Twenty tastes of Britain
The Toffee Shop, Cumbria
It’s called The Toffee Shop, but it’s actually more famous for its fudge. There is toffee, too, but it’s the fudge, which has been made to the same recipe for over 100 years, that people will travels miles to buy. It’s a modest, bright establishment on a street that slopes down a hill into Penrith. There’s not much on display in the windows, or even in the shop itself, just slabs of fantastic fudge wrapped in opaque greaseproof paper and heaps of toffee. Each odd-shaped piece of toffee is wrapped in a little twist of paper, and there’s a plate of fudge on the counter ready-cut to help yourself to. And then there’s the smell. There’s something about the aroma of fudge being made – that warm and soothing, comforting compound of warm molten sugar and butter that encourages you to say, ‘I’ll have two – actually, make that three – slabs, please. Oh, and a pound of toffee, too.’
Loch Arthur Community, Dumfries
The Loch Arthur Community is remarkable by any standards. It’s set among the green, rolling hills of Dumfrieshire, for a start. The farm is run to strict biodynamic principles, which brings an extraordinary vitality and health to the pasture and woodland. And it’s part of a number of communities in which people with learning disabilities live with families and share their lives and work, which, in this case, includes cheesemaking. Among Loch Arthur’s cheeses are Crannog, a soft cheese, and Criffel, a semi-soft rind-washed cheese, both of which have won multiple awards. Visit not only to try them yourself but to see the farm, large garden, creamery, bakery, woodwork studio, weaving workshop and thriving farm shop.
Kinloch Smokehouse, Sutherland
You’ll find Kinloch Lodge (01847 611316), where Hugh Montgomery practises his craft, on the northernmost edge of Scotland, off one of the narrowest, windiest roads you’ll ever drive along. Hugh passionately labours over his sides of salmon (wild salmon caught locally or farmed from Loch Duart) with exacting attention to detail. Proper smoking is not something you can hurry. There’s a rhythm to it. It requires fine judgement, as it can depend on the weather and the wind, and it can take anything between one and three days. It’s not just salmon that Hugh smokes, it’s anything that once moved in the rivers or on the land about – trout, venison, mackerel, duck, pheasants – and he also does a range of sausages and haggis, all of which you can buy on-site. Pay Hugh a visit to see how it’s done, though as Kinloch Lodge isn’t easy to find, it’s a good idea to phone ahead to make sure he’s expecting you.
The School of Artisan Food, Nottinghamshire
So you want to learn about making sausages? Or how to cure a ham or prepare any charcuterie? Then make the trip to Wellbeck, a kind of forgotten fairyland, that was once the playground of the dukes of Portland, just outside Sheffield. Sausage-making is one of the skills taught at the School for Artisan Food, housed in a block of renovated 19th-century stables. There’s a working bakery and a dairy, as well as the butchery section, and a micro-brewery is about to open. The ultra-keen can take year-long courses at a cost of £14,000, with an advanced diploma in each of the areas at the end of it. Or there are one-day and two-day courses which won’t set you back nearly so much. You can also just look round for free.