer in a warm bar with a beer-matched dinner to follow.

Marstons EPA

Naturally Chilled

The Victoria Inn sits just at the gates of Holkham Nature Reserve and the beach, a perfect place to stay any time of year. Inside it’s all roaring fires and classic country hotel charm largely unchanged in feel since it was built in 1837. The window in my room looked like it was still the Victorian original.

In the kitchen Chef Michael uses fish and shellfish from the north Norfolk coast, beef from Holkham farms, lamb and pork from farm tenants, wild game from the family shoot, and today venison from the estate’s herd of Fallow Deer.

We start with a pike terrine with fennel, warm potato salad with winter barley-malt bread and chef’s Honey beer bread, all with that other Norfolk famous product, mustard.

 

Pike Terrine

Don’t tell ’em Pike!

I’ve always found pike to be a terribly bony fish, as well as a rather terrifying one, but this dish shows its solid, meaty, side. It’s paired with more of that hoppy Marston’s EPA,  English hops, by the way, so that’s good for a post Brexit pint, and Marston’s 61 Deep which uses American and Australian hops.

The 61 Deep gets its name from the depth of the well at the Marston Brewery; it’s fruity and floral and works best when drunk after a forkful of food laden with that fiery mustard dressing. A beer to drink with anything spicy – Mexican Indian, Thai, you know the drill.

Second up are Marston’s Pedigree and Marston’s Old Empire IPA . Most beer drinkers know Pedigree, it’s sold on draft all over the place, but the Old Empire may be new. It is actually very old recipe, the beer that fuelled the Empire now faithfully recreated for the modern world where Britannia no longer rules the waves.

Venison Dish

Deer but not Dear

Both beers went well with roasted loin and braised haunch of venison, turnip dauphinoise, kale and redcurrant jus, the loin well cooked, i.e. pretty rare. I preferred the IPA for its complexity, Pedigree is fine by the pint but for me it’s not a dining beer.

And so to dessert with the barley appearing in a barley pudding with along with a ginger malt crunch biscuit, doughnut muffin and a malt milkshake. This was washed down with Marston’s Pearl Jet Stout, and Marston’s Cherry Head.

Dessert at The Victoria Inn

Just Desserts

The latter’s label promises a cherry stout with hints of chocolate malt and Black Forest gateau and there was definitely cherry there, but it wasn’t to my taste. The pearl jet stout was more my thing, a bitter-sweet experience that helped the sugars go down a treat.

And what a treat it was to sample Marston’s Beers at the place their barley comes from and see how modern farming needn’t be destructive or unsustainable, just as long as you listen out for the honking of geese.

Thanks to:
The Holkham Estate www.holkham.co.uk

Marston’s Brewery www.marstons.co.uk

The Victoria Inn, Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Get ready for the Guernsey Food Festival

Proud and passionate, the Guernsey people have more than a beautiful island to showcase. The ten-day festival in September is one any keen foodie should be heading out to. Nick gets a preview.

Rock Samphire. Free food

Rock Samphire. Free food

It’s salty and citrusy, juicy and crunchy, it’s plentiful and it’s free. I’m eating a handful of rock samphire that I’ve plucked from the ground not twenty feet from the road and it’s delicious.

The sea is the larder

The sea is the larder

Unlike the samphire you find in the fishmongers, this Guernsey rock samphire is much fresher and almost needs no cooking at all.

I stick some in my pocket to nibble on as I watch the local kestrels hovering effortlessly on the wind, keenly scanning the ground for their own free food to appear.

As the car weaves inland through the narrow lanes on this small island, toward a goat farm I’m off to visit, another form of foraged food reveals itself, the Hedge Veg. Continue reading

Digging Badger Beer At The Brewery

What’s black and white and drunk all over? Badger Beer. Nick digs deep at the Dorset Brewery to unearth some of their award-winning secrets.

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Short sighted people are catered for

“The naturally occurring water we pump up for the beer could be easily sold as quality bottled water, but that would be such a terrible waste!”

Mark Woodhouse, current representative of the family that has run Hall & Woodhouse for seven generations, chuckles amiably. Next to him his Head Brewer Toby Heasman smiles too, he’s probably heard that one before. Continue reading

Oiling the kitchen wheels with Borderfields rapeseed oils

Forget olive oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and any other old oils because rapeseed oil is the new frying choice and what’s more it’s 100% UK sourced and bottled. Nick Harman goes to see how the seeds become liquid gold..

Bottled with love

Rapeseed oil, known as Canola oil in America perhaps for obvious reasons, has had a relatively short history in the UK but has been going  from strength to strength with supply sometimes being outstripped by demand. Especially when endorsed on the TV.

‘Well, Greg Wallace mentioned how good it was on Masterchef a few years back and the next day sales went through the roof,’ says Jon Hammond, Executive Director of Hammond Food Oils as we duck through plastic curtains into another section of the rapeseed pressing and bottling plant near Nottingham. ‘It was like the old Delia effect, do you remember when she recommended that saucepan?’ Who could forget?

Rapeseed genuinely is a seed, a tiny black round seed that s identical in look to the mustard seed used in Indian cooking, or the cabbage seed we plant in vegetable plots. This is because it’s a part of the same brassica family and even smells rather the same. Today its unmistakable bright yellow flowers are a familiar part of the UK’s colour palette all summer long.

It’s harvest time comes in August and the seeds are arriving at the factory in their millions where they are quickly sieved and sorted to remove unwanted flower and stalk debris before heading to the cold presser. The woody debris goes to be used as biofuel for heating, nothing is wasted not even it seems the waste

Chicken feed, no waste

Chicken feed, no waste

‘Chicken feed!’ says Jon showing me a sample of squidgy green material left after the pressing, it’s perfect for chickens, full of nutrients and gooey with the last traces of the oil that couldn’t be extracted by the relatively (compared to hot pressing) less efficient cold press method. ‘Cold pressing though preserves more of the goodness,’ explains Jon ‘and we press and filter the seed five times, that’s more than any other brand on the market, for the purest product

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Gold standard

The oil pours sinuously down pipes to be refined ready for bottling, gradually going from green to gold in the process.

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The machine marches on

This is a small factory with a small workforce where the bottling machine chugs away cheerfully, occasionally stopping and being tended by its minders, before lurching back into clinking life again. The bottles are wrapped with their date marked labels and pass out through a catflap affair to be hustled into boxes by hand ready for dispatch.

Not just plain rapeseed oil either, much of the produce is flavoured with things such as lemon, basil, chili and garlic to meet increasing demand.

The natural oil is relatively neutral in flavour,  it has a slight nuttiness that’s warm and embracing and not the assertive pepperiness of so much olive oil as well as half the saturated fat and and a near perfect blend of omegas 3, 6 and 9.

The neutral flavour makes it ideal for frying, as does its high smoke point that means that unlike olive oil it can be made to go very hot indeed without choking you out of the kitchen.

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Cooks’ choice

A big fan is Michelin starred chef, Kenny Atkinson who first won a Michelin star at St Martin’s on the Isle Hotel  and then at his own restaurant, House of Tides in Newcastle. He’s been a big fan he says since he was obliged to find a substitute for olive oil when cooking for the Great British Menu. ‘Everything had to be sourced from the UK obviously, so that meant no olive oil. But I fell in love with rapeseed oil and now that’s all I use in my restaurant kitchen.’

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Grate for any dish

To prove how good it is he gets busy and cooks Grilled Mackerel with salad of fennel and an orange, brown shrimp and ginger vinaigrette, whips up a vibrant Watercress Pesto Sauce and then Lemon and Thyme Cake Bars. Follow the links for the recipes.

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Mayonnaise made easy

All delicious I find,  as I eat the dishes under a clear blue sky out in the Nottinghamshire countryside just a mile or two away from where the oil was produced.

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Ready to fry

Rapeseed oil is one of our island’s most perfect products it seems and is slipping ever deeper into the clued-up chef’s toolbox.Try some yourself and get the golden touch.

The full Borderfields range includes:

Borderfields British Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Scottish Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil (500ml and 250ml)

Borderfields Chilli Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Basil Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Lemon Infused Rapeseed Oil (250ml)

Borderfields Garlic & Ginger Stir Fry Oil (250ml)

Available at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda stores nationwide, as well as selected Tesco stores and www.amazon.co.uk – with RRPs ranging from £1.99 – £4.50.

Worth its salt

Nick goes to Anglesey to earn his salary (sic) by seeing Halon Môn salt created and how Green & Black’s chocolate is making new use of it.

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David Lea-Wilson, co-founder

‘Every day whatever the weather I come down to the water’s edge and use this device,’ says David Lea-Wilson co-founder of the Anglesey Salt Company waving a curious kind of measuring instrument that looks rather like the thing doctors poke in people’s ears.

It is in fact a  refractometer and accurately measures how much light bends, or refracts, when it enters water. The more salt dissolved in the water, the more resistance the light will meet and the more it will bend.

This device is crucially important because the seawater here is what goes to make Halen Môn salt, widely regarded as one of the best sea salts in the UK if not the world. And it’s the salt Green & Black’s have chosen to go into their new Dark Sea Salt THIN bar.

Continue reading

Go Dutch for great food at sea.

Today’s cruisers attach massive importance to the quality and variety of food on board. Nick Harman sees what Holland America’s newest ship has on the menu.

home-bgHolland America is one of the most venerable of cruise lines, but perhaps not the best known in the UK. Founded in 1873 for many years it ran regular passenger sailings from Holland to New York.

In fact when Rotterdam was the gateway to a new and better life for European emigrants in the early part of the last century, it was mostly on Holland America ships that they sailed.

I was invited to Rotterdam to sail and eat on the ms Koningsdam, the newest addition to the Holland America Pinnacle-class cruising fleet, and the largest as well. It was about to be dedicated by Queen Maxima of the Netherlands before we sailed to Amsterdam overnight.

All aboard for ‘free’ food Continue reading

The Wilderness Festival is my kind of festival

blanc2The love the mob feels for Raymond Blanc is remarkable. He emerges from the back of the Banqueting Tent at the Wilderness Festival looking, as usual, eerily like Dudley Moore but in chef whites and the crowd immediately goes bananas.

He becomes the epicentre of a horde, dare we say a swarm, of phone-toting fans keen to get selfies with the grinning Raymond. As many of horde are young girls and women scantily dressed to allow for the day’s heat, his grin becomes even wider. My wife grabs her phone and disappears into the crush as fast as anyone else and eventually emerges triumphant with her own personal memento of what has been a very memorable occasion. Continue reading