The Waveney valley is home to some of the most innovative and delicious food and drink producers in the country, and I had the pleasure of visiting several on my recent visit with the Guild of Food Writers. My intention with this guide is to share some of the wonderful food and drink products in the area, as much as where to go and what to do.
What to eat
First stop was to Fen Farm Dairy in Bungay. This lovely farm, sat in the lush, green fields of the Waveney valley is home to the Crickmore family farm. Now run by Johnny and Dulcie, third generation farmers, it is home to their Montbeliarde cross cows, who graze the lush fields down the lane from the farm. If you’re passing through Bungay, be sure to stop, as Fen Farm Dairy have a wonderful self service shop, selling their delicious raw milk, cheese, butter and fresh ground coffee using their raw milk. They were in fact pioneers in the raw milk vending machine world, with their first machine currently on exhibition at the V&A Museum.
Fen Farm are probably best known for their cheese and butter; both of which are sublime. Frustrated with the ever-squeezed milk prices, the Crickmores decided to diversify, and identified a gap in the market for a British Brie-style cheese. They discovered that their herd producer a higher fat and lower protein milk than was optimal, and over the Montbeliarde cows came. Such is the success of this truly delicious cheese, Fen Farm Dairy have added a raw cultured butter to their range, and there is a qvark coming very soon. Their products are sold in their farm-gate honesty shed, local food delis and specialist cheesemongers, including Neals Yard Dairy.
Also situated on the Crickmore’s farm is Whitewood Dairy, run by Julie Cheyney, producing her equally sublime St Jude and St Cera cheeses, and a – sadly for me – wholesale only curd cheese. Julie is a multi-award winning cheesemaker, with serious pedigree, and she also operates on the farm, with a small production unit and using the same raw Montbeliarde cross milk in her cheesemaking. Both cheeses are truly exquisite and I urge you to seek them at any opportunity you can. They are also sold at Paxton and Whitfield and Neals Yard Dairy.
Our next stop was to Wakelyn’s research farm, which used by Hodmedods, growers of pulses and grains, who are best known for growing and producing pulses and grains including many varieties that we have, to date, imported from overseas.
They grow a core range of pulses and grains on small British farms, using sustainable methods, selling them raw and prepared in a variety of ways, such as fava beans, that are sold dried, roasted to form a savoury snack and cooked into a daal – Vaal Dhal, in fact. This is a really interesting business, in fact, they won Best Food Producer at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2017. This is such an interesting company that really cares about pioneering growing in the UK, and working sensibly with the land, and their wide range of products is really innovative and delicious.
Other outstanding finds from this trip were pies from Truly Traceable, who make sumptuous homemade game pies. Lynn and Steve are a man and wife team – Steve shoots and butchers the meat, and Lynn makes the pastry and assembles the pies. As the name suggests, this is a food business with a real focus on provenance, and the results are absolutely delicious. Lynn’s thick, crisp and buttery pastry is seriously moreish, and the fillings are generous and well-balanced. We made some salads and side dishes to accompany our pies for supper. I made a sort to tabbouleh with some smoked quinoa from Hodmedods and Linda Duffin made her stunning asparagus lasagne – see details on her website, Mrs Portly’s Kitchen – it’s delicious. We also had some sensational breads – focaccia with dinner and amazing sourdoughs for breakfast from John at Penny Bun Bakehouse. Based in Lowestoft, this bread is absolutely world-class and worth a special trip for this, alone. Be sure to track some down if you’re in Suffolk. Our meal was accopanied with wines from Adnams in Bury St. Edmunds, which included their truly excellent Prosecco DOP, Champagne and House White Burgundy — all superb.
The next morning, we visited Flint Vineyard for a tour and tasting with husband and wife owners and winemakers Ben and Hannah Witchell.
Flint is a relatively new vineyard and wine maker, established by Ben and Hannah after travelling the world making wine and Ben studying at Plumpton College. Meticulous research led them to Earsham to plant their vineyard, due to its optimal conditions for growing. Their superb, multi-award winning wines are outstanding, and the range currently includes a Charmat Rosé, Silex Blanc (my favourite), and a Pinot Noir Précoce. Flint are producing some seriously good wine and, fortunately for us all, it’s being sold through several retailers, including Berry Bros, so do be sure to try it if you can.
Our wine tasting was accompanied by delicious charcuterie by Marsh Pig, who produce some excellent high-quality charcuterie in Suffolk. A former chef, Jackie makes top quality charcuterie in small batches by hand, using free range pork from Suffolk. Jackie’s charcuterie is also made using the best cuts of pork and beef, giving a much leaner, more tender result. The range of charcuterie is completely delicious and very unique to Marsh Pig.
Our final stop of the visit was lunch at the Fox & Goose, Fressingfield. This lovely pub and restaurant sits in a former Guildhall building, first built in the early 1500s. It’s a very popular spot for lunch and dinner, featuring delicious local food and drink and a very warm welcome. We enjoyed a delicious and good value set lunch in their private room. This was the pork tenderloin dish, with millefeuille potatoes and a signature cube of Binham blue cheese mousse. Highly recommended.
Where to stay
My base for the trip was Hales Hall, which is across the border into Norfolk, just outside Loddon. Hales Hall and 15th Century Tudor hall, The Great Barn, is an astonishingly beautiful spot that can be hired out for parties, events and weddings.
The approach is quite astonishing, across a rural common and through the gates, straight into wonderful manicured lawns, topiary hedges and impressive historic buildings. There are several cottages nestled against each other, which would be our base for the visit.
Rooms vary from cute country cottage, to grand en suite four poster bedrooms, but all were extremely comfortable and very tastefully decorated. There is plenty of space, inside and out, for relaxing, reading, dining, whatever you fancy.
It was a glorious evening when we stayed, and we enjoyed drinks outside until it started to get dark, and headed inside to the substantial dining room for our dinner. There is a great kitchen, both spacious and well-equipped for cooking, so it was a doddle to cook and clear up after a two course meal for 14 people. This would be a great set-up to employ a cook during a stay, too.
The Great Barn can be used for large parties and weddings, or the property can be hired out for a larger group for a very special break.
Thank you to the Guild of Food Writers, Linda Duffin and Tessa Allingham for organising this trip and all the suppliers who welcomed us and for their generous hospitality. I paid to attend this trip but some elements were kindly provided by the suppliers.