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Long before fresh ingredients and a “back to basics” approach to cooking became trendy in the UK, the fertile Cotswolds – a picturesque stretch of hilly land that is split between Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire in England’s west, crisscrossed with winding country lanes and dotted with thatch-roofed, picture-perfect villages -- was already renowned for its diverse produce and the use of locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients.
However, the Cotswolds are eagerly embracing this current food revolution -- championed by British chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein -- and its many celebrated dining establishments are pushing Modern British cuisine to new levels of creativity. The Cotswolds’ draw for foodies also includes a great variety of local cheeses, meats, fruit, vegetables, honey, fish, ales, beer and more, found either at their respective sources or at the many farmers’ markets and food festivals held in the region throughout the year.
So what should you be on the lookout for? The Cotswolds are responsible for more than a hundred different varieties of cheese, including the fantastic goats’ cheeses from the Windrush Valley dairy; creamy organic Cotswold Brie made by Simon Weaver of Lower Slaughter; mild and crumbly Single Gloucester made of Gloucestershire cattle milk from Godsells Cheese; and St Eadburgha – reminiscent of Camembert – from Gorsehill Abbey. The production of Double Gloucester, a stronger-tasting, more savoury, less crumbly version of Single Gloucester, is not restricted to the Cotswolds, unlike that of Single Gloucester , but it is the only cheese in England to participate in the highly dangerous annual sport of cheese-rolling, held at Cooper’s Hill near Brockworth in the Cotswolds.
Meat-wise, keep an eye out for the organic burgers – winners of the Food Product of the Year at the Cotswold Life Food and Drink Awards in 2011 – and meatballs, courtesy of LoveMyCow from Tagmoor Farm near Bourton-on-the-Water in the central Cotswolds, as well as ethically-farmed boar products from the Real Boar Company and a locally-reared breed of pig – Gloucestershire’s Old Spot – on menus throughout the region. More exotic fare, such as smoked venison, trout and salmon, can be found at Upton Smokery near Burford in the east of the region.
A sweet tooth can be sated with ice cream courtesy of Winstones and the Cotswolds Ice Cream Company, as well as the locally-made classic British sticky toffee pudding or Banbury cakes – currant-filled pastries, baked in their namesake village in the northeast Cotswolds for a good 500 years.
Artisan brews abound. Ones to sample include the seasonal, quintessentially British The Dog’s Bollocks, a fruity pale golden ale, and Bah Humbug, a spiced dark golden ale by Wychwood. Also not to miss are ales –ranging from golden bitter Hooky and fruity Old Hooky to the dark, malty Double Stout -- by Hook Norton, Bulldog golden ale and Nelson, a classic bitter, by The Patriot Brewery, and Codger, a dry, crisp beer with a hoppy finish, Stunner, a malty, fruity pale ale, and Rascal, a fruity, citrusy wheat beer, by the Cotswold Spring Brewing Co. Non-alcoholic tipples that you will find in village shops throughout the region include fruit cordials by Five Valleys and Benson’s apple juice.
Although it is a real joy to drive or ramble around the Cotswolds to find these delectable morsels and tipples at their source, if time is at a premium you can kill a plethora of birds with one stone by timing your visit to coincide with a major farmers’ market or one of the many local food festivals.