Lately it seems that I have been all over the place meeting, talking to and tasting some truly beautiful produce all made in Hampshire. Pop up supper clubs with the fabulous and utterly delicious food of Savage Kitchen, tasting Hampshire made Twisted Nose gin from Winchester Distillery (local watercress and lavender feature heavily in this little number), standing in the loo queue with some serious international journos of luxury mags at the new Bombay Sapphire Distillery launch at Laverstoke Mill, incognito visits to farm shops as a judge for Hampshire Life Food and Drink awards…..honestly I’ve been starting to think I should be pinching myself a bit harder to check that I haven’t metamorphosed into Xanthe Clay. Perhaps not quite yet?! Her job is safe….for now.
Jumping in the Lanny with Jerry and the girls on a misty Saturday morning and trekking across country a bit to the Bourne Valley, I felt like I was one of the producer’s on Rick Stein’s Food Heroes programme. The food heroes in question: John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage Farm. Their tale is a delightfully heartwarming one – a story, familiar to many, of how family farms have had to turn their hands to new skills in order survive. Inheriting a farm that had been in the family since 1935 from John’s Aunt Grace, John and Sarah set about making the farm their new home. Walking out with John across the fields to meet the livestock, one can see that the farm and surrounding landscape has barely changed in looks from when it was farmed in the 30s and 40s. I can imagine old Massey Fergusons in the yard, Aunt Grace walking ahead of us up to the cows and pigs rushing to the sound of the feed bucket. To call it picturesque would just sound too twee. Parsonage Farm isn’t picturesque, it’s pure heaven. Raising their own breeding herd of grass fed Angus and Belted Galloway cattle, John and Sarah have three generations with grandmother, mother and daughter heifers. This is very much a family farm still with their children mucking in around the farm when they can and Beth, their daughter owning some of the herd too.
Not content with just beef on the farm, John and Sarah have lambs too and produce beef, lamb and pork for sale. However, there’s something rather particular about Parsonage Farm that prompted the dash in the car as soon as Sarah offered up an invitation for me to visit her. Her pigs.
The pigs at Parsonage Farm are something else. These Gloucester Old Spot cross Saddle Backs start life in a sheltered wood and then progress to the orchard for fattening. John and Sarah are convinced that the windfalls in the orchard help to keep the meat succulent. Always up for a challenge and with advice from friend and world renowned Boucher Charcutier Traiteur, Marc Frederic, John and Sarah decided to use their slowly reared livestock to create their very own charcuterie, using their pork and beef to produce small batches of cured and air dried meats. Sarah’s enthusiasm is a wonderful thing to behold – this is a woman who is passionate about taking the very best produce and making a delicious product that is truly local. So much so that her involvement in Hampshire Charcuterie, a two-year project led by the county food group, Hampshire Fare and funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, has seen her working alongside Hartnett, Holder & Co. from New Forest luxury boutique hotel and restaurant, Lime Wood to name just one of many charcuterie producers on-board.
Keen to keep the charcuterie as locally produced as possible, Sarah turned to other small scale Hampshire suppliers to collaborate with in her quest for the ultimate product – curing her ‘aged’ ham with local Twisted Nose gin, working with Upham Brewery and using their robust premium bitter, Stakes, in her salamis and making sure that every part of the process is done in a natural way from the outer skin on the salami right down to the recyclable packaging she uses. Handmade, every step of the curing and flavouring process is completed slowly and carefully. Even the bespoke salami cabinets were fashioned by John himself and their humidity is closely monitored and fans circulate the air sufficiently to give the meats the right environment as they mature.
Oh dear Reader, it’s so difficult not to be bitten by the charcuterie bug meeting John and Sarah and I spent at least an hour chatting away to Sarah about the curing process, her recipes and tasting her delicious merguez, chorizo, Parson ‘aged’ ham and dry cured beef. My mouth is salivating again just writing about it. Rick Stein missed a trick not visiting Parsonage Farm in his series – I couldn’t think of a couple more deserving of the title of food heroes.
Talking to Sarah about my dreams of rearing my own pigs – something I have been dying to do since we left the Big Smoke last year, I think she may have thought me a little mad. Perhaps almost as much as the best man at my brother in law’s wedding did recently when I waxed lyrical about learning how to produce my own charcuterie over supper and a few too many glasses of red…. With an invitation to join one of Sarah’s workshops in the spring, it looks like rearing pigs and curing our own meat might just be a little project for the new year, dear Reader. If Poppy and Primrose have anything to do with it, we’ll be housing pigs in the garden at this rate – they were utterly besotted with the pigs at Parsonage Farm too. However, there’s so MUCH to learn and sort out before we can even begin to go down that route here at Margot and Jerry HQ. No doubt I shall be calling on John and Sarah and their extensive knowledge but oooh I cannot wait to have a couple of my own little piggies!! Now, I just need to find a couple of acres of land to rent from an obliging landowner who is not anti-pig like the rest of the villagers….. Any chance someone might be willing to put in a good word for me with Jerry too, dear Reader?!