For your edification today, we’re going on a short tour of some of the food towns of Britain. These are towns that are synonymous with a particular food stuff that we Brits know and love. Some of them enjoy a worldwide presence and reputation, others may not be so familiar to you. We’ll be taking bites of cheeses, desserts, savory pies, seafood and veggies as we visit the food towns of Britain.
Probably the most famous of all the food towns of Britain, Cheddar gives its name to a cheese that is known all over the world. Unusually for many food stuffs originating from a specific are, cheddar does not enjoy protected name status and it can be produced anywhere in the world. The exception however, is that cheddar produced specifically in the four counties of South West England can enjoy the title of West Country Farmhouse Cheddar. Cheddar itself is actually a small village but it sits in the spectacular location of Cheddar Gorge. Tourists flock here more for the gorge and its spectacular cave system than the cheese.
The speciality of the town of Arbroath is the Arbroath Smokie, not to be confused with the Scottish smoked kipper. A smoked kipper is a herring, whereas the Arbroath Smokie is haddock. The Smokie is made by a traditional method that dates back to the 1800s and although there’s a romantic tale of its origin, which tells of a storage shed full of barrels of salted haddock having caught fire, it is more accepted that its heritage is Scandinavian settlers who came to Scotland. Arbroath itself is a darling place on Scotland’s North Sea Coast. If you like smoked fish – trust me – there’s nothing like a brisk walk along the coast, followed by a hot smokie and some brown bread and butter.
One of the British food towns that causes confusion is Bakewell. In Britain, one of the most well known desserts is the Bakewell Tart which is a pastry case, with a layer of raspberry jam and a frangipane filling, often topped with almonds and sometimes a pastry lattice. (Or you get a mass produced monstrosity which also has fondant icing and a glace cherry on top – yes, I’m looking at you Mr. Kipling!). Whatever, a Bakewell Tart has nothing to do with the town of Bakewell - that honor goes to the Bakewell Pudding. The Bakewell Pudding is a dessert made using flaky pastry, with a layer of jam covered by an egg and almond filling – so you can see the similarity, but also the difference. If you want to visit Bakewell you can experience a traditional farming town in the pretty region of the Derbyshire Dales. While you’re there, visit all four shops in the town that claim to own the original recipe for Bakewell Pudding and see who you think has the prize.
It’s no surprise that the food towns of Britain that lie on the coast are associated with seafood. Oysters are ubiquitous, but when it comes to British oysters, connoisseurs opt for the Whitstable oyster. The shellfish has been farmed in the area since Ancient Roman times and freshly caught oysters are available all year. You should note however, there are two types – the native (flat) oyster is only farmed in winter and it is the rock oyster that has no seasons. The Kent coast town celebrates its love of this food that divides many opinions with the annual Oyster Festival which in 2014 takes place between July 26th and August 1st. With a long maritime tradition, a castle, the harbour and the Alley Ways (with their smuggling associations) to explore, there’s plenty to see and do in Whitstable when you’re not scoffing oysters.
5. Melton Mowbray
This little town in Leicestershire is known as the “Rural Food Capital of Britain”. It doesn’t just have one claim to fame but two. One is famous globally – Stilton Cheese. Stilton is a protected product – only Stilton Cheese produced in three counties have the right to the name. It is believed to have been discovered by an inn owner on a small farm in 1730. The other food item is the pork pie. There are thousands of variations of the pork pie, but only pies in Melton Mowbray have the right to the name Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. And while many people might think a pork pie is a pork pie is a pork pie, a Melton Mowbray Pork Pie has several distinguishing features including the shape, the pork used and the way the filling is prepared. As a town, Melton Mowbray is nothing extra special – it’s just a typical rural midlands town with plenty of history, but as a foodie destination it’s a must-visit.
Fancy some squashed fly cake? Or a bite of fly’s graveyard? What I am actually offering you is an Eccles Cake. This is a simple flaky pastry cake packed with currants topped with sugar. It has a very high butter content and a distinctive flattened bun shape with three vents in the top. Despite being so distinctive, it does not have Protected Geographical Status, however the heritage remains firmly in the northern town of Eccles. No-one knows who made the first, but the first instance of selling is recorded as being by James Birch in 1793. If you visit Eccles to try one of the delicious cakes you’ll find a typical Lancashire town built on the textile industry. While having no major claims to attractions, it’s less than 5 miles from Manchester city center.
Ok, so now I am straying away from food towns of Britain to a whole island. Jersey is one of the Channel Islands that lie off the southern coast of Britain (but actually closer to France). Its claim to fame in the food world is the Jersey Royal – a variety of new potato. Unlike other foods on this list, Jersey Royals is actually a registered trademark, as well as having Protected Geographical Status. The same variety grown elsewhere is known as the International Kidney Potato. Of all the locations I‘ve mentioned, Jersey has the most going for it as a tourist destination. The island is totally charming with a delightful mix of English and French heritage, gorgeous beaches and scenery and plenty of vacation activities and attractions.
The food map of Britain is actually more exciting than you might imagine. Even though we’re a small island, we actually quite some variety in our regional cuisines, and everywhere you’ll find brilliant restaurants, gastropubs, bistros and tea rooms. When these establishments dish up their local produce, it gets even better. What do you think about British grub? Have a favorite ingredient or meal?