Summer wines by Ben Watson

Guy’s brother Ben is somewhat of a sommelier. Each season he meticulously selects new wines for us to add to our drink offering. In this blog he talks through our summer wines, and why they made the cut. We hope you’ll enjoy them too.

Rosé
For many, the idea of a good summer wine is a light, crisp, salmon pink rosé and we’ve two old favourites to choose from. Mas de Longchamp’s rosé never fails to deliver and being (in Provence rosé terms) from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, Bouches du Rhône, it is great value for money; £9 becomes £29 alarmingly quickly as you move east along the Côte d’Azur.

We also have Domaine Begude pinot rosé. Pressed immediately to give the faintest of colour, it’s a joy to drink on a sunny summers day. More manufactured rosés are often marked by sweet strawberry flavours, reminiscent of, dare I say it, Opal Fruits, or Starbursts as they are called today. With this rosé, the natural, intense wild strawberry mixed with a hint of acidic cranberry works a treat.

If rosé with bubbles is your thing, there’s never been a better time to buy our La Jara Rosato Frizzante. While Prosecco prices go through the roof, the Rosato Frizzante, enriched with a little red Raboso, can’t address itself as such because it’s not made from 100% Prosecco (Glera) grapes. Their loss is our gain however, because it’s the Raboso that lifts it to another level of food friendliness, and the fact that it also makes it cheaper is a wine win win.

Red
Growers in Western Europe had a bad time in 2017: late, bud destroying, frosts were followed by blistering heat, resulting in pathetically low yields. So our allocation of the red Domaine Begude Pinot Noir has been drastically cut. Low yields increased the intensity so what’s lost in quantity is made up for in quality and the price is pretty much the same as last year. Slightly chilled to around 14°C, it’s a match for all manner of poultry and vegetable dishes and salads.

Fedele
Sicily didn’t suffer as badly as most, and our Fedele wines really come into their own when the barbecues are lit. The Nero d’Avola has that sweet fruit edge that works with charred, caramelised meats and the Catarratto Pinot Grigio is a wine no fridge door should be without. Not surprisingly, they’ve been a big hit so, from the same winemaking team, we’re also offering the more boutique-y Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria and Grillo Viognier.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria is Sicily’s first DOCG wine (the highest designation of quality among Italian wines) – a curious, but successful, marriage of intense, ripe, dark Nero d’Avola and light, summer fruit flavoured Frappato. Best slightly chilled, it’s good with any tomato based pasta dish or dense, oily fish like mackerel. Cerasuolo di Vittoria’s are often north of £15 so an award-winning, organic version for £11 ticks all the boxes. It certainly did with wine critic Jancis Robinson who scored the last two vintages tasted 16 and 17 out of 20.

The Grillo Viognier also got a good write-up from her. With a bouquet of tropical fruits, hints of vanilla and a palate hitting that perfect balance between ripe fruit and racy acidity, it’s hard not to like. Again, it’s fantastic value at £9.95.

Quinta Das Maias
We also have a couple more, slightly less seasonal, new listings. Both from Quinta Das Maias in the Dao uplands, central Portugal, these are serious wines, punching way above their price tag. If the Douro is the Bordeaux of Portugal, the Dao is a combination of Northern Rhone and Burgundy; far less glitzy and more down to earth – and cheaper. The whole region is a high granitic belt so the wines tend to be lean, with a mineral edge. The white is a revelation. The high altitude gives lovely acidity, and crisp, yet soft, white peach-like stone fruits dominate with a zesty finish.

The red is equally good, tasting like a wine that costs a lot more than £10.45. It’s well balanced and fruity, but with a sense of the austere granite upland soil and a long savoury finish. A blend of Jaen (known as Mencia in Spain), Touriga Nacional and a few other grapes no one has heard of, it’s great with roast meats but fresh enough to serve a little cooler in the summertime.

Ben Watson

Shop our selection of organic summer wines here.

 

Packaging update: recyclable meat trays

Here’s our packaging technologist, Robyn, with an update on some changes that are on the way to your box. Read Robyn’s first blog post to find out more about her role at Riverford.

Hello packaging enthusiasts!

Following our move to beech nets and ditching the plastic wrapping on some popular veg, another packaging improvement is on its way. If you buy our meat, you may already have spotted the change in the last few weeks; we’re working on phasing out the non-recyclable black trays, and replacing them with recycled and recyclable clear PET.

Why are black trays a problem?
Many recyclers can’t detect the black plastic due to optical sorting systems being unable to see it. While work has been done to change this with the introduction of new pigments, we’ve decided to move away from black plastic altogether and have found a clear alternative. Our new meat trays are made from clear food-safe recycled PET, which can be recycled with rigid plastic pots, tubs and trays.

Please bear with us while we use up the last of our stock of black trays. We hope to have moved to the clear recyclable trays for almost all meat products over the next few weeks. However, we still have a larger stock of black meatball trays (these are a specific shape designed to protect the product), which we will be using up until later in the year. At that point, they too will swap to a clear recyclable and recycled PET alternative.

But why plastic in the first place?
I often get asked why we use plastic rather than a wax paper wrapping for our meat. The short answer is to make sure the meat has a good shelf life once it gets to your kitchen.

How to recycle your new meat tray

  • Remove all the film on top of the tray and the pad from underneath the meat. Please dispose of these in your general waste bin; the film is not currently recyclable (there aren’t any top film solutions that are recyclable yet, but we are always searching for alternatives)
  • Recycle with you kerbside recycling or at your local recycling centre

To find out more about our existing packaging and research with the University of Exeter, visit our packaging manifesto.

Riverford’s UK-only veg box – one way to buy local veg

Our 100% UK veg box returns this week after its hiatus for the Hungry Gap. We’re celebrating its return with the story behind our most local, seasonal offering.

Birth of a box
Back in 1993, when we packed our first veg box, what little imported organic produce available was fit only for the compost heap by the time it got here, so our veg boxes were UK-only by default.

25 years and many, many veg boxes later, we’re happy to be part of a broader church. While the majority of our veg is still homegrown, it is supplemented with imports, mostly from Guy’s French farm and a group of organic growers in Spain, with some from further afield (transported by sea or road; never airfreighted). Together they provide things that have come to be regarded as year-round staples in most households – tomatoes, peppers, bananas, citrus, and so on – without the environmental disaster that is UK heated glass production, and without losing the closeness to our growers.

We reckon we strike a pretty good balance between principles and pragmatism in what we provide. Having said that, we do believe in a sustainable as well as a pleasurable diet wherever possible, and wanted to provide a truly local veg box for anyone who sought to minimise their food miles and embrace the UK seasons.

The first time we tried to launch the 100% UK veg box, it barely sold at all, and we had to withdraw it. But following lots of customer requests, we decided to give it another go a few years later – and this time, it has been a steady success! Sales of the UK-only box have now climbed to 6% of all veg box sales; that’s 50% up on last year, and treble the year before.

Easier said than done
It might seem like filling a box with local veg would be easier, because there’s no need to deal with importation – but actually, it presents a totally different set of complexities.

The Hungry Gap
The Hungry Gap is the hardest time of year for UK farmers: a few weeks, usually in April, May and early June, after the winter crops have ended but before the new season’s plantings are ready to harvest. In the early days of local veg boxes, all deliveries would stop during this time of bare fields.

25 years later, there is still no way around the Hungry Gap apart from the use of heated glasshouses. For every kilo of tomatoes grown in a glass hothouse in the UK, 2-3 kilos of C02 are released into the atmosphere… we’d far rather go without. So the 100% UK veg box must vanish from our shelves for a few weeks every year, and its buyers temporarily swap onto one of our other boxes.

Repetition
When we plan the contents of our veg boxes across the year, we work hard to avoid repetition. The team look carefully at how often each box has contained all different varieties of veg, so that no one ends up bored with the same items week after week, or overwhelmed by a mountain of cabbages.

That thinking has to totally go out of the window with the 100% UK veg box. In winter, you will get heavy root veg every week; just right for hearty cold-weather cooking. In summer, you will feast on sweet, fresh salads – but not see a tomato again for the rest of the year. We expected more complaints about this, but people have been very understanding of the limitations; they know that it represents a real seasonal diet. And because the vegetables are being eaten in their natural seasons, they are always at their best.

Unexpected perks
While there are obvious benefits to eating 100% local veg – most prominently the confidence you can have in the sustainability of your diet – there are further benefits to the box that we hadn’t anticipated.

Veg that grow together, go together
Another reason that the repetitive contents of the UK-only box might not bother customers is that the flavours of each season tend to complement each other very well.

Every week, our chef Bob looks at the planned contents of each veg box, and offers his culinary perspective: can these veg be easily combined into a week of flavoursome meals? Often, Bob will suggest changes to make the selection more harmonious. With the UK box, he barely ever has to make any tweaks; the veg, grown in the same local season, usually go perfectly together without any intervention.

Grown by us!
More so than any other box, the UK-only box is packed with veg from our own Riverford farms. It’s the box that is most representative of our fields – which gives us a little extra affection for it!

Summer bounty

The 100% UK veg box is now back from its hiatus for the Hungry Gap. Going into summer is a great time to give it a try: on the horizon, a bounty of homegrown delights, from new season bunched carrots, asparagus spears and tangy rhubarb, to juicy tomatoes, award-winning mini cucumbers and freshly picked salad leaves.

Order the 100% UK veg box online today. If every week is too much of a plunge, why not try a pragmatic weekly alteration with one of our other boxes?

Atlantic ales – a gingery summer ale and a hoppy pocketful of sunshine

Over the years, we’ve scoured Britain for the best organic beers and ciders from small independent breweries. Our bottle shop is now looking full, varied and flavoursome… we’re always keeping an eye out for exciting new offerings though. The latest to catch our attention: Atlantic Brewery, based in our Devon farm’s neighbouring county Cornwall. Here’s a short blog to introduce the very worthy new additions to our shelves.

Atlantic Brewery was set up by Stu Thomson in 2005, when, in a career-changing move, he started home-brewing in the garage on his farm near Newquay. Stu’s aim was to prove that unfined, vegan and organic ale could be delicious, refined and exciting. 13 years on and Atlantic Brewery is now also Atlantic Distillery, with a thriving orchard and hop field, organic certification, over ten different beers, six gins and soon, two vodkas.

Our first choice is Atlantic Gold, a year-round summer ale spiced with ginger. We love its light, refreshing flavour. It was the brewery’s first commercial brew, inspired by a ginger-spiced ale that Stu came across while travelling in New Zealand, made by a brewery called Monteith. Atlantic Gold is brewed using only pale and wheat malts, which gives it a subtle biscuit malt flavour, and goes excellently with BBQ and spicy food.

Our second new offering is Atlantic Azores, a pale ale with a blend of English and American hops, balancing light, grassy bitterness with grapefruit and orange notes. Stu was inspired to make this brew when he first heard the term ‘mid-Atlantic’ to describe a fusion of English- and American-style pale ales. He loved the idea of balancing the vibrancy of new world hops with the refinement of English pale ale. He chose the name Azores to emphasise the point, and describes it as “a hoppy pocketful of sunshine in a glass.”

Atlantic Azores drinks very well with dishes you might have a dry white wine with, like fresh Italian pasta, pizza, tapas, and full-flavoured fish such as monkfish.

When he’s not brewing, Stu is a very good DJ and an avid collector of rare funk and soul records. We hope you’ll enjoy his beer as much we do.

Shop organic beer here.

5 reasons to order a Riverford recipe box

Whether you’re short on time, stuck in a recipe rut, or want to eat well without the fuss of planning and shopping, our organic recipe boxes are a simple and inspiring way to cook.

We’ve recently refreshed the range, adding vegan options, and the ability to mix and match recipes. Here are 5 good reasons to order a Riverford recipe box:

It will transform your cooking
Choose from 12 weekly changing recipes written by the cooks based on our Devon farm. Our veg nerd chefs, Kirsty, Val and Bob, draw their inspiration from the seasonal veg growing on the farm to write inspiring, creative and original recipes, so you’ll cook something new every time.

It’s faff free
Every box comes with all the ingredients you need measured out, step-by-step recipe cards and helpful cooking tips. All the joy of cooking, none of the hassle.

It’s 100% organic with 0% waste
Over 30 years’ experience of growing and cooking goes into your box. All our fresh, seasonal ingredients are organic. We send you the exact amount you need, so you won’t end up throwing anything away, or with endless half pots of this and that cluttering your kitchen.

You can order what you like, whenever you like
Choose from any number of 1-12 recipes to feed two people, as often or little as you like, with the option of adding any other items from your weekly shopping list (veg, fruit, dairy, milk, kitchen cupboard) to your order.

Delivery is free
And even if you’re not in, you can place your order and know you’ll be coming home to an evening of hassle free cooking and an inspiring home cooked meal.

See upcoming recipes, find out more and order here.

What is the Hungry Gap?

From time to time, you might hear us refer to the Hungry Gap. This is the hardest time of year for UK farmers: a few weeks, usually in April, May and early June, after the winter crops have ended but before the new season’s plantings are ready to harvest.

It all comes down to the UK’s latitude. We sit right at the geographical limit for many spring crops, which would not survive our cold winter temperatures if grown any earlier. At the same time, as the days warm up into spring, many hardy winter crops like sprouts, kales, and caulis ‘bolt’ (abandon leaf growth to start producing flowers and seeds). The result is unproductive fields – and sometimes, rather repetitive boxes! In fact, our 100% UK veg box has to stop completely for a few weeks every year.

If it’s such a dire time, why hasn’t everyone heard more about the Hungry Gap before – or noticed its impact on their plates?

Airfreight and artificial heat

The name ‘the Hungry Gap’ harks back to a time when an empty field really meant going hungry. Traditionally, the gap had to be bridged with a spartan diet of cabbage, old potatoes, and fruits preserved during kinder months. These days, however, very few people eat a local, seasonal diet; the supermarkets can easily top up their shelves with even more imported produce, or crops grown in the UK under heated glass, and no one need notice the difference.

Of course, we don’t want anyone going hungry – but unfettered airfreight and artificial heat isn’t an environmentally responsible solution. Over the years, Riverford has worked out a pretty good system of workarounds and intelligent compromises, allowing us to keep our veg boxes varied, fresh and full without sacrificing our founding values…

Finding a better way

Like the supermarkets, we rely more on imported produce during the Hungry Gap. However, whether in the UK or abroad, we only work with small-scale organic farmers that we know, trust, and look after for the long term. A few of us recently went out to visit some of our growers in Spain, who have been keeping our shelves stocked with broad beans, garden peas and more… read all about it in Luke’s blog.

Importing isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s far less damaging than growing the same crops in the UK using artificial heat. Take the example of tomatoes. The huge amounts of heat used in glass hothouses is produced by burning gas or oil. For every kilo of tomatoes this way, 2-3 kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Trucking tomatoes over from Spain uses just a tenth of the carbon compared with growing them in the UK using heat. It’s not perfect, but it’s the least damaging option.

Our imports are always brought over by land or sea, never by air. Airfreight causes 40-50 times the CO2 emissions of sea freight.

Guy’s French farm

Seven years ago, Guy decided on an interesting addition to his armoury against the Hungry Gap: he’d buy his own farm in France. Le Boutinard is 10 miles from the coast, in the Vendée region of Western France. He chose the situation very carefully: the light and rainfall there are just right for producing a bounty of colourful spring crops that are ready to harvest just a few vital weeks ahead of the UK. It’s environmentally friendly, too: by road, Le Boutinard is the same distance from our Devon farm as the Fens.

Watch Guy’s video to learn more about his reasons for buying the French farm – and the learning curve he’s faced along the way:

Using our imagination

As well as all these solutions from overseas, we’ve learned to be a bit more resourceful with what greenery we can gather on our own shores. Foraged wild garlic and bitter dandelion leaves both offer some welcome pep for palates that are dulled with winter stodge.


On our Devon farm, we also grow lots of Hungry Gap kale. The clue’s in the name: this reliable variety is at its best when the rest of its kale-y cousins have bolted, and has been helping people bridge the gap for generations.

The Hungry Gap is on its way in the next few weeks. We have planned carefully, and hope you’ll enjoy an interesting, good quality and bountiful mix in your box. In the meanwhile, for a tasty little glimmer of homegrown green, why not order some Hungry Gap kale – it’s available online now.

New Easter cheeses; handmade and full of flavour

We’ve spent years scouring the country for the best handmade organic cheeses and are pretty confident we offer some of the best tasting cheeses around from a range of small scale producers.

We’ve introduced two rather special cheeses for Easter. One from High Weald Dairy in West Sussex, and one from Bath Soft Cheese.

We’ve worked with High Weald Dairy for six years now. The family run dairy supply us with organic halloumi and sheep’s cheeses, and we’re excited to now introduce their St Giles cow’s cheese. It’s an English equivalent to the continental style Saint Paulin or Port Salut style of cheese found in France. It’s a semi-soft creamy cheese, with a rich, buttery texture, a creamy mild flavour and a gorgeous edible orange rind.

The cheese gets its name from the Norman village church in Horsted Keynes where High Weald Dairy is based. It takes eight hours to make, but ten weeks to mature, and uses almost 9 litres of whole organic milk to make 1 kilo of cheese. After grading, the orange coating (made from organic carrots!) is applied, and the cheese is ready to go. It’s previously won Best English and Best British Cheese at the World Cheese Awards.

Our second addition is Wyfe of Bath, from the Bath Soft Cheese company. The Padfield family have milked at Park Farm in Kelston for four generations and made cheese using traditional methods for almost 30 years.

Wyfe of Bath is a semi-hard cheese, echoing the types of cheese farmers’ wives would make with the soured milk. It is creamy and nutty and harks back to Old England, hence the Chaucer reference. They handmake it using the traditional method of placing the curd in cloth-lined baskets, which gives the final product a wonderful basket shape.

Try our special Easter additions for a show-stopping cheeseboard to finish your bank holiday feast.

Add St Giles to your order
Add Wyfe of Bath to your order

Meet Patrick, the new Riverford Field Kitchen head chef

We recently found ourselves with a big role to fill in our farm restaurant, The Riverford Field Kitchen, as we said goodbye to head chef, James Dodd, who returned to his home town of Liverpool.

It can be a challenge to find chefs who are as obsessed with vegetables as we are, and even more so when the predecessor was such a veg nerd that they had a whole arm tattooed in dedication to the green stuff, but we’re delighted to have found one, in the form of Patrick Hanna, whose Riverford journey first began in 2008.

“When I moved from Belfast to London, I took a job washing dishes in this weird pub turned restaurant in Islington, serving organic food.  The pub was called the Duke of Cambridge.  This led to a short stint at the Riverford Field Kitchen. I had no idea what an amazing journey of fascination with food and farming this would get going.  Ten years on, I’m back and excited to be cooking these big, heart warming dishes again.”

After that initial year, Patrick’s food journey went worldwide with stints cooking on a farm in Spain, at a biodynamic vineyard in Australia and on fishing boats. This experience of cooking at source ultimately circled back to where it all began, here on our south Devon farm.

As well as the nostalgic feeling The Field Kitchen and Devon give Patrick, another love for the restaurant stems from the unique connection the food served has with the surrounding fields. Coming up with a daily changing menu dependent on what is being harvested at the time is a daunting task for many, but Patrick welcomes it and is excited by the challenge.

One of his fondest food memories is picking apart an artichoke as a child and dipping it in vinaigrette, not really knowing what to do, but enjoying the tactile experience and its resemblance to its organic form. He believes in the power of simplicity and quality ingredients, and hates food that is unrecognisable from its natural form, specifically referencing cubed carrots.

It seems like a return to Riverford was meant to be for Patrick, especially as someone who shares a unique love of artichokes and cardoons with founder Guy Singh-Watson. Either that or our big, colourful sharing platters of organic veg and infamous sticky toffee pud are too good to stay away from!

Want to avoid ultra processed foods?

Cook from scratch!

The media has been abuzz today with new research from France suggesting a link between ultra processed foods and an increased risk of cancer. For now, the study should be treated with a bit of caution; the researchers themselves said their results ‘need to be confirmed by other large-scale studies’. But is it really news to any of us that an ultra processed diet isn’t the healthiest choice?

Riverford has long promoted the joys of cooking from scratch with fresh organic veg, dairy and meat – nourishing food with a wonderful flavour, and no hidden nasties.

What are ultra processed foods?

Michael Pollan put it best: ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.’

To write a full ultra processed foods list would take a very long time, as they make up so much of what lines supermarket shelves – and 50% of the average UK family’s diet! But broadly speaking, ultra processed foods are made with ingredients you wouldn’t find in your own kitchen: artificial additives, preservatives, flavourings and colourings. They also often contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt. Think crisps, chocolate bars, fizzy drinks, processed meats like chicken nuggets and meatballs, and instant foods such as soups, noodles, and frozen readymeals.

Avoiding ultra processed foods

The easiest and most satisfying way to avoid ultra processed foods is to cook from scratch. You know exactly what goes into your food, can pack every plate with fresh organic veg and other good-for-yous – and a meal always tastes better when it’s made by your own fair hand.

Cooking from scratch is a good start – and choosing organic ingredients is even better. The Soil Association’s organic standards (some of the highest in the world) protect consumers and farmers alike from a number of potentially harmful chemicals. Organic farmers like Riverford never use artificial pesticides or weedkillers on our crops. Certification also strictly prohibits GM crops, hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial colourings and preservatives.

Riverford makes cooking fresh organic meals from scratch easy. Our organic veg boxes are packed with different seasonal varieties every week, plus simple, inspiring recipes to help you make the most of all that good stuff. Don’t have time to plan? Try an organic recipe box, with easy step-by-step recipes and measured quantities of all the 100% organic ingredients you need.

Steering clear of ultra processed foods has never been easier – or tastier.

References
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43064290
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/14/ultra-processed-foods-may-be-linked-to-cancer-says-study
https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/organic-food/

Feed the Birds with a Free Riverford Sunflower


If you’ve been part of Riverford for a while, you might have had one of our organic sunflower birdfeeders before. They’re back, and we’d like you to enjoy one as a little gift from us. There isn’t enough for everyone, so it’s first come, first served. Don’t miss out – add yours now!

Guy first grew glowing yellow fields of sunflowers on his French farm in the Vendée in 2015, hoping to make his own organic sunflower oil. While watching the local wildlife thrive off the crop, he had an idea. Instead of making oil, he would dry the flowerheads and offer them to British birds.

The sunflowers went down a treat – and not just with birds. People sent us snaps of everything from wild birds to chickens, pet hamsters, and the odd cheeky squirrel munching their way through this organic snack. Keepers at the Monkey Sanctuary in Looe even said they made a great enrichment activity for the monkeys! It was so wonderful to see creatures great and small feasting on a natural organic treat, Guy has grown them again every year since.

Thinking of joining in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch from Saturday 27th – Monday 29th January? A Riverford sunflower is just the thing to lure out a few more feathered friends.

We would love to see photos of any birds and beasts enjoying the flower. Please share at facebook.com/riverford and twitter.com/riverford using #riverfordsunflower.

For inspiration, have a look at some of our favourite pictures from last year below…

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