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And another thing . . . in search of local flavour

PUBLISHED: 17:15 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:15 24 March 2014

suffolk farmhouse chesese

suffolk farmhouse chesese

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The French have a word for it: ‘terroir’. We don’t have a comparable word for it in English. The nearest we can get is ‘of the soil’.

At first sight this means that whatever we eat has something of the flavour of the local soil about it, which is predominantly about the wine in France, but also extends to their cheese.

However, I think the French probably mean even more than the soil. To the soil they add the ambience – which is why cheap plonk never seems to travel well – and the people, who keep the sense of place, the pace of life and the sense of welcome . . . or not, as the case maybe. Anybody in search of a similar sense of terroir in Suffolk might at first glance feel disappointed. It wasn’t so long ago that a famous writer on cheese said that the only historical cheese in Suffolk was called Dunlop and tasted similar to its namesake.

Suffolk used to have many more vineyards than it does today, and yet the flinty dry whites which characterise the region are pretty much unsurpassed in my inexpert opinion.

Rob Plummer and Stephen Thurlow, from the Ufford White Lion pair their lamb dish with Ross Turner's beer choice.Rob Plummer and Stephen Thurlow, from the Ufford White Lion pair their lamb dish with Ross Turner's beer choice.

A recent trip round a certain brewery in the county opened my eyes to the passion of the brewers who demonstrated how the flavour of the beers depended on the local barley and the water as much as the imported hops. The water was handled very carefully and its purity was jealously protected. It comes through the soil of course, and takes its subtle flavours from the soluble chemicals. This ‘terroir’ is something of a secret. With the diversity of soils in the county, we have the ability to produce some stunningly unique flavours, and in great variety. And I’m not just talking about wine or beer.

Maybe this is one reason why the flavours of veg from your own garden often taste so much better than shop bought. That’s one reason why I try and buy as locally as possible. Our nearest butcher (two miles away) tries to source all his meats within the county and as closely to his shop as he can. Our local greengrocer (also two miles away) sells veg he grows on his own farm. Further afield I am always on the lookout for local products in the shops, and insist on ‘facing up’ the Suffolk stock to make it look more attractive, much to my wife’s embarrassment. But I am convinced buying locally saves money as well as supporting local enterprise.

The ‘terroir’ also extends to the people who sell the produce and from whom I get local gossip, share local stories, meet other people I would not otherwise meet and come away more uplifted than I do after a trip to any local supermarket. Being rooted in the village where I live means that I too am part of the terroir, which gives me a responsibility to contribute to it as well as to take from it. Whenever I come home from being away I find myself yearning for nothing more than a local steak, a garden salad, a pint of the local brew in a local pub, and a catch up with the locals in my community.

Perhaps we should quietly celebrate the fact that Suffolk is such an underrated county. Some misunderstand the term ‘silly Suffolk’ which was originally used to indicate an intelligent people who knew how to live and enjoy themselves. Some people I meet say we punch above our weight, yet they hardly know what we are made of. Incomers who think we are still ‘sleepy Suffolk’ should perhaps note that in the style of the mythical hare and tortoise, we might have learnt a secret about the journey being as important as the arrival.

And to the supermarkets who seek constantly to improve their market share by building ever more warehouses selling foodstuffs from goodness knows where, under the guise of giving us more choice, remember that many of us are quite passionate and protective about the terroir of which we are a part.

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