A very special Christmas gift for whisky devotees! This autumn (2017), a second batch of the first Cotswolds whisky ever distilled went on sale in Warwickshire. To date, the young spirit has been awarded a very high score of 94/100 for two years running in Jim Murray’s annual Whisky Bible (generally agreed to be the world’s leading whisky guide). Distiller Zoë Rutherford describes it as ‘rich and fruity’ and it is expected to become something of a collector’s item.
Made from 100% locally grown barley and aged in ex-bourbon and red wine casks. The distillery also sells gin, absinthe, a summer cup (ie like Pimm’s), a Martini mix, sherry and ‘Cotswolvados'(!), all distilled and blended in the Cotswolds. To order or to find out more, click HERE
ABV 46%, £44.95. Ask for the Single Malt 2013 Harvest, Organic Odyssey (reservation)– mainland orders will be dispatched in mid-December, in time for the Cotswolds whisky to reach recipients by Christmas day
We’ve all read conflicting articles on wine — is it good for you? Is it bad? It is a question that has long plagued The Taster, as anyone who reads our regular Scare Watch column knows (basically, the advice given one month is usually reversed or contradicted the next). Our own (hugely unscientific) observation is that some cheap white wines do seem to have a certain allergenic quality — that is, the first glass is accompanied by a brief, but explosive, sneezing fit. There may be something in the idea that low-sulphite wine don’t trigger such reactions?
According to Good Wine Online, natural wine can be very beneficial if it is produced without harmful additives or heavy filtration, which removes the natural goodness. ‘Natural’ wines have virtually nothing added nor taken away. They are basically fermented grape juice, unfiltered, retaining nature’s most powerful antioxidants (polyphenols): resveratrol, quercetin and epicatechin. They are five times more powerful than vitamins C & E and help protect against cancer, diabetes and dementia. Natural wine also reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol and the risk of stroke and vascular disease, and has numerous other health benefits. The human body cannot store polyphenols, so the American ‘Wine Doctor’ Dr Philip Norrie* suggests that, for optimum benefit, we drink a little natural wine every day.
Find Christmas-mix cases, or create your own cases, HEREwith Good Wine Online; there is also a page of ‘Sensational Wines’ if you just want to give somebody one exquisite bottle.
For free-range, herb-fed turkeys, chickens and roosters, try THIS lovely company. Herb Fed birds enjoy a high quality of life. The Yorkshire flock are fed a unique diet with over 10 types of herb, sustainably supplied as excess or trimmings from our friends at Herbs Unlimited. Fresh herbs are put in custom-made miniature hay racks in the fields, where the birds can peck at them at will. Choosing and eating herbs gives the birds extra nutrients and keeps them occupied, stimulated, happy and healthy.
The birds don’t taste ‘herby’ as such, but they have an overall superior, deep flavour. Six volunteers for The Taster carried out a blind taste test on Herb Fed versus normal free-range chicken, and everyone identified the Herb Fed bird as having a noticeably more interesting flavour.
The turkeys are slow-grown on the farm from day-old chicks. They are game-hung, hand- finished, and individually boxed with the fresh herbs required for the chestnut & apple stuffing.
Roast Turkey Recipe
This recipe comes from the farm, which has devised it especially for their Free Range Herb Fed turkeys: a delicious roast with traditional stuffing.
Perfect Chestnut & Apple Stuffing
Fry a fine-chopped onion, 4 rough-chopped celery sticks and a sprig of snipped thyme in 55g butter until soft. Then add: 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, 1 tbsp chopped sage, 170g firm white bread cut into dice, 450g peeled, fine-chopped cooking apples, 450g rough-chopped tinned chestnuts and the zest of a large orange. Season and mix well. Mix in 680g sausage meat, bind with a beaten egg and let cool.
Roasting A Herb Fed Turkey
Remove the bird from the fridge the night before cooking (to reach room temperature). Heat oven to 180°C & check the cooking time for your Herb Fed turkey on the website. Stuff the neck of the bird only. Start the bird in the oven breast side down; Herb Fed turkeys self-baste due to the higher fat content of a slower-grown, traditionally produced bird. Halfway through roasting, turn it over to brown the breast. The bird is done if the thigh juices run clear when skewered; if pink, return the bird to the oven. Check every 10 minutes.
For something different, or for smaller gatherings, try a Christmas Rooster. These are also Herb Fed, and are very special chickens produced just once a year. They are a classic alternative to turkey and, as a smaller bird, are perfect for smaller festive gatherings.
These Real Olive olives aren’t just organic, they are fresh and plump and marinaded in a variety of imaginative ways. Our favourites are the rosewater & cumin “Kasbah” olives — involving a use for rosewater we’d never considered before, but it gives the olives a lovely floral flavour, odd though that may sound. For traditionalists, there are mixes of olives with basil & wild garlic, herbes de Provence & mustard, piri piri, or a special antipasti mix with crunchy cornichons, caper berries, sweet red peppers and tangy sun-dried tomatoes.
To make easy/emergency canapés, warm bite-size slices of ciabatta bread (cut it into two, or four, as necessary to make it bite-size) under the grill, spread with black olive tapenade or green pesto, and press a few olives into the spread. This makes small, easy-to-handle canapés. If the organic olives are accompanied by shreds of sundried tomato or tiny cubes of Feta, so much the better — just press them down to stop them rolling off the toast
To make an authentic Greek Salad, find the best (ideally organic) tomatoes and cucumber you can, and quarter and slice them respectively. Pour on some uncomplicated Real Olive Company olives — Kalamata and Nocellara del Belice are suitable — along with all their oil. Add fresh, cubed Feta cheese. Sprinkle liberally with dried (not fresh) oregano. Pour on extra-virgin olive oil, the greener the better, and mix gently by hand. (Shut your eyes, forget about the grocery bill and pretend you’re in Greece, where EV olive oil is 10p a gallon.) Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the flavours mingle. Serve with thick-cut crusty bread and a cold, bold white wine.
Find your perfect party olives from The Real Olive Company by clicking HERE
Organic, pure, delicious, and somewhat paradoxical — Welsh Scotch! One of The Taster’s friends, Dà MhìIe Distillery, which commissioned the world’s first organic whisky at the Springbank distillery in 1992, has just released the second edition of its Organic Single Grain Welsh Whisky (the first is sold out). Comes in full or stocking-filler (5cl) size!
Dà MhìIe produces several great (and organic) spirits, including a seaweed gin and delicious orange and sloe liqueurs, apple brandy and more. We expect this whisky to be of the same high quality. All bottles will all be sold on a first-come first-served basis!
This whisky has had a limited run of just 400 bottles, and is 46% ABV. It should be a good collectable and a good investment (in the unlikely event you decide not to drink it yourself). Selling for around £55-£60 for a full bottle, or you can get stocking-fillers for just £7
This seaweed gin taps into two current trends: gin and seaweed. More interestingly, it’s particularly designed to complement seafood (perfect for the smoked salmon & prawns course at Christmas lunch). A very pretty stocking-filler, or get a bigger bottle as a main gift. From £4.95. Click herefor full details of this and the other gins
In the right circumstances (a lot of relatives spending Christmas in one place), the Christmas Hamper satisfies nearly all the gifting requirements in a single online purchase. Compared to the cost of buying and posting individual gifts, a hamper can be a real bargain. The mere size of the thing is impressive, but the real joy of a hamper is its revelatory quality. It cannot be unpacked at once. The unpacker must extricate the full range of items, one by by one, and wave them under the noses of the recipients. The most curmudgeonly scrooges find it difficult not to ooh and aah. It is a massive vote-winner.
Hampers of Inspiration, “Under Fine Wraps”
One of our friends, Clare Underwood, started her business after being inspired to put together a personalised hamper for her parents. It was such a success, she took the idea further — and she now creates all manner of interesting hampers, from the standard “Christmas Cheer” hamper to more original themes (German, housewarming, wine & curry, among others). As well as luxury items, the hampers hold artisan and regional specialities from Clare’s home county of Rutland (we particularly like the sound of Vivia Crump’s Extremely Scrummy Chutneys). Many items aren’t available in supermarkets, and Clare is passionate about theming; nothing is put in just to fill a gap. Below are just half a dozen options
Click HERE to visit the website and find many more Christmas hampers. Happy hunting!
Order by 12 noon on 18 December for delivery on 19th. Prices from about £30 to £192 (currently with 10% discount if you sign up to the newsletter).
This past summer, I gave up drinking my usual three pints a day of heavily stewed Yorkshire Gold tea. Bar one — Barry’s Irish Breakfast — it’s the strongest tea you can get. I love it, but felt that consumption had become excessive.
There were no withdrawal cravings, but there was a continuous two-day headache. After which, I found myself rising in the mornings in an altogether lighter, brighter, more energetic mood. It seems that once the habit is broken, that feeling of gasping for the first cuppa of the day simply disappears.
As an aside on the power of caffeine — when the EU referendum was held a few weeks later in June*, a single pint of tea at 1am kept me wide-eyed and bouncing with energy throughout the night until David Dimbleby’s momentous ‘We’re out’ announcement, shortly before 5am. (And then, and then – if memory serves correctly, although a certain amount of sleep-deprived haze might be obscuring matters — I’m pretty sure that somewhere between 6 and 9am I then baked and iced several dozen fairy cakes and set off, slightly manic, to help man the cake stand at a fundraiser for the local school. Whoohoo, who needs drugs to stay awake?)
Socially, however, it’s difficult to avoid tea entirely. After a few caffeine-free weeks, I had a cup of Earl Grey with friends. Because I don’t care for coffee and it was too early to hit the gin.
After so many years of extra-strength builder’s tea, the Earl Grey tasted terrible. Pallid and bland and watery dishwater.
Needing a social-drinking tea, I stuck with the Earl Grey. And then something unexpected happened. Having given my tastebuds to recover from the years of tannin-drenched builder’s tea — I gradually, eventually, found it to be the delicious, delicate drink I last enjoyed as a teenager.
I’m not the only one rediscovering tea. Despite the plethora of high street coffee shops, we in Britain are and always have been a nation of tea-drinkers. We drink 165 million cups a day (three times as many as coffee). And just as coffee has undergone something of a renaissance, with single-origin varieties and improved preparation techniques, loose-leaf and speciality teas are also ready for a comeback. Now we have functional teas, teas for different times of the day, teas that help you get going and teas that purport to help you go to sleep. There is no longer any time of day when an appropriate cup of tea is not an option.
Imagine the fun we’re going to have. There never was anything more British, after all, than arguing about how to brew tea, even among those who use teabags. Are you a dunker? How many minutes should the bag be left in? Do you squeeze the bag? To say nothing of milk and sugar issues.
Inspired by the Earl Grey, I’m dusting off a teapot. Being Editor of The Taster, I’m thinking of organic and Fairtrade teas such as those produced by Qi Teas (from China); Tchai Ovna (Scotland’s original Tea House, in Glasgow – stocks over 100 delicious and nutritional teas; they also run a vegetarian restaurant) and the Hebridean Tea Store (100+ selection of teas, 100% natural & organic and yes, amazingly, put together on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Let none of us ever claim to have been limited by mere geography.)
As an Editor, I get an awful lot of press releases about tea. But a genuinely interesting one is that, recently, a London School of Tea has launched. Well, what better capital city for it? Given our reputation as a nation of tea-drinkers, I find this an immensely pleasing event. The School offers training to commercial clients — restaurants, tea-shops and so on — but also to novices who wish to excel in the art of tea-making. Sensory training is provided, among other exciting topics. The founder of the School, Lucy Chappell-Wright, has about as extensive a CV in Tea as can be imagined. She has worked at a tea estate in Darjeeling, a research centre in Assam, the National Institute of Tea Management in Bengal, and she has also studied the Japanese tea ritual in Osaka. According to Lucy, teas can be matched to foods just as wine can; a topic we’ll be looking at in our Summer issue (due out June 2017; subscribe here if you’d like a lovely printed paper copy – so retro, so Hipster!).
Enjoy National Tea Day. To my mind, teatotalism – har har – has never looked so appealing ♥ — C T-P, Editor The Taster
UPDATE: since writing this piece, our Editor has discovered Assam tea — the connoisseur’s answer to Builder’s/morning tea — and, swayed by several reports that tea (along with about three dozen other food items, but what the hey) contains the secret of eternal and youthful life, is back on three pints a day.
This is a delicious, healthy and sustainable meat. In the Scottish hills, deer roam freely, feeding on heather, wild plants and grass. As well as making the venison taste fantastic, it is low fat and high in iron, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and 20% of the daily requirement of selenium and zinc.
With no natural predators, the population has to be managed to protect the environment from overgrazing. Great Glen Charcuterie, a family business based in the rugged Highlands of Scotland, uses sustainably sourced local wild venison. Excepting its venison & pork items, all Great Glen products are 100% wild Scottish venison. The salami has won multiple awards, including three Great Taste stars and beating a very good Spanish chorizo and air-dried Iberico Bellota jambon to win the Best Charcuterie category.
Great Glen still has a butcher’s shop in the tiny Highlands village of Roy Bridge but, if you can’t make it there, order from GreatGlenCharcuterie.com
THE human spirit has never been able to tolerate the winter of the world without a rebellious spasm of light and fire: twinkling candles, bonfires, burning logs and glittery trees to set the night ablaze and frighten off the dark beyond the campfire. Hannukah, The Chinese New Year, and (a little earlier in the year) Diwali all feature fire, light and in the case of Chinese New Year, firecrackers and fireworks.
From flame we progress naturally to feast — Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Burns Night. Roasts, spits, bubbling cauldrons; instant poptarts, pinging microwaves; butter and potatoes always the same, hot and dripping down the centuries. These winter banquets are celebrations of celebration itself.
Without fire, the physical burden of surviving on cold plants and blue meat would have denied us our humanity. Instead of evolving large, capacious skulls to house our large, beautiful brains, we would have had large, capacious guts and a mouthful of outsize fangs and grinders. We are exactly the right size to make the exercise of lighting a small fire worth the trouble, in terms of calories expended and heat generated. This is no happy coincidence; it is why we are as we are. The ability to cook has shaped our brains and bodies. Likewise, celebration feasts — something of which no animal has any concept — are a unique expression of humanity.
(Should you ever feel a pang of guilt at taking one more spud, just tell yourself that self-indulgence is the flip side of noble self-awareness.)
If Christmas Day doesn’t quite pan out right — and judging from the rest of 2016, if all we suffer this festive period is a few powercuts, we should all be mightily grateful — then, as Dylan Thomas put it, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Ignite the candles, open the wine and invite the neighbours round to pool resources. Advanced cooks might consider getting out the barbecue. Either way, shed light on the problem — literally — and you’ll be carrying on tradition just as much as ever; and a tradition that has been around for an awful lot longer than that of roasting large North American poultry.
Good luck, everyone — !
This article was adapted from one originally published in the Winter 2014 edition of The Taster. Click HERE for more articles
New customers can use the code VA014 to get 10% off orders of 12 bottles or more
If you can’t afford to fly away, get a taste of abroad from Vinceremos: a great British organic wine importer, one of the first to champion Fairtrade wines and spirits from developing countries, and now supplying over 400 organic, vegan, biodynamic, natural and Fairtrade drinks
Vinceremos encourages transparency in wine-making practices and ingredient labelling, believing that organic wines have nothing to hide, and much to shout about. It supplies ‘natural wines’ (made with no added sulphur dioxide); was one of the first to supply vegetarian and vegan wines; and has a wide range of organic Prosecco and Champagne, perfect for Christmas, along with organic Port, whisky and liqueurs; gluten-free beer, English and French organic cider and gift options including magnum bottles
Jem Gardener, owner of the company, says: ‘We passionately believe in organic grape-growing and wine-making, but first and foremost our wines must be delicious. We are committed to looking after the environment, our suppliers, our employees, and our customers.’