If you’re a meat-eater or flexitarian, then a good case can be made for switching out farmed meat for wild game. Eating wild game can be better for our health than eating regular farmed meat (it is very low in fat and cholesterol) and can be better for the environment. It can also offer great value for money and is often more flavourful. The punchier flavours of many game meats matches perfectly with winter and the heartier dishes that many of us gravitate towards at this time of year – which also coincides with open season on the majority of game species and therefore its availability to us consumers.
What Counts as Wild Game?
Gamebirds such as pheasant, partridge and grouse (to name a few), waterfowl like ducks and geese, and rabbits, hare and the various species of deer (‘ground’ or ‘fur’ game’ – the mammals) all count as game. It is legal to shoot these species in the UK, but many of them have closed seasons when it is illegal to shoot them to allow them to breed, raise young, and migrate between their breeding and over-wintering grounds. The open season is the period of time within which they can be shot, and this is when wild game is most readily available. Some game species are farmed either directly for consumption (venison) or for organised shoots (gamebirds) – this is game meat, but not wild game and so whilst it may well carry the same flavour, eating it does not have the lower environmental impact that wild game does.
When Is Wild Game Available?
In England and Wales, the majority of gamebirds and waterfowl (certainly the most popular and readily available) have an open season from between the 1st of September or the 1st of October, and the end of January. There are some exceptions, and you can see the full table here. There is technically no closed season on rabbits and brown hare on private land in England and Wales, however there are date restrictions on moorland and in any instance it is only legal to shoot them between December 11th and March 31st which effectively creates a season for these ground game species.
The open season for wild venison depends upon the species and differs for male deer (stags or bucks) and female (hinds or does). In Scotland, stags or bucks can be taken year-round. Through winter and into early spring from November 1st through to March 31st, is open season for hinds and does. Roe deer bucks can then be taken between April 1st and October 31st creating a year-round season for roe deer. For red, sika and fallow deer, the stags or bucks have an open season from August 1st through April 30th, so for these species there is a closed season through late spring and into summer.
You can ask your local butcher about wild game meat, although be sure to specify wild rather than farmed if that is important to you. In Cornwall we are fortunate to have suppliers such as Duchy Game (at Pelean Cross, just outside Ponsanooth) or you can look online for a supplier local to you or who sells online.
If you are interested in learning how to prepare and cook game animals, then our Game Workshop (the next one takes place on Thursday November 23rd) is a great course to give yo the confidence, skills and recipes to add wild meat to your winter repertoire. Over the years, several game recipes have been shared on our Foodie Blog, from game terrine to “posh” venison kebabs. Take your pick from the links below, and give wild game a go this winter!
As an island nation we’re fortunate to have access to some great fish and seafood, particularly here in Cornwall in particular where we are surrounded by the sea on three sides and have a well-managed fishing industry.
Because of the importance of Cornish-caught fish to the local economy (both the fishers who work our waters and the fish merchants and restaurants and cafes that sell and serve their catch), and the fragility of harvesting wild fish and seafood from the ocean, it’s important that all of us make well-informed and sustainable decisions about what we eat. At various points in the past fish stocks of certain species or particular areas have been overfished or damaging methods used, and stocks have critically declined or collapsed. It happened with the Cornish pilchard and herring fisheries through the early decades of the 20th century, and with mackerel in the mid 1980s (in 1989 the European Economic Community introduced the 6,7000km2 ‘Mackerel Box’ covering the waters around Southwest England and Southwest Wales in which there is a ban on targeted fishing for mackerel by trawlers and purse seiners, and where a hand-line fishery operates with a separate quota allocation). It’s important that we don’t let these sorts of collapses happen again, for the sake of the marine environment and the livelihoods of people who work in the fishing industry, many of whom in Cornwall fish inshore from small boats using inherently sustainable methods. So that’s not to say that we can’t eat fish and shellfish at all, we just need to make informed decisions that are environmentally and economically sustainable.
That’s where the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide comes in.
“The Cornish fishing industry is something we should all be proud of, but knowing what fish to buy is a complicated issue. The Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is an incredible resource that is constantly updated so that consumers as well as those in the fishing and food industries can plainly see what’s best and most sustainable to eat.”
Launched in 2015 and led by Cornwall Wildlife Trust in partnership with representatives from Cornwall’s fishing industry, the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide aims to help us consumers to eat more sustainable and locally caught seafood. It uses the Marine Conservation Society’s sustainable seafood rating system that is known nationwide, and applies it to fish and shellfish available in Cornwall using local data about fisheries’ health to promote or protect certain species. Alongside their rating system, fishers, fish-sellers and restaurants can apply to be supporters of the Cornwall Good Seafood guide meaning they have taken a pledge to highlight sustainable Cornish seafood and to offer it to their customers. Philleigh Way Cookery School are supporters and we are proud to be helping spread the word about this vital and important project.
We recently caught up with Oscar Miller, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Fisheries Liaison and Marine Business Advisor, to find out more about how Cornwall Good Seafood Guide came to be, how it’s developed, and what’s in store for the scheme.
What was it that prompted the creation of a sustainable seafood guide specific to Cornwall?
For years the members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust were asking for information on seafood – what to eat and what not to eat. We found it was very difficult to find information on the subject, and hard for experts let alone members of the public to make well-informed choices. We decided to work to bring together information on all of Cornwall’s fishing industry into one place where the public could get unbiased information on sustainability. We wanted to rate seafood on its sustainability but rather than create our own system for doing that we decided to work with an existing system – the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide – to provide clear, detailed information on the sustainability of Cornwall’s seafood. The aim is to help businesses and consumers make well informed choices and to help incentivise and steer the fishing industry in a more sustainable direction for the long-term benefit of fishers and our amazing marine environment and its wildlife. Well-managed fisheries provide the most efficient way to provide high quality protein, however poorly managed fisheries result in over fishing and depleted fish populations meaning that fishers and the marine environment are worse off. It’s in everyone’s interest to get fishing right – using the methods with the lowest impact and managing effort to ensure that fish populations are allowed to recover and stay high. This makes the system far more productive and yields the best possible annual catches without risking overfishing.
How has the project developed over the last eight years?
We now have a huge amount of traffic to our website, with over 10,000 visitors each month. We have noticed a real improvement in understanding of the industry, and increased awareness from businesses and the public about what to eat and the need for good fisheries management to prevent unsustainable fishing.
How have the fishing industry, hospitality industry, and consumers responded?
Many businesses have changed their menus and have offered local sustainable seafood to their customers. The public are definitely asking businesses and seafood sellers more questions. We have seen a big increase in the number of people buying seafood online, particularly since COVID, and many fish sellers now use our logo to highlight sustainable Cornish options to their customers. Consumers are now far better informed, which is positive. Prices for sustainable seafood are responding well, so fishers are being rewarded for fishing well. Many large buyers of seafood will avoid species with poor ratings so the information is definitely having an impact and incentivising improved fishing management.
Does the project have an end goal or is it ever evolving and reactive to circumstances?
The fishing industry is always changing – at the moment the management of fishing is massively changing due to our leaving the EU, and we are now faced with an opportunity to get fisheries management right for the long term benefit of the fishing industry and the marine environment. It is vital that the public are kept well informed and that we continue to realise the importance of good management of fisheries. Climate change is also creating massive changes in the distribution of fish species across the Atlantic Ocean and over future years we are likely to see warm water species continue to thrive while cool water species decline. The situation is constantly changing and our website and ratings respond to these changes. We hope to continue providing information to consumers and businesses for many years to come and see our project as being vital in the long term to help influence the fishing industry positively.
If you had one piece of advice for readers about consuming fish, what would it be?
Ask questions! How was it caught? Is it Cornish? Get to know your local fishers and fish sellers and ask for sustainable seafood. Visit our website to check which species and capture methods are on our recommended list. Making sure that you only eat seafood from local well managed fisheries and avoid seafood that has been transported from other areas of the world (with the associated high carbon footprint and often poorer fisheries management) is one of the best ways you can help our oceans.
When it comes to eating well, there are a number of different ways to look at it; here at Philleigh Way we try to cover them all. Eating well for the planet and environment is something that more and more people are taking into consideration these days. It is a nuanced topic full of debate, and it’s easy to get distracted by the arguments and side-taking. There are a few things that each of us can do, and for meat-eaters and flexitarians, eating wild game or replacing farmed meat with wild game, particularly replacing beef with venison, is one of them.
Venison is nutrient rich, and is the result of deer grazing the grass, plants and trees that we can’t eat directly. Deer no longer have any natural predators in the British Isles and as a result their population booms with disastrous consequences. They often end up having a negative impact on biodiversity within forests and woodlands, damage and destroy crops, and there are often cases of starvation and death amongst deer populations when their population outstrips their food supply. Every year in the UK, around 350,000 deer are culled to keep their numbers under control so that they don’t outgrow their food sources or become a nuisance to farmers. There is also a net benefit to the smaller wildlife and birds that would be outcompeted by deer. In short, by controlling wild deer populations, nature wins and we get nutrient and mineral rich, lean, organic meat that has none or only a fraction of the carbon footprint of farmed red meat. You certainly couldn’t meet the nation’s appetite for red meat with wild venison, but at the moment it’s under utilized and we could and should be eating more of it.
We recently caught up with Scott Martin of wild game supplier Duchy Game at Pelean Cross, just outside Ponsanooth, to find out more about wild game in Cornwall.
Scott started out hunting rabbits. “I used to go out with lurchers, because farmers liked it because you weren’t taking guns on the land with livestock, and the lurchers were stock trained so they wouldn’t touch the stock but they would pick up rabbits.” He tells us. “I was getting 100-150 in a night which was really good. I was earning way more money doing that than from my day job! I was aware I had to be sustainable. I had an end use for what we were catching.”
Now he supplies wild rabbits and pigeons shot on his family’s farm, with wild venison from Tregothnan Estate making up the majority of the wild “fur” game meat that he sells (rather than feathered game). He’s one of a dozen or so people who regularly hunt at Tregothnan, the seat of Viscount Falmouth and the ancestral stately home of the Boscawen family just outside Truro (they have lived there since 1334). The estate is estimated to be almost twice the size of The Duchy of Cornwall’s holdings. “In the early 1900s, fallow deer were seen as a good parkland deer. The stately home at Tregothnan has a 300-acre park that surrounds it. Other places like Powderham Castle near Exeter have a lot of deer, or Prideaux Place in Padstow. In Richmond Park up in London there’s a big herd of fallows and reds, they coexist together up there. At Tregothnan over the years some deer have escaped from the parkland into the greater estate. They’re famously good at jumping fences! The greater estate over there is massive – it covers thousands of acres.” Scott says that around 400-550 deer are culled there every year to keep the numbers down for grazing purposes and so that the deer don’t end up going hungry (which for wild game meat would result in a poor quality carcass), and that only around 100 of those come from the park itself. The rest come from the greater estate. “There’s been reports of them over the other side of Tregony and Gerrans on the Roseland. During the shooting season the more they cull, the further the deer will spread. In the 3-4 months in the summer when they’re not being culled they all wander back towards Tregothnan as it’s quieter and there are more bucks in the park.”
One condition of sourcing from Tregothnan is that the meat can only be sold within Cornwall, but there is a benefit that it all comes from a single traceable source. Wild game is not farming, however. “I can only sell what’s been shot.” Scott says. “I can’t go and pull an animal out of the field – with livestock farming you gauge, you know your numbers, you know your stock, you know the busier times and quieter times of year it terms of demand and all that sort of thing. Game is a bit different because it’s weather dependent, light dependent, and so on. There are loads of different factors that come into it.” He goes on to explain that if it’s really stormy or windy weather then the deer tend to stay in the woods and during those periods he doesn’t tend to hunt as much. “The last few weeks have been lovely and normally it’s unheard of to shoot 20-30 in February for the whole month, but they’ve shot that in around 10 days this year because the weather has been so good and they are able to hit them.”
There are legal seasons for shooting different deer, as well as the weather and hunting conditions to consider. Most of the venison that Scott shoots, butchers and sells is from fallow deer. Roe deer are the small deer that most people see occasionally in fields and on the edges of woodlands, in ones and twos; they don’t really move in herds. Fallow deer stay in herds from six individuals up to perhaps 90 or 100 animals. Because of the smaller size of roe bucks, which are in season during the summer, Scott doesn’t tend to take them. “I can’t get a high enough meat yield on the roe, I can’t get good haunch steaks.” He says as we tour his on-site butchery. “These legs are quiet small-ish fallows, but still I can just about get the three main muscle groups out of the legs. With roe I don’t, I just sell it whole on the bone. They are too small. Financially it doesn’t make much sense. I do shoot a few roe at Tregothnan but 98-99% of what we shoot are fallow deer.”
Scott’s views are that the animals that we eat should be treated with respect, and that waste should be avoided. “My personal view is that an animal should be killed in it’s own environment instead of being put on a trailer and dragged around everywhere.” He says. “Working with Tregothnan they are very good, because they are more interested in making sure the meat is processed properly for the food chain, which is another reason I don’t want or need to take venison from anywhere else because I know how it’s been treated. If you’ve got someone purely thinking of financially gain they don’t always treat the carcass with respect. They are just thinking about what they’re going to get paid for it.” Scott cites the varying demand for wild game and particular cuts of venison, and how it doesn’t necessarily lead to some people utilising the whole beast. “All the restaurants wanted at Christmas was loin. If I could have been getting five saddles off every deer I would have been quids in, but that isn’t the case!”
Scott tries to send the hides off to be tanned, however because they are wild deer only about 60% are good enough to be sold because the deer skins had been damaged from rutting and snagging. The ones that couldn’t be sold whole are turned into cushion covers – all efforts to use the whole animal and get the best return on investment, particularly considering the cost of disposing of waste properly.
When it comes to the meat itself, Scott sells direct to the public from his farm shop at Pelean Cross, between Ponsanooth and Perranwell, and supplies restaurants in the county. “The restaurants seem to like the fallow deer down here, which tends to be slightly fattier, for wild flavour. Red can be very strong. Only 5-10% of people in the UK eat game regularly, whereas in Europe, like France and Germany, it’s up to 70-80%. If you’re trying to introduce people to it then, as with almost all foods, you want the milder version so as not to put people off.”
Our final question to Scott, as we browsed the fridge in the converted vintage lorry that acts as his farm shop in the roadside food court that he’s developing, was if he were going to take his pick for dinner out the fridge what would he have and how would he cook it? “My favourite cut of game is venison shank. Slow cooked because it’s sort of like a pulled venison. There’s loads of flavour because it’s got the marrow as well. Put that in the slow cooker, a lamb shank would melt away but this stays the same size and it would feed three of you comfortably. It’s a bit different to the standard answer – lots of people come in looking for diced venison for stews, or sausages or burgers.”
A few weeks ago, we paid our friends at Padstow Lobster Hatchery a visit to learn more about these incredible crustaceans, and the conservation work being done to ensure that stocks remain at sustainable levels. It was a fascinating day.
Lobster is a delicacy, both because of its sweet and succulent meat and because of the price tags attached to them. That price tag is well deserved; lobster are wild creatures and the specimens that end up on people’s plates in European restaurants aren’t farmed, or fished; they are trapped in baited pots by fishermen in small boats who have an intimate knowledge of the coastal waters in which they fish. It’s a game of tempting and trapping a wild and wily creature, and it is hard, skilled, and often dangerous and uncomfortable work.
Padstow Lobster hatchery sits on the waterfront of Padstow harbour on the Camel Estuary. It is a marine conservation, research and education charity with a popular visitor center where the general public can learn about the lifecycles of lobster and the pioneering work that they do to conserve and regenerate native lobster populations. The aim of the lobster hatchery is not to stop people from consuming them (I’m not sure they’d have welcomed us as they did, if that was the case!), but to work to restore and maintain the wild population at a level that is healthy and acknowledges and allows lobster to continue to be caught and consumed in sustainable numbers.
Why Do Lobsters Need Protecting?
In the late 1980s, Chief Fisheries officer and former fisherman Edwin (Eddy) Derriman MBE noticed that lobster catches and therefore populations were declining. The Scandinavian lobster fishery had seen a similar drop in the late 1960s and early 70s and the fishery ultimately collapsed, and Eddy was seriously worried that the same could happen in Cornwall. He put in place measures to manage the fisheries, and in 1998 he founded the lobster hatchery in an effort to conserve still vulnerable stocks and support wild populations of native lobster. The National Lobster hatchery was officially opened in 1998 and became a charity in 2004. Since its creation, the hatchery has released over 250,000 baby lobsters into the wild, and well over half a million visitors have visited the hatchery to learn about the sustainability issues associated with fishing, and in particular lobsters.
What The National Lobster Hatchery Does
The National Lobster Hatchery works to increase the survival rate of baby and juvenile lobsters, with the ultimate aim of ensuring a healthy and sustainable wild population that can withstand the pressures of fishing. A female lobster can carry between 4,000 and 40,000 eggs, however only 1 in 20,000 of these are expected to survive in the wild. Only approximately 0.005% survive to become adult lobsters. When they first hatch, baby lobster larvae are so small that they float in the water column and are essentially a type of plankton – meaning that they’re a food source for fish, jellyfish, anemones and even sea birds until they are around a month old and are large enough to burrow into the sea bed and find protection from predators. To increase survival rates, the team at the NLH collects lobster eggs and raises the larvae until they are around three months old and large enough to have a much higher chance of survival in the wild, at which point they are released. A number of local fishermen around Cornwall are licensed to land “berried hens” which are egg-bearing female lobsters. These lobsters have their claws bound with colour-coded tape to denote the fisherman who landed it (and to prevent them from fighting in the tanks) so that the lobster can be returned to the fisherman later for sale or release.
“Lobsters take approximately seven years to reach adulthood, but the crucial thing that we capitalise on is the difference between being plankton as larvae, and being part of the food chain, and being a juvenile and being able to burrow.”
– Chris Weston, Senior Hatchery Technician
The gestation period for a lobster egg is between 9 and 12 months, with the temperature of the water impacting how quickly an egg will hatch. Female lobsters lay their eggs under their tails between June and September, but the team at the NLH can control the volume of lobster larvae and juveniles that they are raising in the hatchery by controlling the temperature of the water in the “Maternity Ward” tanks that the berried hens are kept in. Colder water slows down development and extends the gestation period. They also hold lobsters in colder water during busy periods because slowing down their metabolism stops them from fighting so much so more lobsters can be accommodated within each tank. When we visited, Chris showed us one tank where hens were being kept in 11 degree water and another where hens were being held in 17 degree water to encourage faster hatching.
“We’re in constant communication with the twenty or so fishermen who we work with who are licensed to land berried hen lobsters, demanding different amounts of lobster at different times of year. It depends on how full we are and how many lobsters we can handle, and therefore what stage of egg development, indicated by the colour of the eggs, we’d like them to land for us.”
– Chris Weston, Senior Hatchery Technician
Most of the eggs hatch at night and it’s believed that lobster larvae use the moon to orientate themselves and move towards the surface of the sea – there is naturally more phytoplankton here (tiny plants) that the zooplankton (tiny animals, like the lobster larvae) want to feed on. For the first few hours after hatching the larvae are positively buoyant which helps them to get to the surface. At the hatchery, these buoyant lobster larvae are filtered out of the maternity tank and every morning they are collected from a holding tank and transferred to communal cones.
The communal cones are large aerated tanks and each batch of larvae will stay in there for approximately 16 days. The water is constantly moving to mimic their natural environment in the water column, and to minimize the chances of them bumping into each other – lobsters are carnivorous from birth and when they bump into something in the water column they will grab it and try to eat it, even if it’s another lobster larvae. Each brood is grown on in those communal cones through their first three stages of development, and once they reach the 4th stage – the point at which they are around 20mm long and look and behave much more like mini lobsters – they are moved into specially designed trays. These trays have individual compartments to keep the juvenile lobster separated (that cannibalism issue again!) and the trays are stacked in upwelling tanks so that the stage 4 juveniles can be fed and reared until they are around three months old and ready for release.
Juvenile lobsters are released when they are large enough to settle on the seabed and burrow into it for protection. From their burrows they hunt for worms and other invertebrates, moulting several times as they grow. Lobsters are cold water crustaceans and grow slowly, taking around seven years to reach adulthood. When their carapace (the shell covering their head and upper-body reaches 90mm in length they are large enough for fishermen in Cornwall to legally land them – under that, or if they are “notched” (when breeding age adults have a notch cut in their tail to signal that they should be left as breeding stock) or are egg bearing females, then the fishermen must return them to the wild. Some lobsters that find their way onto diners plates are in the region of twenty years old; that’s why preservation of stocks is so critically important.
Chris and his colleagues at NLH release juvenile lobsters either from the shore (into rock pools), by tube release from boats in partnership with fishermen who have identified suitable release sites, or directly onto the seabed by divers. They have recently trialed a scheme, the ‘Lobster Grower’ project, releasing juvenile lobsters into a large enclosed pen at a site in St Austell Bay off the south coast of Cornwall, so that the development of released juveniles can be measured and analysed by re-trapping and measuring the NLH hatched lobsters at intervals.
The team at the National Lobster Hatchery estimate that through their work they are able to increase the survival rate of lobster larvae by 1000 times, so from 1 in 20,000 to a 1 in 20 chance of survival. Every year they aim to release around 50,000 juvenile lobsters into the wild. It’s inevitable that some of these will in due time be trapped and served up as somebody’s dinner, but they are realistic about what they do. “It’s not helpful to pit the local small boat fishermen against the conservation sector,” Chris told us, “Up to 95%, we want the same thing: we want a healthy population of lobster. Whether that’s for the ecosystem benefits, or so that some of them can be used for food is the last 5%. From our perspective, we want a healthy population of lobsters around Cornwall and the South West, but we understand that the pressures come from fishing and that there’s a massive market for them. If you take a step back and look at the broader scheme of things, lobster probably isn’t the worst thing that people have eaten. There are a lot more destructive forms of fishing so if people can’t eat lobster perhaps they’ll turn to something else that isn’t being careful managed or fished. If done properly and sustainably, it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, but it’s a very nuanced topic.”
As well as working with local fishermen to source egg-bearing females, the team at the National Lobster Hatchery also work with chefs and restaurateurs, and run a very successful fundraising partnership scheme called ‘Buy One, Set One Free’. Participating establishments simply include an opt-out customer donation of £1 onto every lobster dish sold, which goes directly to the National lobster Hatchery to enable them to raise and release baby lobsters back into coastal waters on customers’ behalf.
“You are not only offsetting a little of what’s been caught, but longer term it’s an investment in the sustainability of the fishery and your ability to get hold of and enjoy lobster.”
Clare Stanley, NLH Business Development Manager
It’s pioneering schemes like ‘Buy One, Set One Free’, and the clearly forward thinking and determined nature of the NLHH’s founder and team that have allowed them to have achieved so much. There is no doubt that they’ve had a huge impact on local lobster populations, saving them from the threat of imminent collapse and providing ongoing safeguards for our fragile marine resources and the people whose livelihoods depend on them. If you’re in a situation to be able to afford to order lobster from a restaurant menu, then please look for or ask them about the National Lobster Hatchery’s ‘Buy One, Set One Free’ scheme, consider donating via their website to support their work, and if you’re ever visiting Padstow then pay them a visit on the harbour side.
For our next article, and in full recognition of the fact that we’re a cookery school that sometimes teaches how to cook and eat lobster, we’re going to post a recipe for amazing lobster rolls. Eating lobster isn’t a bad thing, as long as you’re buying your lobster from a sustainable source (preferably a small day-boat fisherman, like Callum at Fresh from The Sea in Port Isaac who is one of the fishermen who works with the National Lobster Hatchery) and all thanks to the great work of the NLH ensuring that local lobster populations are healthy enough to support them being fished and consumed. Check back next week for that recipe!
“Buy less but buy better” is a phrase that’s become increasingly common and important in the world of fashion, but we think that it’s just as relevant to the meat that we eat. It’s arguably better for you and the
“Buy less but buy better” is a phrase that has become increasingly common and important in the world of fashion, but we think that it is just as relevant to the meat that we eat. It is arguably better for you and the planet if we reduce how much we eat in the western world, and make sure that the meat that we do eat is high quality, high welfare and ideally farmed using regenerative practices. Homage To The Bovine’s product is a great example of this; beef from ex-dairy cows who are “put out to pasture” on well managed grassland, creating an incredible product and adding value, reducing waste, and honouring the animals that they farm.
We’ve worked with Debs and Nathan Pryor and their team before, celebrating their produce at dedicated feast nights, we will be teaming up even more this year when they take up a residency at Origin Coffee’s Roastery HQ in Porthleven and at a series of summer pop-up feasts in sight of their farm at Stithians Lake.
Ahead of all of that, we caught up with Debs one windy and rainy day this winter to find out more about how they came upon the idea of retired-dairy beef and the ethos behind Homage To The Bovine.
We have a dairy herd that has been in Nathan’s family for two generations before us. He came back from university in 2002 and his Father had forty cows. Now there are five hundred. He’s built a large dairy herd and they are all born and raised on these two farms. We get to see the whole process. We see them born, they come onto the herd, they milk for up to twelve years. Once their milk yield is dropping off, normally they would trot along to the abattoir and they’d be a cull cow – just finished with. Instead, we now give our cows a retirement, and they go into our retired dairy beef herd.
Homage To The Bovine came about because Joel, my eldest son who is 14, is a bit of a carnivore. At the start of lockdown I was looking for a butchery course for him. Because we have the dairy herd I started googling dairy beef, local butchery courses, and so on, but I couldn’t find any. I did find one in Essex, a guy called Thomas Joseph. Tom has his own hanging rooms and his own butchery, it goes into various high end restaurants and directly to the public. That is how we stumbled onto it. Then we realised that we had the grass land that enabled our herd to rest and fatten, and we thought why not just try it?
We sent half of our first batch up to him to his ager and left it up there for forty days… he came back with it that August as he was down in Cornwall on holiday, and he said it was extremely good and that he would like to buy some! We knew we were onto something, and figured we had nothing to lose.
How We Farm
The farm was originally mixed dairy and beef, but when Nathan came home and took over the family farm and got more serious on the commercial side of it, he implemented New Zealand style farming which is spring calving in a block, everything gets managed as a herd so you don’t have calves popping out in August. If you had 500 cows calving here and there and everywhere it’d be absolute chaos. It is a very natural existence because everything comes from pasture. They do get buffer fed in the winter when it is extremely wet, but the cheapest and best way is to feed them all off pasture as much as possible. Nathan is really keen on getting the grassland just right, he is more of a grassland farmer than a cattle farmer. The grass is the backbone of his business. Nathan is a grassland biologist, really, always monitoring his seeds, covers, leys… he knows about worms.
The dairy beef just runs alongside the dairy herd, they’ll go to peripheral parts of the farm where we can monitor them but leave them for three or four days, then just move them on to fresh pasture. They’re not monitored as intensively which is great for us because there are blocks everywhere that we rent, we can just leave them there and check them every few days.
The retirement is a rest for at least 18 months from last calving. They’ll calve in February or March, they’ll milk that season, and then if they come to the end of their dairy life they’ll then go out to pasture and get rested on grassland for 18 months.
The grass is the fundamental backbone of our business. You can spot our fields from others – it is almost flourescent. Dairying is all about pasture management, because that is the cheapest and best food source for a cow. Anybody that cannot grow grass will be buying in silage or concentrates to buffer feed their animals. Our cows are milked twice in one day and then once the next. It puts less pressure on them, and it is better for staff and costs less because we’re not firing up the milking parlour twice a day and working silly hours.
The biggest part of our farm income is from liquid milk – that is the core of our business. Homage to the Bovine beef is a spin-off, but it is good in terms of educating consumers and it is an excellent product because of the age. Normal shop-bought beef would usually be under 30 months old.
Cows that go into the abattoir that are over 30 month old have to have their spinal columns removed and that adds another layer of cost. Commercial producers do not want this expense, so to maximise profits they send their animals to slaughter before they reach that age. When a cow is older the fat spreads through their whole body. They have a supreme deep beefy flavour. The beef is a dark, deep red with great marbling. Putting ordinary supermarket beef against ex-dairy beef is like putting a £5 bottle of wine alongside an expensive port; it is the age that makes the difference in flavour. Producers will not finish beef for 12 years. Ours is hung on the bone for 28 days before being cut.
Supermarkets often “age” beef in the vacuum pack, rushing the product through because it’s more cost effective for them. They don’t want to hold it in a chiller for that long because of the cost, and they don’t have enough space for the sort of volumes they deal with. Ours is an artisan product.
Farming And The Environment
Right now, fertiliser prices have gone through the roof like all fuels, and farmers are having to be much more extensive in their grazing. We rent as much land as we can so that we are not putting as much pressure on the fields and do not have to put on as much fertiliser, because we don’t want to and it is just not cost effective. The leys (the mix of plants in the fields) will include clover for fixing nitrogen. We keep permanent pasture and manage it to get the most from the land without damaging it. Cows spread their own poo, the worms are doing their thing. If the cows chew the grass down to a low level it will shoot and start again, but if you leave the cows in too long and let the cows chew it too low it damages the roots, which is why we move ours frequently and spread them out.
Environmentally, when you think about the dairy industry you have to go beyond where that milk has come from – how the cow is fed and what it is doing. Most liquid milk producers try to get 11-12,000 litres of milk per year per animal, whereas ours produce just 4,000. They are compact animals, Jersey cross Friesians for a richer milk – because we sell our milk based on protein and fat content to be used to make butter and cream, rather than selling by volume. Milk sold by volume is just more of a white water, and those animals do not have such a nice life. You do not know anything about that when you are buying your two liters of milk for a pound from the supermarket. Milk is undervalued; it is cheaper than premium bottled water. If we could be a bit more like France, where the supermarkets are stocked from within that region, then we could start to see more benefits for everyone and everything involved. Supermarkets push the price down and until consumers start to shop outside of supermarkets and asking questions, it’s at the the cost of taste and quality because those are the only things that can give – and that includes animal welfare too. We do not work like that and so we are happy to talk openly about what we do. People are pushing on prices and supply chain systems that are unsustainable. It is easy to get into the routine of ordering online and having something delivered, but as a result many consumers have lost touch with where their food has come from and how good their food could taste.
How To Enjoy Ex-Dairy Beef
I like a simple medium pan-fried steak! It depends what cut you are dealing with though. Chefs love the fillet and steaks but some are really good at taking the other lower cost cuts too, like topside or shin, because they can use them for ragus and so on. Adam Handling at The Ugly Butterfly in Carbis Bay uses our beef in his restaurant and has just obtained a Michelin star. He started buying select cuts from us for his restaurant because of their sustainable ethos and trying to close the gap and buying local. To be associated with him has been huge for us really, and it has given a lot of people a lot of confidence in our product.
Our retired dairy beef does not need to be prepared or cooked any differently to any other beef, but the key is not to over cook it. The grain is looser in our beef, so you have to be aware that it is a bit different to a standard steak, but essentially you can enjoy it just the same way – only there is more flavour and you have the knowledge of knowing exactly where it has come from and how it has been raised and that has got to be worth something.
At the end of last year, we paid a visit to Porthilly Shellfish at Rock to learn more about their oysters and to enjoy some of their amazing produce straight from the half shell on the waters edge. Food doesn’t get much fresher than that. The quality of shellfish that we have access to in the UK, and particularly in Cornwall, is exceptional, and we want to celebrate it and encourage more people to eat Cornish shellfish, more often.
Oysters are nutritious and a great source of protein. These days they have a bit of a reputation for being an upmarket item only found on the menus of high-end restaurants, but historically they were a really common and affordable food, especially in Victorian-era London. Oysters are also great for the environment and native oysters are a keystone species; they fix carbon as calcium carbonate in their shells, and the reefs created by oyster beds can protect coasts from storm damage. Because oysters are filter feeders they improve water clarity, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper so that sea grasses can flourish and provide valuable habitats for other marine life. This means that farming oysters is actually good for the body of water that they’re raised in.
Porthilly Shellfish raise oysters and mussels in the Camel Estuary on the coast of North Cornwall, directly opposite Padstow. The Marshall family has been farming at Porthilly for five generations, so although their shellfish operation is very well established it’s relatively new compared to the life of the farm. We spent a morning with farmer Tim Marshall and his nephew Matt, who runs the day-to-day operations of Porthilly Shellfish, talking to them about how they got started in oysters and how they create such an amazing product.
How Oysters Are Farmed At Porthilly
Like a lot of farming, it all starts with seed. Porthilly buy in oyster “seed” from a hatchery who nurture single oyster spats onto fragments of shell and grow them to about the size of a piece of granola (about 7mm x 7mm). The seed gets to Porthilly and is placed in mesh bags that are placed on racks in the intertidal area of the estuary. This is a classic French technique that lifts the oysters out of the sand and mud, and puts them in the best possible place to feast on all of the phytoplankton floating past them.
Porthilly also employ another method with floating racks suspended from a buoy line, that uses the motion of the water to tumble the shells. The oysters will spend up to two years out in the estuary, filtering around 200 litres of seawater per day through their partially opened shells. The team regularly turn over and shake the mesh bags to tumble the oysters around and promote the development of deeply cupped shells, and periodically the bags are brought back to the farm so that the oysters can be graded.
On the day that we visited, Matt and his team were grading oysters that were about one year old. The oysters are inspected on a conveyor belt, with any empty shells discarded, and then sorted by weight. As the oysters grow they are given more space in the mesh bags – as seed there might be a few hundred tiny oysters in a mesh bag, but as they get towards market size there are only around eight. This sorting is done using a machine that weighs, bags and counts the oysters. “This machine was designed for packing chicken or fish fillets in a food factory,” Tim told us, “but sometimes we’ve got a million and a half oysters to do and when we used bring them in on the back of the trailer and count them in, we’d lose count.”
Once they’ve reached market size, the bags are collected in and the oysters are unloaded into special saltwater tanks where they spend a few days. Water from the estuary is piped in and passed under ultra-violet lights before it reaches the storage tanks. This process kills any bacteria in the water and gives the oysters the opportunity to “freshen up” and drop any sediment that they may be carrying as excess baggage, without losing the beautiful flavor of their home waters. They’re then ready to be sent off to restaurants or fishmongers.
How Porthilly Shellfish Started
Tim began farming oysters in 1978. “The farm’s been in our family for five generations,” he told us, “And that means that we owned the land to the mean high water mark. My grandfather bought the foreshore from the then Duke of Cornwall, which is a bit of a grey area in terms of where the foreshore begins and ends. So we own and farm on a stretch on the Porthilly side of the estuary, as well as now having some racks on the other side of the estuary.”
“I used to mess about fishing and picking crabs and going out in the boats. I always thought I was going to have a trout farm of some sort, and make something out in the estuary. But it doesn’t really lend itself to that because it’s too shallow. And then when I was about 15 or 16 an academic came along from what was then Plymouth Polytechnic, who’d seen this system out in France. He asked if he could have a go at it here. He came and spoke to my Dad, who let him do it without charging him any rent. It failed for some reason and he gave up. There was a lovely old chap up the road who was one of my Dad’s contemporaries – a boatbuilder and carpenter by trade and a real character – a salmon poacher too. He was taking some of these oysters and selling them to a fellow in Exeter, and he told me I ought to get into it. He sent me to see his friend, who was using the French system in Exmouth, by Dawlish, so I went up to learn from him. He was really good to me and set me on my way.”
“Slowly, along with Rick [Stein] and other local chefs pushing shellfish, we slowly grew it. There were times when we struggled to sell them, but I took a trip to France and soon realised what a market there was over there, so that’s where we used to sell most of our oysters to. One year they didn’t want to take any, and it coincided with my son coming home and he wanted to grow mussels as well. We had to put the tanks in to make enough money out of the mussels, and it all just slowly grew on from there. That year that the French didn’t want any, we pushed it much harder in this country and grew the market. I don’t think we realised what a great product we had, compared to some oysters from other parts of the country.
Porthilly’s Pacific (Rock) Oysters
There are several different types of oysters that you’ll most commonly find in fishmongers or on a restaurant menu. Each has its own characteristics and flavour profiles, which are then developed further by the environment and conditions in which they grow; this is known in the oyster world as terroir, much like merroir in wine. Porthilly Shellfish raise Pacific oysters, a variety that originates from Japan but are now the most common variety farmed around the world. “The native oysters don’t like it in the bags,” Tim explained, “They also take five to six years to mature and get to market, whereas these Pacifics take half the time. They’re also more popular, as they’re cheaper and are a bit more accessible taste-wise. Native oysters are much more seasonal. We can harvest these Pacifics all year round, although they’re much better through the winter months.
The Oyster Lady really rates Porthilly’s Pacific Rock Oysters (and if anybody knows their oysters, she does), noting them to be “fresh, clean and creamy, with notes of cucumber and zinc.”
Brexit’s Impact On UK Shellfish Producers
Since our visit in December the Brexit deal has crippled the UK’s shellfish industry because of a law that indefinitely bans the export of live bivalve molluscs (oysters, mussels, and clams, for example), both wild and farmed, to the EU from non-member states. The only exception is if they have come from Class A waters or have been purified in depuration tanks (which shortens their shelf life, hence why most exports haven’t been purified). Much of the UK’s inshore coastal waters are categorised as Class B, so almost overnight a huge export market vanished. It’s a small and specialist market (valued at less than £12m/year) but for the people involved, it’s their livelihoods. Our friends at Porthilly shouldn’t be too badly impacted by this development because they have spent many years developing a great reputation and domestic market for their shellfish, and because they have depuration facilities on the farm. We’re glad that they seem to be an exception, but other fisheries (such as the traditional oyster fishery near us on the Fal river) aren’t so fortunate.
Adam Banks is one of Cornwall’s most well respected and talented young chefs, and we’re excited to be welcoming him back to Philleigh Way in early September for another of his “Italy with…” cookery courses. The former head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay, he has a deep passion for Italian food and his knowledge of the cuisine is second to none. During lockdown he started a weekend pasta box delivery that has proven so popular that it’s still going strong and selling out every week; I caught up with him over the phone whilst he was kneading pasta dough, to find out more about his food, his inspirations, and the best advice he’s received from any of the star chefs that he’s met and worked with over his career
Adam, what is it about Italian cuisine and the country’s food culture that draws you towards it?
It’s hard to say what I love about Italian food though… I feel it; it’s weird. I enjoy it and I always make this joke that I must have been Italian in a former life or something, because of this feeling for it that I have. I would have to say though that it’s the emphasis on the ingredients and how little is done to them to put them on the plate. Also the focus on seasonality – these are all things that I have always looked towards. I wish that the UK had some similarities to Italian food culture in the way that families get together for those meals, the matriarchs, those nonnas cooking and making pasta and dishes and passing the recipes down from generation to generation, teaching the family and making sure that the traditions are kept alive. I like the ideal of tradition in some ways, but I still like to move forward with ideas and techniques, or else you’re going to get stuck. The flavour combinations in Italian dishes, the style of food, the pasta… these are all quite simple ideas. A beautiful nice piece of fish, cooked quite simply, generally either in an oven or on a char grill, seasoned nicely, served with a simple salad or with some potatoes that somebody’s grown in their garden… cooking with beautiful vegetables. It’s only when you get to the restaurants that things start to change slightly, trying to impress you, but the little villages and the nonnas still getting up in the morning and smashing out some pasta is what draws me towards Italian food the most. It’s also the the rustic-ness of it, the idea that you can just put on a plate some vegetables, simply dressed, and not in a pretty fashion – toss ‘em all up, put them on a plate, and dig in as a starter or with a piece of meat.
You’ve visited Italy frequently, many times leading the Fifteen apprentices on a food field trip to Tuscany. What were your favourite things to share with the apprentices during those trips?
Those trips were really important, because we were basically trying to show the apprentices the importance of the ingredients and how much emphasis is put onto products and ingredients such as olive oil… to see it being made biodynamically, alongside these beautiful white cattle being reared on the same land and how it all interlinks. What we tried to build in those trips was a sense of respect. We tried to have fun with it and they were fun – we wanted them to enjoy it – but they were there for a reason. They were there to learn about Italian food culture, about why there is this big thing about Italian food. To have them in it and be there and be learning and eating and touching the grapes and the olives and to feel it, essentially, was probably one of the best ways to get it into them. To be there and to share with them what this all meant was one of my favourite things. To be able to say to them, “this is some of the best olive oil you’ll ever taste in your life and it’s because of this and this…” and give them the information, get them to meet the producer and try to fill the gaps for them. We’d have a producer or a grower talk to them about their wine or their olives or about their beef or about being a butcher, and we’d explain to them how important what these people do is and how important it is to respect your produce. Respect is a word that’s probably going to pop up a lot in this conversation, because I think that it’s sometimes lacking – especially in the food industry. We get these guys to grow things for us or go out and catch fish or rear cattle, and then we buy it off them and it’s almost like we lose that sense of what that person has just done for us. They put so much time and effort into that end product that we take off them that we should continue wholeheartedly with the respect for what they’ve done so that when it gets to somebody’s plate they can see that we’ve tried our best to give them the best representation of what it was that was grown, reared or caught. They were the favourite things to share with the apprentices on those trips, learning the respect and learning to admire what these people do constantly day in and day out.
What do you enjoy most about sharing your skills with others?
I would say the bottom line is that hopefully by sharing my skills with others we’re all going to eat better. I’m not saying that I’m some kind of preacher about what we should and shouldn’t be eating, but if I can teach somebody or show them something that helps them at home to eat better or cook better then surely that’s a good thing, and I enjoy that. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and I enjoy people asking me questions… although I probably waffle too much! At Fifteen it wasn’t just about food skills, it was also about social skills. You’re working in a kitchen, you’re working with people who have spent quite a number of years working in kitchens and building up respect and I suppose it was a way for us to pass on ideas of how to behave or work ethic, those kinds of skills – not just the best way to chop an onion or roll pasta. I think I quite enjoyed the idea of taking this group of people under my wing. Yeah I’d fall out with them on occasion, or they’d call me names and stuff like that or shout at me or stomp off, but it’s only because we were trying to get the best out of them and to show them that what they were doing originally or at that moment in time was not the correct way to do it. We’d try to, in a gentle way, guide them towards what we thought was the right way. Say one of the apprentices did something to another apprentice… there was no point shouting at them… we didn’t swear in the kitchen, it’s not a done thing any more. Kitchens are professional places now and people take it very seriously. We were trying to get the apprentices to be the best that they could be, regardless of their background. I think I enjoyed sharing a lot of my skills with everybody and it’s good to share. I think we’d all be in a better place if we shared more with each other, whether that’s how to cook or how to behave. I enjoyed seeing the apprentices take onboard what I’d told or shown them and putting it into practice.
During lockdown you started making and delivering a weekly pasta dish around your hometown of Newquay, and you’ve had a big pasta focus of late. What is it about pasta that you love and enjoy so much?
The versatility of it. The fact that’s it either just eggs and flour, or water and flour, and then you turn it into beautiful shapes or ribbons or little noodley things… there’re thousands of shapes and many of them I won’t ever see because it’ll be a little shape that’s only made in a remote little village right in the middle of Italy in some mountain range.
I’m kneading pasta right now as we talk! My focus on pasta hasn’t been intentional, it’s mainly because of the business idea of getting these pasta boxes to people during lockdown. It was a nice treat, it was a nice thing for me to be doing. I enjoy making pasta at home so my girlfriend asked why I didn’t just start making it for other people. I thought I’d start off doing ten portions a night and see what happened. It’s grown though, and it’s great. I max out now at about 30 portions per night which is plenty, so 60 over a Friday and Saturday, and I’ve been really enjoying it and people have been enjoying eating it.
I love the idea that pasta changes. It’s a bit like making bread; if you’re making it somewhere that’s quite dry or it’s a hot day or it’s humid, then the dough’s going to behave differently and react to what you’re doing and the touch and heat of your hands. It’s like you’re forever learning with it that I think is great. Some of it is understanding why you put egg yolks in with whole eggs one time and why you just do egg yolk another, why you do flour and water, why you do semolina and water, and working out those doughs. I just really enjoy it. Not only is it a quick and easy meal to eat at home but you can be creative at home and learn. Eating a good sheet of pasta with some olive oil, chili and salt is delicious, rolled well by paying attention on how many times you’ve rolled it and building up that structure within the dough, and then also paying attention to how thick you cut it and how you cook it. There are so many little variables but it’s just four and egg! It’s great and I love it.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever been given as a chef (and by whom)?
I’ve had a few over the years. Work hard, which doesn’t mean work all the extra hours, it just means when you’re at work, work hard. Get there 20 minutes or half an hour early, be in the kitchen 20 minutes before you’re supposed to start… but stay late if you have to. You’re a team, part of a brigade, you’re supposed to be a unit essentially. Work hard but make sure that you enjoy it. Keep your integrity, keep your ideas, keep your morals about what it is that you cook and what it is that you want to cook.
One of the funniest tips I was given was quite recently. I was having dinner with two guys who I was working for, in Paris, just before lockdown. We’d gone out for dinner at quite a fancy restaurant (three-Michelin starred L’Arpège) and the chef came out at the end to talk to all of the guests. He’s quite a famous chef called Alain Passard and he doesn’t speak much English, and none of us speak much French. One lad talked about how his grandfather was a fan of Alain, and had taught him about cooking and what it means. Just as Alain walked away from our table, he put his arm around me and leaned over the table and, in this really Parisian accent (you couldn’t get much more stereotypical) he said “Goodnight guys, it is all about the vegetable” and walked off. The three of us looked at each other with the realization that he’d not understood a word that we’d said to him! But, it’s stuck with me and when you think about it, it is all about the vegetables. We obviously eat too much fish, we eat too much meat, and we don’t give the vegetables enough of the spotlight. We leave them for the vegetarians and the vegans and that’s wrong man, that’s completely wrong. My girlfriend is pescatarian and during lockdown we found ourselves eating more and more vegetarian dishes, more because that’s how we like eating than anything else.
And what tip would you give to enthusiastic home cooks, and also to anybody wanting a career as a chef?
Enthusiastic home cooks… to those guys I would say read cookbooks, get ideas, and have a go. There’s no harm in it. One big thing is don’t cook things on ten – turn your hobs down and use medium heat, don’t blast things all the time because you will just burn stuff. But it’s more really about just having a go. Cook some food, enjoy it and enjoy the process of it. Enjoy cracking the eggs, mixing the flour, turning it into pasta, and enjoy the process as much or more than the end result of cooking the dish. Embrace the process at home. In a professional kitchen it’s all about the mise en place which is preparation, preparation, preparation, and that’s the bit that you need to enjoy. You’ll enjoy the cooking because that’s the high intensity adrenaline rush moment (especially in service), but if you’re cooking at home then you need to enjoy the prep. Man, I love rolling pasta and having a glass of wine, relaxing and enjoying the whole moment of it! Definitely always cook like you’re enjoying it because people will taste it in your food because you’ve put the effort and your heart and soul into it. And if you’re cooking for yourself do the same!
For people wanting a career as a chef… at the moment there’s hardly any chefs. People are crying out for chefs but young people don’t want to do it because they see it as this career where everybody works really long hours and you don’t get to hang out with your mates in the evenings, and it seems like really hard work. It can be all of those things and you’ve got to be dedicated if you want to succeed. I would say don’t be put off by that hard work because if you put in that effort you’ll get rewarded.
At Falmouth’s leading gastro pub The Star and Garter you did a lot of smoking and cooking over live fire, and at Fifteen at Watergate where you were head chef the focus was on Italian dishes. What are the key principles or threads that weave through all of your cooking?
I think it’s commitment, integrity, passion… they all sound like quite cheesy lines but I suppose that’s what it is. I’ve worked at Fifteen as a head chef but previously as a chef de partis and worked my way up to a junior sous chef position, and I’ve always enjoyed cooking Italian food. Then I went to Australia and was cooking Greek food, and then at The Star and Garter I was cooking a mixture of Italian and British influenced food. I suppose in the end you just want to make a plate of food that tastes good and looks appealing. I think when people say, “it might look a bit shit but it tastes great”, well it depends what you’re going for. It can’t always look shit because at some point people are going to say, “well, it doesn’t look very appealing to eat”.
I think keeping to my beliefs, so no matter what I’m cooking I make sure that I’m cooking nice food using good produce, good suppliers, and keeping my integrity and ethics the same constantly. I think that’s what shows when I put a plate of food in front of someone – it might not be classic Italian or classic Greek or whatever it is, but you can see what my passions are and my background. No matter what I’m doing though, I just enjoy cooking.
You’ve recently spent some time in Copenhagen. What are your thoughts on the food scene there and how has it inspired you in your cooking since returning?
I’ve been going out to Copenhagen for the last four years or so. I’ve got some friends who live out there so just going out to see them, but partly too because there are a few restaurants that I follow and I feel like I’ve been getting inspired by that scene for a while now. The ideas that they’re plating, their forward thinking on food, their creativity, I quite enjoy all of that. I think that if there was an opportunity then maybe I’d go out there to work for a while. But spending that last five weeks out there was great; I learnt so much in just five weeks which if I spent a year there it would drive a massive improvement in my capabilities as a chef and my technical skills. I’d learn so much. It has definitely inspired me, in the way that I plate things, in the way that I like to think about different ideas, particularly with fermentation and pickling, and how you can increase flavour profiles by adding fermented foods to dishes.
Are you having a “Dry January” following the usual over-indulgences of the festive period? Or perhaps you’re considering making some longer-term changes for the benefit of your health in 2020 and looking to moderate your alcohol consumption? Whatever your reasons, you’ll be glad to know that these days there are plenty of options for non-drinkers who don’t want to sink to sipping sugary soft drinks all evening, so you can still drink but without “drinking”.
huge range of “no and low” alcohol beers on offer, there is also a growing
number of great non-alcoholic spirits particularly suited to those of you who
enjoy (or enjoyed) a gin and tonic.
2019 saw the launch of a Cornish botanical non-alcoholic spirit, Pentire, which is distilled using unique plants that are native to the Cornish coastline. Their first infusion, Adrift, is a blend of rock samphire, sage, citrus, Cornish sea salt and a number of plants foraged from Pentire (the headland at Polzeath on the coast of North Cornwall), we’ve been enjoying its herbaceous flavours in plenty of “Free and T’s” this January. To find out more about Pentire, we caught up with its founder and creator, Alistair Frost.
For those that are unfamiliar with the term, what is a non-alcoholic distilled botanical spirit?
We call it a spirit because we’re still doing distillation just like you’d do with gin or vodka, so we’re distilling plants. The process is steam distillation and we get these lovely natural organic run-offs of delicious liquids. When we distill it, it’s much more technical than distilling a gin – we have to be really careful with the temperature and pressure inside the still because we’re distilling handfuls of fresh plants and we’ve got to be really careful that we don’t burn them. It’s a much more delicate process than gin; we’re not using any dried botanicals or spices so it’s quite technical.
What’s the flavour profile, and how and why did you design it that way?
We use three words: coastal, herbaceous and fresh. The reason why we went with that flavour profile is that we wanted to have a bottle and a flavour profile that was shaped by its surroundings. When you’re standing on a Cornish headland you get all those amazing top-notes; it’s grassy, it’s clean, it’s earthy, and also slightly salty and slightly citrus. When you’re distilling plants like rock samphire that grows in that environment on a headland and cliff-tops, they distill really well. Rock samphire is in the carrot family, it’s got a really high water content and its flavour is perfect to give a customer that taste of the coast.
What makes the Pentire headland a unique environment for these plants?
The reason why we named it Pentire is it was originally just a holding name for the project; it had really good provenance, it had good origin, it’s two syllables, it’s fresh, it’s easy to say and easy to remember, but what we realised when we started foraging on and around Pentire with a few of Cornwall’s best botanists, is that it’s got some of the best range in plant life out of any are of the UK coast. That’s because it’s got a unique climate, it’s got a really unique soil pH and air moisture. And that’s why it’s got such a huge range of plants, and of wildlife to boot.
Non-alcoholic spirits are becoming ever more popular. Why do you think this is?
This is probably for a number of reasons. Outside of drinks, people are being health conscious, aware of their calorific intake, and aware of the health benefits of not drinking. In Pentire there’s only two calories per serve, it’s got zero sugar, it’s got zero salt, so there’s those health benefits. There’s also the whole ride-off from the gin boom as well, so everyone can relate to a gin and tonic.
What is the best way to enjoy Pentire?
When people ask, “how do you drink Pentire?”, we say that you drink it just like a gin and tonic, and everyone can relate to that. It’s a double shot, 50ml, served with tonic and garnished with a sprig of rosemary or a bit of lemon peel.
And where can our readers and followers pick up a bottle?
We sell through our website pentiredrinks.com where we offer free next-day delivery, and in terms of where people can pick it up ort try it, in Cornwall you can order a Pentire at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, at any of the Paul Ainsworth Group restaurants, Prawn on the Lawn, and in terms of retailers places like Dalesford and The Pig.