Eat your way around Yorkshire
The 14th century Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire, is featured in a number of Yorkshire Food Finder's culinary trails. (Michael McKinstry)
There is something inexplicably compelling about the wild North York Moors, Britain's second oldest national park, founded in 1952. The landscapes in Yorkshire change constantly under shifting skies, from bleak wintry fog to the cheerful springtime eruption of daffodils. In summer the heather moorland is a billowing carpet of purple, in autumn the woodlands are ablaze with colour.
But ask Aidan and Sue Nelson what makes the region special and they will answer without hesitation: the food and the people who produce it. Until recently, searching for top quality local produce in this remote, windswept swathe of northern England was like hunting for a needle in a haystack – too many country lanes, too many valleys, too many back-of-beyond farms. So the local couple created the Yorkshire Food Finder trails, culinary tours offering an insight into how the region's specialities are created, bred or grown. "We've always been interested in where things come from and the story behind them," Aidan said. "So we spoke to Yorkshire's best chefs and asked them to reveal their suppliers."
Launched in November 2012, the 15 six- to 10-hour trails are aimed at serious foodies and designed to show the hard work and passion that goes into producing Yorkshire's finest grub. Depending on the time of year, tours range from charcuterie master classes at The Star Inn in the small village of Harome to deer stalking in the grounds of Baroque manor house Duncombe Park. There are behind-the-scenes visits to often-closed-to-the-public, family-run enterprises such as Anna's Happy Trotters in the market town of Howden, which won the 2012 Good Pig Award for its outdoor-reared pork; and award-winning Justin Staal's smokehouse in the village of Long Riston, which gives the inside scoop on smoking fish and meat. Many of the trails end with a dinner that makes the most of local produce at one of the highly regarded restaurants or gastropubs in the area.
Star of the 10-hour year-round Botton's Up! trail, which spotlights local cheese and beer, is Botton Creamery in the small North Yorkshire village of Botton, reached by a narrow country lane that meanders past dry-stone walls, honey-coloured Yorkstone villages and fields where red grouse, pheasant and hefted sheep roam freely. Here cheese-maker Alastair Pearson takes 90,000 litres of milk a year from five biodynamic farms and turns it into enormous rounds of nutty, muslin-wrapped cheddar, creamy brie, Swiss-style mountain cheese, gouda and mature, tangy tomme. As he guides visitors through the complicated process of heating the milk to 32C, adding the rennet, cutting the curd and moulding – all done by hand – it becomes clear that cheese-making is both an art and exact science. From here, the trail heads over the moors and down to the village of Cropton and the Great Yorkshire Brewery, established in 2010, for a tasting of their malty, hoppy beers, such as Yorkshire Lager and Two Chefs, a winter beer infused with nutmeg and cinnamon and inspired by local chefs Andrew Pern (The Star Inn) and James Mackenzie (The Pipe and Glass)
From Botton the road wends 45km southwest to Sutton Bank, described by All Creatures Great and Small author James Herriot as having "the best view in England". From this Iron Age hill fort, built in 400 BC, the views sweep down from the North York Moors and over to the Vale of York and the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Pennines, a low-rise mountain range sometimes dubbed "the backbone of England".
A few miles from here is Taste Tradition Abbot’s Close Farm in the village of Cold Kirby, the focal point of the 10 hour Meat Me at the Star trail which showcases rare breeds and butchery skills. Here the Ashbridge family lovingly nurtures native English breeds such as Gloucester Old Spot and Saddleback pigs, and Longhorn and Dexter cattle, the latter known for its creamy yellow fat and the marbling in its meat. Such exceptional quality has attracted the attention of some of London’s best restaurants, with the farm supplying Gordon Ramsay's Savoy Grill, Fergus Henderson’s St John and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen among others. The tour continues with a butchery skills master class at the Taste Tradition butchery 13km away in the market town of Thirsk, where participants learn how to butcher a pig and make the most of each of the cuts, while preparing half an uncooked pig to take home and enjoy.