Christmas is coming and the shedding of the pounds has begun – although unfortunately we’re talking pounds sterling.
The only trimming likely to be going on in the next few weeks is of the turkey because, come December, there is generally only one thing on people’s minds – enjoying the festive season.
Whether that’s partying like it’s 1999, as singer Prince implored, or enjoying the seasonal lights, copious food and drink will inevitably be involved, leading up to the biggest blow-out of all – Christmas dinner.
With so much food being consumed it would be nice to think some of the money being spent will find its way back to local producers and independent retailers.
The region is home to scores of fantastic home-grown food and drink producers as well as award-winning farm shops and delicatessens. And while some artisan foods can cost more than their supermarket counterparts, the quality is often superior.
If ensuring you sit down to the best of meals on Christmas Day isn’t enough of an incentive to stay local, then knowing you’ve helped support North East farmers and producers as well as the region’s economy will hopefully help tip the balance. Research shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business, 63p stays in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger concern.
Here we offer a whole alphabet of good reasons why lovers of good food should look closer to home this festive season.
A is for real ale: The taste for which is growing. It has led to an explosion of micro-breweries, many offering unique flavour pairings in cask and bottle.
Wylam, Northern Alchemy, Hadrian and Border, Black Paw, Durham, Alnwick, Allendale, High House Farm, Tyne Bank, Delavals, Sonnet 43 and Three Kings Brewery are just some of the names to look out for in independent off-licences, delicatessens and pubs.
B is for butchers: Support your local butcher knowing the meat and poultry will be traceable, usually locally reared and properly hung and prepared.
The North East still boasts a multitude of award-winning meat outlets including R Green and Son of Longframlington; Rothbury Family Butchers; Blagdon Farm Shop; Turnbull’s of Alnwick; TR Johnson of Wooler; R Carter and Son of Bamburgh; Broom Mill Farm at West Auckland; Grants Butchers at Vallum; George Payne of Gosforth; and Charles Nicholson of Whitley Bay, to name just a few.
C is for cheese: We have a cheese board of award-winning varieties.
There’s the Northumberland Cheese Company at Blagdon with 16 fabulous farmhouse-style cheeses (cow, goat, sheep and Jersey).
Based in Mordon, County Durham, Parlour Made makes mainly soft cheeses using milk produced on Neil and Carol Peacock’s Village Farm. There’s Mordon Blue, Durham Camembert, Farmhouse White, the beautifully red Mordon Ruddy, the tangy Mordon Mediterranean and a range of soft cheeses paired with herbs, chilli flakes and cracked black pepper.
Also in County Durham, the organic Acorn Dairy near Darlington produces its own rich and creamy brie, while in Teesdale there’s Cotherstone, a mild and semi-hard cheese related to Wensleydale and Swaledale that comes in white- and blue-veined versions.
D is for dairy: You’ll need butter, milk and cream.
Butter doesn’t get any better than the deliciously creamy organic rounds from Acorn Dairy, which also produces its own milk and cream.
Head north to Slaley and Northumbrian Pedigree’s prize-winning herd of shorthorns and Ayrshires produce the raw material for single, double and whipping cream as well as the usual range of milk.
E is for eggs: Lintz Hall Farm at Burnopfield has been producing eggs for the North East market for over four generations. They sell at major supermarkets and independents under the Derwent Valley and Lintz Hall Farm labels.
The region’s farm shops and delicatessens also sell free-range eggs from smaller local suppliers.
F is for farm shops: Where to start? The region possesses scores of award-winning farm shops stocking a mouth-watering range of locally sourced, home-made and exotic treats.
You’ll certainly find everything you need for a festive feast from excellent butchery, delicatessen and cheese counters to fruit and vegetables, cakes, wines and beers, chutneys, jams and confectionery.
Farm shop names to look out for include, in County Durham: Bradley Burn; Dropswell; Burtree House; New Close; Lowfields; Broom House; Knitsley; Cross Lanes; Medieval Ulnaby; Farnless Farm Park and Haswell’s Homer Hill.
Northumberland boasts Sunnyhills of Belford; North Acomb; Moorhouse; Blagdon; Vallum; The Country Barn; Brocksbushes; Oxford; and Herding Hill.
G is for gluten free: There’s no need to miss out if you have special dietary needs.
Bishop Auckland-based Gluten Free Food Products offers a selection of festive treats alongside its usual repertoire of coeliac-friendly pies and cakes.
They can supply a plain or iced Christmas cake as well as mince pies.
The firm – which sells online at www.glutenfreeproducts.co.uk – also specialises in dairy and vegetarian gluten-free foods.
H is for hampers: What could be a nicer gift than a hamper with local goodies?
Tasteclub – part of NewcastleGateshead Initiative – sources, promotes and sells food and drink products, gifts and experiences on behalf of the region’s leading producers.
It offers a range of appetising hampers and gift boxes to buy online from cheese and chocolate to luxury collations. Go to www.tasteclubhq.com
I is for ice cream: There’s always room for ice cream. Doddington Dairy at Wooler; Wheelbirks and Vallum Farms in the Tyne Valley; Archers of Jesmond; and Beckleberry’s are all local producers making award-winning ice creams and other cold desserts which are available to buy through farm shops or direct.
J is for juniper: Gin has come back into favour again and with it a new wave of micro-distilleries.
The North East hasn’t been left out of the gin revolution. It’s worth hunting out a bottle of Durham Gin with its 10 botanicals (the company also makes vodka) and the deliciously delicate Hexham Premier Cru and enigmatically named Steam Punk, both from The Northumberland Gin Company.
K is for kippers: Treat yourself to an extra special local breakfast with oak-smoked kippers from the world famous L Robson and Sons of Craster or Swallow Fish of Seahouses, which uses a smokehouse dating back to 1843 to transform the humble herring into something sublime.
L is for liqueurs: Try something different on the alcohol front with a bottle of Lindisfarne Mead – a unique alcoholic fortified wine manufactured on Holy Island.
The meadery also offers a range of liqueurs including cherry, wild peach, strawberry and toffee.
M is for mincemeat: Auckland Castle’s head chef Luke Orwin and his team have been busy making luxury Library Team Room mincemeat containing a boozy mix of apples, dried fruits, candied orange peel, lemons, almonds, spices and a good swig of brandy.
Priced at £2.95 a jar, order direct from the castle on 01388 743 750.
N is for nut-free: The festive season can be an anxious time for nut allergy sufferers with Christmas cake, pudding and mince pies usually packed with them. But don’t despair.
Seek out one of Bishop Auckland-based Jenkins and Hustwit’s award-winning fruit cakes, pies and puddings. Many are not only gluten- and sugar-free but don’t have nuts either.
Call 01388 605 005/ www.jenkinsandhustwit.com for more details on the product range and stockists.
O is for oysters: Push the boat out and put oysters on your festive menu. Lindisfarne Oysters on the north Northumberland coast is a family-run business. It produces high-quality Pacific oysters all year round, carefully reared in the North Sea. Buy direct from www.lindisfarneoysters.co.uk
P is for puddings: Alnwick-based The Proof of the Pudding’s home-made creations have tasters in raptures. The Alnwick Rum Christmas pudding is no exception, being a Great Taste Award Gold winner and containing a generous 6% slug of alcohol.
The company, run by Susan Green from the family farm at Heckley High House, also now offers an Alnwick Rum Christmas pudding with nuts, made to the same recipe as the original but with almonds and hazelnuts.
Q is for quick nibbles: Head to one of the region’s farm shops and delicatessens where you will find a plethora of party nibbles from homemade pies to pâtés, cheeses, quiches, gourmet crisps, dips and seasoned meats to help you feed a crowd.
R is for rum: Alnwick is famous for many things, not least its rum, which was first created in the early 1900s to appeal to seafaring Northumbrians. A blend of Jamaican and Guyanan rums that is almost black in colour, it can be drunk on its own or as a base for a festive cocktail.
S is for sauces: No Boxing Day collation of cold meats would be complete without a selection of chutneys, relishes and sauces.
Hunt out County Durham-based Wildon Grange’s award-winning range which includes the wonderfully named Francesca’s Fantastic Figgy Pear Relish, with its hint of Eastern spices and ginger, and the divine Christopher’s Cosmic Carrot with peppers and chilli – made to eat with cold meats and cheeses.
T is for trimmings: Don’t forget the trimmings, as in sausages and bacon.
The Northumberland Sausage Company makes some of the finest gourmet bangers from traditional pork, sage and onion to more exotic varieties laced with honey, black pudding, apple, lime pickle, leeks, chillies and even mango chutney.
Wrap your chosen sausage in award-winning home-cured bacon from the Knitsley Farm Shop near Consett, County Durham, or Turnbull’s of Alnwick, which offers an ever-changing range of speciality mixes that includes garlic and chilli, treacle, apricot and rosemary and a winter blend.
U is for unpasteurised cheeses: Doddington Cheese’s are made from fresh unpasteurised milk from the herd of dairy cows on the Maxwell family farm nestled in the Glendale Valley in north Northumberland.
Here a range of cheeses is produced, from the original Doddington that is somewhere between a Cheddar and a Leicester to the Gouda-style Berwick Edge and the new and creamy Darling Blue, named after Grace Darling.
V is for vegetables: Farm shops like Brocksbushes, on the A69 near Corbridge, and many delicatessens across the region have fruit and veg counters selling locally-grown and organic produce.
Julian’s Veg from Kelso has also become a familiar face at farmers’ markets and food festivals. He is at Morpeth market every Wednesday, Alnwick on the last Friday of the month and Kelso every fourth Saturday.
W is for water biscuits: Carrs Table Water biscuits have been around since 1835. And while the firm is now part of the United Biscuits food empire, these ever-popular crackers, available from supermarkets and fine food specialists, are still made in Carlisle.
X is for Xmas cookbooks: Give ‘at home’ chefs something they can get their teeth into this Christmas – and beyond – with a recipe book cooked up by North East food guru Terry Laybourne and his team.
There are four books to choose from: At Home with Cafe 21 at Fenwick; At Home with Bistro 21; At Home with Caffé Vivo; and at Home with Café 21, each costing £10.
Or explore Terry’s passion for top quality local ingredients in his journey around Northumbria to meet the region’s champion suppliers in Quest for Taste, at £25.
Buy via www.21hospitality.co.uk
Y is for Yuletide chocolates: From gorgeous stocking fillers to stunning boxed selections, the North’s chocolatiers have the festive season covered.
There’s Davenport’s Chocolates with its beautifully handcrafted and innovative boxed confections, from mulled wine truffles to the vintage collection with lime creams and coconut marshmallow.
North Chocolates specialises in beautifully- wrapped gourmet bars with unusual flavours, like rosemary and lemon sea salt, ginger and toasted fennel and geranium and orange.
The Chocolate Smiths Bizarre range will, as the name suggests, bamboozle your palate with adventurous combinations including bacon, pretzels and peanut butter, curry and even Crimbo Dinner with cranberry, sage, onion, garlic and salt and black pepper!
Z is for zest: When you’re running out of ideas of what to do with the never-ending supply of turkey, why not add a bit of zing with a chilli-based sauce?
For the perfect home-made turkey curry, add Carlisle-based Mr Vikki’s King Naga Massala Sauce.
There’s also the Super Hot Guy Fawkes Mustard, the only Mr Vikki’s product not to contain chillies but which, according to owner Adam Marks, is “guaranteed to blow your granny’s socks off”!