"Over the summer I chaired and judged a couple of panels on the quality food awards, as I mentioned in one of my previous blogs. Last year the category of meat, poultry and game was won by a superb product from Highland Venison, which then went on to win the overall Golden Q award.
This win by a UK venison product pleased me no end, especially since it was the first time game had been entered into the category, and I was glad that good quality Scottish venison had beaten some 30 other (very good) products and made a name for British venison, as opposed to the imported New Zealand Venison which certain supermarkets insist on carrying.
Back in the hot seat
This year, as I sat in the chairman’s seat again and cast my eye over the list of 35+ entered products, I was very happy to see three of the major supermarkets had entered venison products. Great, I thought, it's about time we saw more British Venison on our shelves.
I made the assumption that this was English, Scotch, Welsh or Irish Venison, because all the products that we looked at proudly carried the Union Jack or the Scottish, Welsh or Irish flag. But I was wrong - every one of the products came from New Zealand.
Questions to be answered
Why oh why are they buying in New Zealand Venison when we have an ample supply in the UK? I asked this question of the supermarkets and was given a whole bunch of reasons as to why: for example, “The UK can not supply the demand for the Venison we need.” Rubbish - we have a great supply of Venison in the UK and through good management of wild stocks as well as naturally farming on large areas of open land, we supply more than any supermarket will ever need.
“The quality of the Venison we get from New Zealand is superior to the UK venison.” Rubbish again - the Venison we have in the UK is a natural product of our countryside. The only time when Venison is hit and miss is when non-specialist suppliers deal with it and do not know how to select animals for certain products.
But remember that we are dealing with a wild animal that has had very little intervention in its selective breeding. Let's not try to turn it into the modern day economy chicken that has no flavour. These birds exist because this is what the supermarkets demand - a 1.5kg or 2kg bird full of useless muscle, that cannot fly and can barely support its own weight. Venison is not what they would call perfect and calculable in portions as lamb, but then wild animals never are.
Another argument was that “We have to be accountable to our customers that the venison we buy has had the best possible husbandry and has been humanly slaughtered.” All our venison is, and I would go as far as saying that an animal shot in the field has less stress then one taken to the slaughterhouse. Our wild venison lives free, goes where it wants to go, eating what it wants to eat, it is as free-range as you can get, has the best husbandry of all, because it is a wild animal that is harvested quickly and cleanly with no stress. Our naturally-farmed venison lives in large expanses of countryside and in many cases is shot in the field.
Ladies and gents of the supermarket world, you are buying venison from New Zealand because it's cheap and because you can cheaply ship it over in containers with frozen New Zealand lamb. Our venison is some of the best in the world and the chefs I teach know this. It comes from our countryside, is supplied fresh and travels a relatively short distance to your shops, not half way around the world. Let’s not ignore this fantastic British commodity and let's be as patriotic about venison as we are now about our pork, beef and Lamb - making it available to all.
“This is our first summer in the Highlands and we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. With a move to weekly bookings for the holiday months, full chalets, happy guests and long evenings, we now have lots more time on our hands to relish the great outdoors.
It seems Aviemore becomes even crazier in the summer with a real buzz around town and the odd shindig to look forward to at the weekends.
The Insider Festival 2011
The talk of the town has been the Insider Festival held just a few miles outside of Aviemore. What a weekend it was! Sunny days filled with fine local foods, afternoon teas and cakes, entertainers, pipers and folk music running in to debauchery filled nights of cocktails, cider and rock music. Who thought it was a good idea to throw an Absinth bar into the mix? The estate was decorated in a multitude of colours and after a few beers in the darkness if felt more like Neverland - every woodland path was beautifully decorated enchanting you to follow it to yet another bar, stage or event. Finally once the sun was well and truly up and the last of the fantastic bands have strummed their final chord it was time to work out how to get home. Unlike most of the guest we weren’t camping on the site. We had work to do the next day, however productivity was limited that weekend.
Wedding drainage issues
Of course the big event for us personally was Simon asking me to marry him. As you can imagine I am still reeling with excitement and every catch up with an old friend or chance meeting with an acquaintance is the perfect excuse to order another wee glass of champagne. Having considered various wedding venues we finally decided to hold it at our very own Pine Bank Chalets, in tipis in the garden. This however is not quite as straightforward as we first thought. Our first task was to get a utility survey done of the garden to ensure that when the tipis are secured the guys don’t accidentally burst our drains and leak raw sewage all over our garden two days before our big day. Oh, the glamour involved in wedding planning.
A ramp, a river and a raft
The last few weeks we have been eagerly watching the construction of a rather large ramp across the road from PBC in anticipation of the Aviemore Big Splash this weekend. Since 1974 the Big Splash has brought out the bravest, the weirdest and the craziest to challenge each other at this unusual extreme sport. The 14 foot ramp of course provides an ideal platform to bring together all of the local outdoor sports. This sees people hurtling themselves into the River Spey on anything from skis, mountain bikes, kayaks and even the odd wheel-barrow. This coupled with more great food and live music, it is set to be another great weekend.
Not to mention thunder in the Glens, the Harley Davison rally that descends on us the weekend after. To think we moved to the Highlands to get away from the craziness of London!
I hope you have all noticed our progress around the grounds and we have had some great feedback on our refurbs! Please do make sure you follow our progress on Facebook and our website www.pinebankchalets.co.uk. Enjoy the rest of the summer.
Jose's demos go down a treat at the New Forest Show
“This month when the CLA Game fair came to an end, my wife Charlotte and I travelled down to the New Forest where both of us would be working in the Countryside arena.
A new venue
This is a new show to me and I was a last minute booking as the organisers had been let down by their usual chef from a local hotel due to a mass influx of business. Because of this, I was a bit wary as to what to expect in the way of equipment and the type of demonstration they wanted. The brief was prep and cooking of game and they would supply a selection of game for me to use. I prepped a few bits to take with me and once I was there found a great kitchen set up with everything I needed.
The first demonstration was breaking down a haunch of venison into it primal cuts and showing the first and second class cuts from the joints, followed by a tasting of venison steaks cut from the topside. Each demonstration followed the same sort of layout there after with Pat, a local housewife, doing home cookery in between my demos. By the end of the first day, all was going well and the organisers came to see me saying that this was the first time they had had butchery demos and it was going down a storm.
Ron, the manager of the Countryside arena, mentioned that he had a roe buck in his farm shop chiller at a place called the ‘Owl Barn’. I asked if he could bring it in so that I could show the crowds how to skin and break down a whole carcass. The next day the roe buck was brought in and a large crowd watched and enjoyed as I set to work. This is a great show in a beautiful part of the country and with some really lovely people. There is everything here from the massive equestrian presence to the country sports, food and local produce. I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow H&C blogger Howard Kirby for the first time and had a natter about my dog and its ability to go deaf on me every now and then. Howard and his guys put on a great dog display that was entertaining and very informative at the same time which I really enjoyed, you can tell that his dogs love what they do and love to please their master. All in all a great show and one I hope to be at next year.”
“Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted a blog but during that time lots has happened.
The first thing to tell you about is the conclusion of a year’s worth of work with Alaska Seafood. Just over a year ago, fellow lecturer Norman Fu and I set up a competition for Alaska Seafoods - please read my blog ‘Alaska Seafoods Working with Young Chefs’ 29th April 2010. The idea was to ask our second year students to come up with recipes for Alaska Salmon and Pacific Cod. Both these fish are highly sustainable and for the past two years we have worked with Alaska Seafood using the model of how Alaska polices its fisheries to teach students about good fishery management and its importance.
This is something vital for chefs to learn as in many cases these are the guys that set food fashions and trends which are then followed by the supermarkets. After the competition, the winners were chosen and the prizes given, then all 15 finalists’ recipes were taken by me and food styled for a book Alaska Seafood planned to produce. After nearly one year, the book is now complete and on 9 April we had the launch at the college. This was a fantastic affair and Norman and I prepared miniatures of some of the recipes in the book as well as some others to show off other sustainable seafoods from Alaska. These included:
1) Yuzu koshyo glazed Alaska king crab on avocado.
2) Wild Alaska salmon gravalux with Alaska king crab lemon cream, mango and citrus dressing
3) Wild Alaska salmon tarter on melba toast with dill, grain mustard dressing.
4) Pancetta wrapped wild Alaska salmon with an orange butter sauce.
5) Sous vide wild Alaska salmon on buttered baby leeks with a green pea mousse.
6) Wild Pacific cod on chorizo and puy lentils with sundried tomato and chorizo oil.
7) Cured and seared wild Alaska salmon with seaweed salad and citrus soya sauce dressing.
8) White miso Alaska black cod on Thai salad.
9) Grilled wild Pacific pollock glazed with a cheesy Welsh rarebit mix.
10) Wild Pacific cod filled with wild Alaska salmon mousse and spinach with a creamy caper and cheese sauce.
This book is a fantastic achievement for the students to be involved with and will be sent all over the world to show the future chefs of tomorrow working towards a more sustainable world. For further information about the recipes or to obtain a copy of the book, contact [email protected] or call 0207 389 9404.”
"In the UK we have many breeds of pigs; some go way back and some have more recently been selectively bred for their size or eating qualities. Much has been said about the best breed and the way they are reared. Gloucester Old Spots are one breed that seems to pop its head up every now and again as one of the finest old breeds around.
A few years ago fellow lecturer Patrick Carey and I where asked by the then Meat and Live Stock Commission and Hotel and Caterer Magazine to look at the differences between a Gloucester Old Spots and free range Blythburgh pigs. They expected the Gloucester Old Spot - being the breed of the day - to beat the Blythburgh hands down both in flavor and in yield. This was not to be the case as you can see in the article called 'Which Pig'.
We actually found that the modern Gloucester Old Spot was not the Holy Grail of pork that we had been lead to believe. Why? Well I have my own thoughts on this which were backed up on a recent trip to Spain.
Gloucester Old Spots are great pigs with a good flavor and a good layer of fat, and where there is fat there is flavour. The Victorian books tell us that most large country houses of this era had large fruit and vegetable gardens. They also had Gloucester Old Spots which where kept in a pig pen and then as autumn approached, they would be turned out to feed on the wind fall of apples from the orchards. This way of finishing became so main stream that Gloucester Old Spots became known as the orchard pig.
Myth would have us believe that the reason a Gloucester Old Spot has the big black spots is because as the apples fell they hit the pig and so caused a bruise that then became the spots. These pigs fed well on the left over food from the house as well as the apples just before the cold weather set in and they where slaughtered. I am sure that this finishing of these pigs had a lot to do with the end product and that is why the Gloucester Old Spot was held in such high regard. Now a days The Gloucester Old Spots are not finished in this way and because we have developed an aversion to fat, so the pork we produce is much leaner and fed to produce muscle.
This theory of the way pigs are finished and fed relating to the pork we produce today was underlined on a visit to an Iberico pork produced in the Castilla Leon Spain called Monte Beco.
I did some work with these guys for The Restaurant Show, as you may recall from one of my recent blogs. At Monte Beco they breed and produce Iberico pigs - a very old breed that is synonymous with quality. Spanish air dried hams and chorizos produce a succulent well marbled meat. These black pigs are the same breed found in small villages all around the Spain; it is a breed that does well in the Spanish climate.
In many areas where these pigs are kept, the countryside is covered with nothing but Spanish acorn trees. The trees drop their rich cargo of acorns at the beginning of autumn and it is here amongst these areas of wild countryside that true Iberico pigs spend their time freely roaming feeding on the acorns and other food. These pigs were free range before we’d even heard of the idea and have been bred and reared in this way for generations. The husbandry and feed these pigs receive has maintained the characteristics of this pork. Nothing has changed here, and yes Monte Beco does it on a larger scale, but they have kept to the traditional methods of rearing. The pigs can eat over 500kg in acorns during their three year lives and are reared in three different ways:
These are the pigs that eat nothing but acorns and food they find out in the acorn groves. They are much prized small animals, the meat is tight but has lines of fat running through it called 'marbling'. This makes it fantastically moist. It also has a slightly nutty flavour which comes from the acorns. The hams from these pigs are known all over the world as 'jamon Iberico pata negra bellota' (Iberico black leg acorn fed ham) and can fetch over £250 each. It has an exquisite flavour and colour which changes depending on age and how it is cut.
Recebo y Bellota
As the Acorn season draws on there are not as many acorns available as the pig farmers would like because it is a wild food, so these same black pigs are still in the field but their diet is supplemented with barley. These are known as a 50/50 pig; the hams from these pigs are cheaper than the bellota and have a lighter flavour but are larger. They are called 'jamon Iberico pata negra recebo'.
Again these are the same pigs but they are fed on pig feed and barley. This produces a larger pig with more meat and a good flavour, but not a patch on the other two. These hams are known as 'jamon Iberico pata negra'.
The meat from these three rearing processes is exquisite. It is darker than the pork we traditionally find in the UK and has marbling running through the meat which adds flavor. These traditional black pigs have been as much a part of Spanish life as paella, and the tradition of breeding, rearing and husbandry has been passed on through generations. So I say, bring back traditional methods of rearing bring back the pigs of old!
Can you help Millione raise a million for Christmas?
Christmas eve: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
This award-winning version of the Imperial Stout style comes from Manhattan and is only available from October through to March. At 10% ABV Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout displays a cavern of chocolate aromas with strapping coffee notes and fruity flavours like the best Belgian or French dark chocolates. A spiky bitterness, quickly coupled by off-dry ripe malts, sends concentrated chocolate and coffee flavours across the full-bodied palate. The beer is a great partner for puddings: chocolate desserts, cheesecakes, fruit tarts and ice-creams. If you don’t have a sweet tooth then try with the contrasting flavour of Stilton.
Christmas day: Millioné Rosé
It’s finally Christmas – the one day we can eat, drink and feel merry without any guilt. Embrace the season of goodwill and sip this good-looking lightly sparkling rosé wine as you knock back the choccies. Millione from Italy tastes as good as it looks and it does good, too. For every bottle sold one pound goes towards building schools in Sierra Leone.
Make me a millionaire
Even if you are stocked up for Christmas and can’t face the trudge to the supermarket then visit Laithwaites and stock up for New Year. The aim is to sell a million bottles on Millione and raise a million pounds.
That only leaves me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
The Italian word 'dolcetto' means 'little sweet one,' but the name probably first referenced the Piedmont hills where the vines were cultivated rather than the grapes’ sugar levels. Australia is home to the oldest current plantings of Dolcetto with vines dating back to the 1860s.
Keep it in the family
Brown Brothers is a wine business based in Milawa, Victoria, Australia. Founded in 1889 by John Francis Brown (and today held and run by his family on the original land), Brown Brothers produces wine from a selection of grape varieties and into a range of styles.
Interesting and pretty
The Dolcetto & Syrah is an interesting and pretty blend; an intense rosé with clean aromas of black and red berries, spicy suggestions and a little liquorice. The fruity palate is balanced by the frizzante mouth feel, which gives the wine a lively finish.
Best served chilled, this wine would be super for anyone serving Christmas turkey with spiced sage and thyme stuffing or with lashings of cranberry sauce. For something lighter if you’re full after the festivities, match to Greek salad or antipasti. I know a delicious dish with Cœur de Lion La Buche goat’s cheese and beetroot (let me know if you would like the recipe) otherwise enjoy with cheddar from the cheeseboard.
Port matches well with Christmas pudding and mince pies
December 10: Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
"The Christmas tree is twinkling and the halls are very much decked. But there are still presents to be wrapped (and maybe a few still to buy!) Here are a some more scrumptious suggestions of what to eat and drink to feel merry…
Tawny Ports are versatile when it comes to food matching and are particularly fitting for Christmas cake and mince pies (not to mention they are tasty on their own as a dessert wine!)
Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny is an excellent example of an aged tawny port, perfect for the Christmas spread. Made from top quality red ports grown in the finest vineyards of the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior, it also works with nuts, berries, dark chocolate and even blue cheese – all festive flavours.
A delicate 'tawny' hue, the Port is rich and refined with elegant oaky notes and an abundance of ripe fruits – plus it has been bottled for drinking this Christmas. So what are you waiting for?
December 11: Crabbie’s Ginger
Long drinks over ice and with a slice might make for cool al fresco feasts but I think the intensely appetising aromas of Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer are an invigorating wintry option at Christmas. Just for grown-ups, this tipple has a legacy dating back to 1801, when Crabbie’s was originally produced as a ginger wine in the Scottish port of Leith. Crabbie’s don’t cut corners and today use real steeped ginger from the Far East, before brewing up the fierce flavours over eight weeks. So forget the summer cool bag and instead add a few bottles to your hamper gifts. Or better still, leave out a bottle for Santa.
December 12: Tuaca Crumble
You might not have come across this vanilla and citrus based liqueur before but Tuaca is making a nationwide name for itself as “the bartender’s drink,” especially at the seaside town of Brighton where I grew up. Tuaca has been created using the same recipe since 1938; a mix of oak aged Italian brandy infused with citrus fruit and sweet aromatics to give the liqueur an intricate taste profile. This makes Tuaca an ideal base for cocktails and long drinks, as well as an enjoyable ice-cold shot.
As Christmas draws closer and the nights frostier, try the Tuaca Crumble warm cocktail after dinner. Mix 50ml Tuaca, 25ml fresh Lemon Juice and 100ml warm Apple Juice together, then scatter half tsp ground cinnamon on top to gently steep into the drink. Garnish with a slice of apple. Like pudding in a glass!"
This unusual vodka makes for a sparkling festive treat
“This Christmas Calendar blog will continue throughout the month of December with a seasonal slurp suggestion each day. Think of it as a boozy advent calendar. Please feel free to leave a comment and share your own festive favourites.
December 2nd: Camitz Chambord Champagne Cocktail
This sparkling vodka is a true innovation; more than a fizz, Camitz will add some sizzle to your festivities! United with the French heritage of black raspberry liqueur, this cocktail is full of the spirit of Christmas. Both bottles are wrapped up in iconic, charismatic packaging (and so also make super gifts for the at-home mixologist).
Refrigerate all ingredients then layer a chilled flute glass by carefully pouring in this order: 25ml Chambord liqueur, 100ml Champagne, 50ml Camitz Sparkling Vodka.
"As luck would have it, the week that Prince William and Kate Middleton announce their royal engagement, I had already been preparing a blog on sparkling wine, specifically Prosecco. With this fizz becoming increasingly fashionable, I have been talking to Tony Stones of ChampagneWarehouse.com about the dos and don’ts when raising a glass of Italian bubbly.
Raising a glass and the profile of bubbly
In 2000, Tony established the web retail business to seek out quality European sparkling wines and Champagnes from lesser known vineyards and make them available to buy online in the UK.
These include La Jara, with Massimo Marion and his brother Paolo breathing new life into the land with their application of biodynamic principles. Then Vignarosa, its name derived from the colour of the manor house, which during Napoleonic times was pink (and it retains a similar hue to this day).
On why Prosecco is currently growing in the popularity stakes, Tony suggests: “It’s much softer than Champagne and so easier to drink; it also costs less to produce and has a good price-quality ratio." So popping a cork is lighter on the purse strings and the palette.
“We aim to capture the fresh fruitiness of the Prosecco grape,” says Mauro De Marchi from Vignarosa. Explaining the classic taste that sets it apart from Champagne and Cava, Tony says: “Prosecco is recognised for its elegance, a soft floral scent and smell of apple and bread crusts rather than the more complex flavours that develop in Champagne and Cava over time.”
When it comes to food matching, Prosecco is very versatile. “Prosecco is ideal as an aperitif. Try extra dry Prosecco with appetisers, dry Prosecco with desserts, and Frizzante with any light dish that is not too elaborate, like soup, salad or a simple pasta dish,” recommends Tony.
If this has whet your appetite then Tony has some suggestions for serving to your guests. “For the ultimate drinking experience Giovanni Iaconis at La Jara recommends a Riedel Vinum Extreme. Otherwise most people agree a Champagne flute is a good compromise, but only fill it two thirds full to appreciate the aromas that will gather in the top third of the glass.”
So can Prosecco claim any health benefits compared to other alcoholic drinks? “Not so to speak, no,” answers Tony. But there is some good news for the waistline. “It is slightly lower in alcohol than Champagne – so has slightly fewer calories.” And if you are a fan of organics then the Proseccos that Tony imports from La Jara are organic and have lower sulphite content.
Sweet and dry
One last tip from Tony: “When choosing Prosecco bear in mind that Extra Dry is actually sweeter than Dry, which is the opposite of Champagne and other wines!”
I haven’t heard in the news (yet) how William and Kate toasted their engagement, but Giovanni from La Jara advises, “Champagne is prestigious and noble; the Prosecco is for the everyday and ever popular!” While there is nothing “everyday” about this week’s regal celebration, it has made me thirsty for some party Prosecco."