Author Archives: Riverford

Ben’s wine blog: Dominio de Punctum’s Finca Fabian

Ben took a trip to Spain to meet the producers of an organic wine that’s head and shoulders above the rest.

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The Fernandez family

When I first tasted Dominio de Punctum’s Finca Fabian wine three years ago I marked their card several levels above the standard, entry level, Spanish organic wine. The problem was that the same applied to the price. However, where there’s a will there’s a way, so by importing pallet loads direct from the vineyard and twisting the arm of the UK agent, we’ve been able to get the price down to £6.99 – the same as the infinitely inferior wines we were stocking before. I like our Finca Fabian wines so much that I thought I’d better pay them a visit.

Doing the right thing

My first thought was that here’s another rich man learning how to make a small fortune from a big one, but I was wrong. It’s a well thought out, properly funded family business. Until ten years ago it was a typical grape farm selling their produce to the local co-op for next to nothing. Bulk wine from the region sells for 0.25 euros a litre.

The Fernandez family thought they could do better and so father and three siblings set about doing it in a business-like way. The fact that Jesus Fernandez, who showed me around could probably sell sand to an Arab certainly didn’t do any harm. There was also a reassuring commitment to doing the right thing, not just farming organically and biodynamically (they’re certified for both) but also employment and social responsibility. It was definitely a happy place.

The vineyard

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The Fernandez’s harvest

The wines speak for themselves. Harvest had just finished and most of the 2014 was happily bubbling away, while the Chardonnay has nearly finished its secondary, malolactic fermentation. Delicious. I don’t like winespeak but sometimes you have to – unoaked, fresh tropical fruits with a lovely slightly creamy mouthfeel. Why we’re all rushing to buy Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, when you can match this with virtually any light food, is a mystery.

The rosé/rosado is so classically French that it’s freed us up to stock the slightly fruitier, New World style, strawberry flavoured L’Estanquet as our second rosé from France. It’s a funny old world.

The Tempranillo is equally good. It’s clean, well made and with enough tannin and structure to stand up to heavier foods.

There’s far more to come from Dominio de Punctum, including a lightly sparkling frizzante, so watch this space.

Ben’s wine blog: Davenport Vineyards, Sussex 2013 Horsmonden dry white

This week Ben discovers a new favourite at brother Guy’s wedding, and finds out a bit more about British wine making.

Discovering a fantastic fizz

It’s been around for a while but in recent years, it’s come on leaps and bounds and the 2013 vintage is the best yet.  I hadn’t tasted it for ages until Davenport’s 2013 Horsmonden dry white slipped up the blind side (and that’s not part of a best man’s speech) at Geetie and brother Guy’s wedding. Several glasses of their fantastic fizz had got the party off to a flying start and it wasn’t until midway through the first course that I noticed that the contents of the glass in my hand were really pretty good. Crisp, dry and aromatic – like a combination of the bride and groom (I confess to still not having given them a wedding present and I wasn’t the best man).

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Will the wine-maker

Winemaker and owner, Will Davenport, knows his stuff – he’s been doing it for twenty years and the awards page on his website testifies to his skills.  We’ve all heard that global warming will make southern England the next Burgundy, but so far, in the case of organic it’s been an emperor’s new clothes scale bluff.  Yes, England is making some fantastic, champagne-esque fizz and white wines, but thanks to a succession of wet summers, until last year, delivery was woefully slow and low.  2013 was a great year and 2014 promises to be even better.  Here’s what Hamish Anderson, writing for The Daily Telegraph, thought of Will’s wine:

Will Davenport’s small organic estate makes some of England’s finest still wine. The 2013 is a blinder – its pungent nose of lemon and nettles is not only quintessentially English, but also makes you want to dive in for a sip. A glass of glorious, spirit-lifting refreshment.

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Getting hold of the vintage

It takes Will three years to make the fizz, but the more still wine we buy, the more chance there is of getting a decent allocation of the 2013 vintage when it’s released. That’s the way the wine trade works.  Or if we’re really good, fingers crossed, they might just find a few cases of the previous vintage.

Ben’s wine blog: The wine in Spain comes mainly from the plain and by Jove we’ve got it!

Spain, once European viticulture’s poor cousin, land of Don Simon tetrapak and worse, has woken from the dead. Drive south from Madrid to Granada and you ill still see the industrial stainless steel wineries of Valdepeñas, but elsewhere, in the north and east, vine growing and winemaking has taken giant leaps forward.

Unheard of regions from Rías Baixas in the North West to Yecla and Jumilla in the South East, are fast upping the ante to compete with old favourite Rioja and sleeping giants; Penedès, Rueda and Ribera del Duero.

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A new beginning for Spanish wine

The land is cheap in Spain, and rather than grubbing up old vines it’s easier to plant new ones. Now many of the old, abandoned vineyards are being restored, and with judicious irrigation, are producing grapes with real character. It might be hot, but it’s also high. Around the south east of La Mancha many of the vineyards are 700 meters plus which makes for near perfect conditions – sundrenched days and cool nights.

We’ve been having a good look at our range of Spanish wines and have decided to start afresh. There’s so much out there to choose from, we thought it would be better to start with a clean sheet…

Sebastian’s Story

One of our favourite wines, Marsilea Verdejo, is from the mountains, 900 m above Valencia. It’s the apple of vineyard owner, Sebastian’s eye, cherished and nurtured for years before he got it off the ground. Winemaking the Riverford way.

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Sebastian’s family came back to Spain after 30 years in Germany. On their return they set up a small business and slowly started buying some of the land around them. It wasn’t long before Sebastian started planting vines, his passion for wine meant he had a clear idea about what he wanted to achieve and a dream that one day he would have his own wine cellar and a wine made by his family.

He started out making wines in his garage after studying viticulture.  Slowly the business grew, as he tended to his vineyards, in his own words, like they were his children. His respect for the plants and the surrounding countryside meant that farming organically was an obvious choice from the word go.

Sebastian’s wine is a great match for fish and poultry but works equally well as an aperitif, with crunchy vegetable crudités and tapas.  It’s described as having notes of ‘crisp green apples with soft, creamy, nutty overtones, and hints of honey’, but I’m sure you can make your own mind up.

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Great Godminster! How they make their mouth-watering cheese

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We visited Godminster to find out more about what goes into making their award-winning brie and cheddar for our Riverford boxes.

Richard Hollingbery, owner of Godminster Farm in Bruton, Somerset, has a simple mantra – nature repays those who treat her kindly. They are one of a dwindling number of dairy farms that are also cheesemakers, and we think this direct connection makes their cheeses all the better.

Farm manager Pete Cheek and Richard have crossed their 230 head herd of British Friesians with Swedish Red, Norwegian Red and Hereford breeds, to produce animals that are well-suited to the largely pasture based organic system of dairy farming. This also means that male calves can be brought on as beef animals. Wildlife is encouraged all over the farm with wide field margins and carefully managed ponds and hedgerows, while homeopathy is used as part of the herd management.

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On the cheesemaking side of the business, Richard has perfected the recipe for Godminster cheddar over the last 10 years, creating an unusually creamy cheese. Brothers Steve and Malcolm Dyer, along with Ashley Reynold, are Godminster’s treasured brie.

They work closely with Pete, the farm manager, so that they can tweak their cheese making process as the cows’ diet changes through the year; a wet summer for example will produce different milk to a hot one. All of this impacts how the cheese is made, as everything from temperature to pH and fat levels can influence how it turns out, and it takes an expert eye to know how to manage it. The brie is made in small batches and the curds cut by hand, with the team using a traditional liquid brine along with herbs, garlic and black pepper to infuse different flavours into the cheese. The result is a fantastic, authentic brie range that is full of character. Definitely one of our favourites!

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Separating curds & whey, ready to pack into cheese mould.

The cheese is made a stone’s throw from where the cows roam, grazing on organic grass and clover.  Their milk is pasteurised before having rennet added to it and kept at 23C for a day and a night. When ready, the curd is cut by hand using a ‘harp,’ tipped into plastic moulds and flattened by hand.

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Packing curd into mould by hand

The whey is drained away.

The brie goes into a brining room for 24 hours, then a ripening room for 5 days – this is where the bloom (or what we’d call the skin) starts to form.

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The team at Godminster make 80 cheeses at a time, which are cut and turned before being hand-wrapped and ready for our boxes.

 

awards: national vegbox scheme riverford is recognised at the franchising oscars

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Designed to celebrate the country’s most exceptional franchisors, the British Franchising Association’s annual awards counted an organic farm on its shortlist this year. National vegbox scheme Riverford delivers across most of England and South Wales through a network of franchisees, known as ‘vegmen and vegladies’, who know and support their customers in the use of their fruit, veg, dairy and farm shop items.

“We were impressed by Riverford’s thorough, eight-stage recruitment process. Prospects must know the company’s ethos as well as their products,” said the BFA judges report. “Offering full disclosure, Riverford staff and the whole network are made available to help prospects with information like business planning templates and P&L forecasts. The process is robust. And the result is that they haven’t had a business failure in 15 years’ franchising – confirmation that their approach works.”

It is the first time that Riverford have been nominated for this award, and the team are understandably delighted. Riverford’s Franchise Services Manager Nicky Morgan says, “Riverford takes pride in working with franchisees who mirror our ‘good food, good farming, good business’ ethos. We have refined our recruitment process to ensure that the right people are selected based on their business acumen, personal qualities and a genuine desire to work towards a common goal in what is essentially a fairly niche market. It is a huge accolade to have had this process recognised by the BFA in our recent nomination as finalist in the Franchisee Recruitment category of the 2014 Franchisor Awards.”
The awards were held at a black-tie gala dinner at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire.

The alternative Easter egg – how to decorate them naturally with vegetables!

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Easter does not have to be all about the chocolate; vegetables have plenty of fun to offer too! A great way to get all the family involved, roll up your sleeves and work together to use any leftover veg to make pretty, naturally dyed Easter eggs.

You can colour ordinary hen’s eggs with vegetable dyes at home in your kitchen, as different veg produces different colours. They create more subtle tones than chemical colourants, but as they are harmless dyes, it means that you have the added fun of eating colourful boiled eggs afterwards on a picnic lunch. Especially popular with kids!

Here’s what you’ll need for each colour you want to create:

  • 1-2 teaspoons of white vinegar – this helps fix the dye to the egg shell.
  • Your chosen veg – see below for the colours each creates.
  • Eggs – try to use ones with the palest shells you can find, as they will show the colour more.

Natural dye sources:

  • Blue/lilac – red cabbage (boil the chopped cabbage in water for 30 mins first)
  • Pink – beetroot (boil the chopped beetroot in water for 30 mins first)
  • Green – spinach
  • Deep orange/terracotta – brown onion skins

There are many more colours you can create from natural materials; look online for more ideas. Just make sure that whatever you use is safe to eat first if you are planning to eat them, as egg shells are porous and will absorb the colourant.

Method:

  1. Gently wash your eggs, then place in a single layer in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add a teaspoon or so of white vinegar along with your natural dye; the more dye material you use, the more intense the colour. Some veg will need boiling first (see dye list), in which case you add the eggs and the vinegar at the end of the boiling time. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove the eggs and put to one side to cool and dry; an egg box works well as a drying rack. If you want a darker colour, remove the eggs from the liquid, strain the dye through a coffee filter and cover the eggs with the natural dye once more. You can leave them overnight if you like, but either way make sure they go into the fridge if you are planning on eating them (and consume within 24 hours of boiling).
  3. Repeat the same process for any additional colours you want. You can give the eggs more of a glossy finish by rubbing them with vegetable oil, and using wax or crayons to draw shapes or patterns before dyeing them can make your eggs even prettier. You can also layer dyes to create different colours – much of the fun is in experimenting and seeing how the eggs turn out.

Note (optional): Bear in mind that what you use to dye the shell can sometimes flavour the egg itself a little, so you may prefer to ‘blow’ the eggs first to empty the raw egg out. This also means that you can keep your coloured eggs.

To do this: First wash the egg gently but thoroughly in warm water. Next, slowly make a small hole with a clean sewing needle at the pointed end of the shell, taking care not to crack the egg. Make a second hole at the opposite end, about double the size of the first. Use a knitting needle or similar to pierce the yolk of the egg via the larger hole, then, gently holding the egg between forefinger and thumb over a small bowl, blow through the smaller hole to get all the raw egg out and put aside for an omelette of spot of baking. Rinse the emptied shell thoroughly in cold water and use as above.

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Valentine’s veg special: To our secret admirers……

We’re declaring it Ode to Veg for Valentine’s Day – forget chocolates, cards and expensive meals, it’s all about veg!

Here’s a link to our favourite veggie love ditties which our talented fans and customers have penned for us this week…. THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to write a ditty, we’re delighted to let you know ….. the feeling is mutual!!

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preserving blog: time for a citrus fest

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For Anna Colquhoun, Riverford’s Preserving Guru, January and February mean one thing in her kitchen.  Citrus.

Kilos arrive from Riverford, all lugged in crates by local driver Richard who always smiles and never grumbles.  The Seville oranges, blood oranges, lemons and clementines are fantastic  – bright, ripe, full of juice and flavour and of course unwaxed.  

ImageThey are some of my favourite things to preserve, as their colours stay true in the jar – a citrus rainbow of red, orange and yellow – and the boiling vats perfume the whole house. 

In my classes coming up in Feb we will make marmalade, spiced pickled oranges, blood orange and port jelly, clementine jam and Moroccan preserved lemons. 

If you’d like to join me at the courses in London, the dates are: 

Sat 8th Feb (waiting list only)
Sun 9th Feb (waiting list only)
Sat 15th Feb (places available)
Sun 16th Feb (places available)

If you’d rather have a go in the comfort of your home, here are a few tips…

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Preserved lemons:

These are easy to make and something special to add to your pantry of ingredients.  They are distinctive of Moroccan cuisine and go brilliantly with roast or braised chicken and fish, in chickpea and couscous dishes, and in salad dressings and salsas.  Chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine is a classic, but why not also try spiced squash with preserved lemon or shoulder of lamb with preserved lemon.  You can find my recipe here.

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Preserved lemons are ‘lactofermented’, like some of the world’s other best foods – sourdough bread, yoghurt, chocolate and kimchi, to name a few.  Friendly bacteria enjoy the salty conditions, multiply, squeeze out any unwanted micro-organisms and produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  The former gives the lemons their distinctive texture, flavour and aroma, and the latter displaces the air in the jar.  The clever clip-top preserving jars let excess gas escape, so they don’t explode.  The bacteria like pure fine salt, that is to say not contaminated with those mysterious ‘anti-caking agents’.  Find it in wholefood and heathfood shops, or buy one of those expensive flaky sea salts and grind it in a mortar or processor. 

Fermentation takes around a month at warm room temperature.  Make sure the lemons stay submerged in the salty juice.  You might notice the jar fizz or sputter – good signs it’s working.  After fermentation keep the jar somewhere cool and dark and try to wait another month or more as they improve with age.  In Morocco I met a women who proudly showed me her syrupy seven-year old specimens.  (Not that I’m recommending that here.)  Fish out a lemon with a clean utensil, give it a rinse, cut away the flesh as it will be too salty and dice the translucent rind. 

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Marmalade

Pick up a Riverford Kit, some jars and granulated sugar and you’re away.  Bitter oranges are inedible raw, but deliciously bittersweet when transformed into marmalade.  They originated in China and later became popular in the Arabian empire, through which they spread around the Middle East and Mediterranean, as far as Spain, which remains a main production area.   

There are different methods for making marmalade, but all have several things in common.  First, the rind is boiled before it’s cooked with sugar, since the quantity of sugar involved will stop it softening.  So make sure the rind is tender enough to easily penetrate with the tines of a fork before proceeding.  Second, the all-important pectin is in mostly found in the pith and pips, so these are retained and used to impart their setting power, although strained out so as not to cloud the jelly.  Third, all the sugar must be gently dissolved before you boil, since stray grains on the side of the pan can cause a whole jar to crystalise.  Nothing wrong with crunchy jam, but perhaps not what you were after.  For a darker, richer ‘Oxford style’ marmalade, stir in a couple of tablespoons of black treacle.

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You need a big pan so the marmalade has space to boil furiously to reach setting point, which happens at around 104C.  Jam thermometers are not perfectly accurate, so better to use the cold saucer test – see my preserving guidelines for details.  Watch as the steam dies down and the bubbles seem slower and less watery – signs you should be testing.  It could take as little as 15 minutes or as much as 50.  When ready give it a few minutes so the rind disperses before pouring into jars, or they will be top-heavy with rind.  If there is scum, gently fold it in, skim it off with a spoon or dissolve it by stirring in a knob of butter.  For those so inclined, now is the time to add a dash of whisky.

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Of course, there’s no need to limit your marmalade to your breakfast toast.  It’s great in bread and butter pudding, on steamed puddings and cakes, as a glaze for meats (ham, chicken, duck), in ice cream, and even in cocktails (marmalade whisky sour, anyone?).

Look out for our next preserving kit for clementine jam, which is probably my new favourite citrus preserve as it’s so ridiculously easy to make and retains so much of the raw clementines’ bright colour and flavour.  I promise you’ll love it.  

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion. 

 

 

riverford newsletter: a little winter colour

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Oranges bring a bright, zingy contrast to all the glorious roots and greens of winter, so the Spanish and Italian citrus seasons are well-timed. By importing via road and ferry, the carbon footprint of these crops is a fraction of their airfreighted equivalents. Oranges thrive in the extreme south of Europe but they need cool nights to develop their colour and sweetness, meaning they are a winter fruit. January brings two special arrivals:

blood oranges

Riverford’s blood oranges are grown by a co-operative of small-scale family farms located in and around the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily. There is a lot of skill involved in growing blood oranges, as so many factors can affect the colouration of its vibrant crimson-streaked flesh. Soil pH and crop variety play a part, but the most important influence is low temperatures during the night. It takes years of experience for the farmers to know when the crop is ready, at which point it is hand harvested using a rolling platform, where the pickers put the fruit straight into baskets and then out to Riverford via their co-op packhouse. Blood oranges are of course wonderful enjoyed as they are, but their balance of sweetness and acidity make them a good addition to winter salads. And considering that blood oranges contain up to three times the amount of Vitamin C compared to most standard oranges, they are timely for fending off those winter colds!

 

Seville oranges

Teresa Amodora and her two daughters have been growing Seville oranges on Ave Maria Farm near Seville since 1986. You can’t get much more organic than their groves, and the fruit has the classic aromatic zest and tart flesh that are much sought after by marmalade makers. They will be available as a marmalade ‘kit’ along with unwaxed, organic lemons and our much-loved recipe throughout January and February (you’ll need your own sugar and jars). Once made, don’t limit its use to toast; we’ve a super Seville orange marmalade pudding recipe on our website, or alternatively use it for a cracking duck a l’orange.

 

Ben’s blog: wine cellar overhaul – meet our new gutsy reds & classy whites

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Ben Watson, Guy’s brother, has given our wine range a good overhaul  – here’s his blog about the thinking behind the new cohort of gutsy reds and classy whites.

Good wine from good farming might sound a little trite but most organic wine is as much a product of the vineyard as milk is of a cow. Great wines are made in the vineyard and after that minimal intervention is the name of the game.

Thirty years ago winemakers were tearing their hair out and crying ‘how can we make good wine from organic grapes?’ Now, with better practises in the vineyard and improved hygiene in the cellar they are asking the opposite; ‘how can we make good wine without using organic grapes?’

So, with this in mind, and the fact that it’s a natural partner to all things Riverford, we’ve been having a good look at our wine list.

Thanks to the chancellor’s avarice value for money lies in the £8-10 bracket so that’s where we have been concentrating our efforts. Once you’ve knocked off the duty and VAT, wine for £7 or less doesn’t offer much value.

So far we’ve added six; a very classy white and red from a top producer in Pic St Loup in the Languedoc,  a lovely rosé from the southern Rhône, a gutsy medal winning Corbierès and two meat and stew friendly ‘Reserva’ reds from Chile.

Top of the pops will be a red and a white from the Marche region of Italy. Wine writers have been ‘bigging up’ Central Italian whites as the next Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the Saladini Pilastri Falerio, a blend of Trebbiano, Pecorino, and Passerino, doesn’t disappoint. Floral on the nose with a touch of mown grass with an apple and herbal flavours, it has good body and acidity and a slight but noticeable bitter almond finish – perfect for vegetable, fish and poultry dishes. The Rosso Piceno is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Montepulciano and spends a month or two in large old oak prior to bottling.  This is more than just good quaffing wine – it’s made for Bolognese or a hearty ragù.

Once the Italians arrive, we’re putting the new wines (minus the Chilean Carmenere and Rhone rosé) in a mixed case of six for a bargain £44.75 (20% off on deliveries from 4th November).

So far we’ve been concentrating on the winter reds. After Christmas we’ll start thinking about the whites and lighter reds …