Eat your way around the Cotswolds
Due to its former importance as the centre of the cloth industry, the Cotswolds have a market tradition that goes back several hundred years, though for some villages, the switch to produce has been a fairly recent one. Case in point is Stroud -- not the most picturesque of the west Cotswolds villages, yet its award-winning weekly Saturday market, launched in 1999, is the largest in the United Kingdom and attracts nationwide attention beyond its 60 or so stallholders -- it was featured in the television programmes The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain and Rick Stein’s Food Heroes, and was also the recipient of Best Food Market accolade at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2010. In the northern Cotswolds, Chipping Norton – a market town since the 12th Century – holds its farmers’ market on the third Saturday of every month and features produce as diverse as Fosse Way honey, organic cheese, ales and even local wine, while the intimate market in Stow-on-the-Wold, held on the second Thursday of the month, is the place for baked goods and locally-caught trout.
When it comes to food fiestas, the Cotswold calendar is not complete without a visit to the Stroud Food Festival, part of a two-week food extravaganza in the first half of September – which celebrates the best of local produce without resorting to importing gimmicky celebrity chefs for the event. More niche is the British Asparagus Festival, attracting asparagus-lovers to the Vale of Eversham in the northwest Cotswolds between April and June each year with every imaginable asparagus recipe, auctions of the best “gras” (as it is locally known) and other festivities. A new, small-scale festival that shows great promise is the North Cotswolds Food and Farming Festival, which combines fresh produce with teaching attendees about rare livestock breeds and farming. It took place for the first time at Cotswold Farm Park near Stow-on-the-Wold in October 2011 and is now planned to become an annual event.
Last but not least are the area’s many dining establishments, lauded for carrying on the tradition of Modern British cuisine – a backlash against the austerity of the World War II years, consisting of reinventing classic British dishes with Mediterranean touches – using the best of local seasonal produce and plenty of imagination and flair.
In the region’s northeast, Wild Thyme in Chipping Norton uses such seasonal ingredients to great effect, creating the likes of braised pork belly with Cotswold crayfish and pairing English cherries with a peach and pistachio salad. In the southwest, the succinct menu at Nailsworth’s Wild Garlic is a happy melange of international influences and has a changing monthly menu, dictated by market availability; the results – roasted bone marrow salad with capers, salt cod and shellfish Catalan stew – speak for themselves.
The French-influenced Old Butchers, in the highly-visited central Cotswold village of Stow-on-the-Wold, is not afraid to use offal, such as calves’ brains, alongside more traditional fare that includes slow-cooked mutton with pearl barley. In tiny Bourton-on-the-Hill, also in the central Cotswolds, the menu at the award-winning Horse and Groom is unashamedly British and deceptively simple; the quality of its beer-battered hake, slow-roasted pork belly and apple and rhubarb crumble, together with its home brew – Goff’s Jouster -- sets it apart from its peers. The contribution of another miniature village – Upper Slaughter -- to the rich culinary world of the Cotswolds has not gone unnoticed either; its ambitious pairings of Cornish crab with mango and veal sweetbreads with cep cannelloni, as well as more traditional poached chicken and braised beef, have earned the Lords of the Manor its Michelin star.