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The Finest Cheese in the World

Every year, nearly 5,000 cheeses gather from across the world in at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich, Cheshire. In a series of specially conditioned rooms, they await judging by a panel of 190 experts to see who will be crowned King of them all.

This year, the title of Supreme Champion went to Claxstone Smooth Blue, produced by Long Clawson Dairy in Leicestershire. Already recognised as a national award-winning cheese, the judges’ choice of Claxstone was widely applauded.

The cheese is described as “a quintessentially unique English cheese, specially created for a soft, creamy texture and a mild taste. It is gentle and delicate compared to other blues on the market, yet still has that recognisable tangy flavour and has been crafted to be eaten straight from the fridge.”

It is available to buy from independent farm shops and delis, and Waitrose stores.

A Wedge of History

Founded in 1911, Long Clawson Dairy prides itself on delivering award-winning cheeses, using their 100 years of expertise to develop delicious flavours that reflect a passion for quality cheese making. The Dairy is best known for its Stilton cheeses, which due to its PDO status, are produced from milk sourced only from the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. These include traditional blues as well as the more modern, fruity white cheeses. They also make an aged Red Leceister and a selection of blended cheeses.

Janice Breedon of Long Clawson Dairy expressed the company's delight at winning one of the greatest accolades of the cheese world.

“We are over the moon to receive this honour.  It is a great reward for all the staff who have worked so hard to develop the wonderful Smooth Blue.  To say we’re thrilled at how well it is being received is an understatement.”


2013 Sees the Best PYO Season in years
Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:00

The UK is enjoying one of the best pick-your-own season for many years, according to many farmers. The mixture of warm - but not too warm - sunshine and showers means that fruit and vegetables have been excellent, and customers of all ages are keen to pick.

'This is our best season in 20 years!' said May Draper, Pickwell Farm PYO, Grange Road, Old Netley, Southampton. 'We began picking for the farm shop with Christine and Sonata varieties from 1 June, and opened the PYO fields shortly afterwards.'

The delayed start of summer allowed the fruit to develop slowly making for very tasty fruit and the different varieties ripened as they should, a week or two after one another, to keep fruit available in the field.

Not only are the crops performing but the crowds have been coming too, with people keen to find great-tasting fruit. 'We have noticed a growing number of people with young families coming to pick, as well as older customers who have been coming here for years,' observed May Draper.

Over at Bourne Valley Pick-Your-Own Farm at Egbury Road, St Mary Bourne, nr Andover, farmer Dan Culley has seen similar trends. 'As people have become more aware of seasonal foods and provenance, they seek out pick-your-own farms that deliver on every count. The fruit has ripened on the plant so it's got excellent flavour, and this year's cold spring produced some of the best tasting fruit ever.'

Bourne Valley's south-facing, well drained fields with their neat rows of crops greet customers arriving at the small farm shop, where there's ready picked fruit for those with no time to stop. The season started with asparagus (not offered as PYO). Strawberries continued through the summer, joined by gooseberries in late June, which are experiencing something of a revival in popularity. Raspberries, black and red currants started in mid-July.

Visit a PYO

Pickwell Farm is open seven days a week for PYO. Call 02380 404616 for latest crop information or visit their Facebook page.

Bourne Valley PYO is also open seven days a week. Call 01264 738888 or visit their website.

Search for PYO Farms in your area - We advise phoning in advance to check opening times, crop availability and prices. Also be aware that some PYOs will ask all customers for a deposit on the gate to be redeemed against the crops that you pick.

Intensively Farmed Chicken is more Fattening
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 15:14

Organic Chicken Farmer. Courtesy of the Soil AssociationFindings of university researchers indicate that the quality of mass-produced chicken meat is actually measurably inferior, even compared to a few years ago. It appears that this could be yet another reason as to why customers are increasingly heading for independent retailers promising well-reared poultry.

The research, carried out by London Metropolitan University, indicated that chickens offered for sale at a supermarket contain 2.7 times as much fat as they did in 1970, and 30% less protein.

In fact, just 16% of these chickens is now deemed to be protein, down from almost 25% in the late 1970s. This means that an average serving of chicken has increased in calorific value by almost 50%. Organic chicken was found to contain a little more protein and 25% less fat, making them the evidently healthier option.

Advocates of free-range and organic chicken stress the superiority of flavour in well-bred birds, as well as the reduced fat and water content. It's simple: a happy animal makes for a better product.



PYO for the true taste of Summer
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 15:22

We’ve been waiting a long time for sunshine – but we’ll need to wait just a little longer for the pick-your-own fields to open as, although the days are getting warmer the nights are still cold. The Cat & Fiddle PYO at Christchurch, Dorset will be opening this Saturday (8 June) and Cammas Hall Farm, Hertfordshire will open its gates next Tuesday (11 June). Most of the PYO farms in the southern part of England will be open by mid-June and in the north it may be the latter part of the month before PYO’s can open for business.

‘It’s been one of the most frustrating springs I’ve ever known,’ said Dennis Hilsdon of Sharnfold Farm, Pevensey, East Sussex, normally one of the first PYO farms in the UK to open his gates.  People visit the farm now for the farm shop, butchery and café, all open all year round but, says Dennis, when the strawberries begin, people come not just for the fruit but to experience the farm environment.  He will open this year in mid-June.

PYO started in the UK in the late 1960’s, arriving as an idea from the USA (where it is known as U-Pick) and, through the social and economic turmoil of the 1970’s and 80’s, PYO fields sprang up everywhere.  For farmers, they were a low-cost way into selling direct which led – in many cases - to farm shops, farm butcheries and on-farm cafés today.  For customers, PYO was just about the only way to buy the fresh strawberries they loved. Supermarkets were increasing in number but they had not yet perfected the storage and distribution of highly perishable crops. At the same time, growing numbers of people were moving into homes without gardens. PYO saved the day, making gorgeous fruit available just a short drive away.

The Lukies family at Cammas Hall Farm, Hatfield Broad Oak, Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire began growing for PYO in 1966 and business was fantastic until the 1990’s when there was a decline – with more women working, the shoulder-pads decade put PYO on the back-burner. ‘However, PYO fortunes all changed with the turn of the millennium,’ said Jonathan Lukies. ‘Our PYO turnover has increased five fold since then, we are growing by at least 10 per cent year on year and continue to invest in the pick-your-own as people really want this fruit, and the experience of picking it for themselves.’

Cammas Hall Farm, along with other PYO farms such as Lotmead Farm, Warnborough, Swindon, have put their money into pick-your-own over the years, with table-top growing and polytunnels over some fruit to protect it (and customers) when the weather’s not so good.  Cammas Hall Farm grows vegetables and other fruits, and has put in 220 cherry trees this year.  The Hertfordshire farm is also involved in trialling new varieties for PYO, with new varieties coming from leading propagators who identify with PYO’s different needs.

‘We choose and grow varieties for their taste, and not so that they will withstand a chilled distribution chain with two weeks shelf-life, which is what the supermarkets look for,’ said Jonathan Lukies. ‘Customers come to our fields to pick fruit when it’s ripe, straight from the plant. That’s the beauty of PYO, there is simply nothing like it for flavour and freshness – and it’s very good value for money too.’

Richard Simkin of Essington Fruit Farm, Bognop Road, Essington, Wolverhampton says that his new varieties come from leading strawberry plant breeders, Meiosis, and says he gets an excellent choice of new varieties to try each year. He chooses not to grow the supermarket ‘standard’ variety, Elsanta, offering instead a dozen or more varieties in the season, from mid-June to September, for his customers. ‘Our customer numbers have been growing steadily in the past decade, with younger people and families now making regular visits,’ he said. ‘People want an experience that’s not just a shopping trip, and they want to know that they are getting exactly what’s promised.’

At an event held at Garson Farm, Esher, Surrey at the end of May leading industry representatives agreed that PYO was undergoing something of a revival. They accepted that the route forward included investment in growing infrastructure such as tunnels and sometimes table-top growing in soil-less conditions, which is the absolute norm for supermarket fruit. With some exceptions, such as Parkside Farm, Enfield, Middlesex, which offers PYO entirely on table-top for easy picking, many PYO growers still prefer the traditional way of growing in soil and will continue to do so for as long as they can, given the practical need to have the PYO close to car parking and tills.  

Garsons is the largest PYO in the UK, with 100 acres dedicated to growing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, cherries, apples and a host of vegetables, starting with asparagus and ending with pumpkins. It won the Pick Your Own of the Year title from the National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association (FARMA) 2013, jointly with Grays Farm, Wokingham, Berkshire. Garsons chairman, Peter Thompson, revealed sales figures from 2008-12 which showed steady, and sometimes excellent, growth until last year when the unrelenting cold and wet summer put paid to entire categories of produce.

Farm manager at Garsons, Steve Gallimore, said the 2013 pick-your-own season for strawberries would start in mid-June and he would, as he has done for the past two or three years, be letting customers know when the fruit was ready through the website, tweets, texts and emails direct to Garsons loyalty card mailing list. PYO is leading the direct sales industry in its use of social and electronic media to get its message out.

The number of PYO farms may have diminished since its heyday, from around 5,000 to some 1,000 today, but this charming, idiosyncratic way of buying fruit still has a large and growing number of fans (around 8 per cent of the UK population according to the FARMA sector tracking survey 2011).  Will you be among them this summer? If you’ve not tried PYO before, go to to view a short film showing what it’s about, and then use to find a farm near you.

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