There’s a glaring omission on the Knitsley Farm Shop website.
All the information you’d expect on the bakery, butchery, café, shop, delicatessen and 200-acre farm near Consett, County Durham, that Edward and Rachael Jewson’s family has worked for the past six generations, is there.
There’s even a handy map showing those not yet in the know how to find their way to the windswept hillside offering pleasant views over the open North Durham countryside, where East Knitsley Grange Farm stands.
No. The oversight is on the awards’ page. Since opening for business in November 2008, Knitsley Farm Shop has picked up an impressive array of gongs, so many, in fact, that Edward, 43, and Rachael, 37, have rightly decided to devote a whole section entirely to them.
There are at least 36 coveted titles listed that the shop has either won outright or been in the running for, from a clutch of Great Taste Gold awards for their homemade pork pie topped with sweet apple chutney and Stilton cheese and butchery items like red onion marmalade back bacon, to being named the national winner on more than one occasion of FARMA’s (Farm and Rural Markets Association) Best Own and Local Farm Retailer of the Year.
But three won in quick succession last autumn are currently missing: a coveted regional accolade bestowed during National Sausage Week for the most innovative banger for butcher Michael Dufton’s Tapas-inspired creation featuring pork, black pudding, chorizo and spices; The Meat Trades Journal’s Farm Shop of the Year, and the Taste of England Award picked up at last November’s North East England Tourism Awards.
The latter win will now see Knitsley Farm Shop representing the region at the prestigious national VisitEngland Awards for Excellence this May. Rachael and Edward won’t have far to travel. They will be battling it out for the national title against regional winners from across England on home turf as the ceremony is set to be held at the Sage Gateshead.
The three honours coming within weeks of each other rounded off another satisfying 12 months for Edward, Rachael and their three children Ellen, seven, Thomas, four and William, two, who are the seventh generation of the Jewson clan stretching back in an unbroken chain more than 150 years to call this picturesque area of the North East home.
So why aren’t the couple shouting about them alongside being named in The Independent newspaper’s UK-wide list of top 50 farm shops and delicatessens?
Rachael laughs when it’s mentioned. “Christmas,” she says. It probably needs no further explanation given the frenzied spending spree the festive season has now become, but she continues: “It’s a massive time of year for us. We were exceptionally busy, especially on the meat side, and we had in the region of 600 meat and turkey orders to get out.”
It didn’t, she says, leave much time for anything else.
The couple are also in the process of launching a new farm shop website set to go live any day now, which will offer for the first time an online ‘click and collect’ ordering service.
A pilot scheme for the farm shop, customers will be able to pre-order meat and vegetables. But if the trial is a success then it will almost certainly be rolled out to cover the impressive range of other predominantly locally sourced and made foods on sale.
It’s Edward and Rachael’s big innovation for 2015 and part of their ongoing plan to ensure the farm shop continues to evolve and stay one step ahead of the competition.
The husband and wife team believe the demand is there. “We have quite a few customers who would like to get our products but may not be in a position to,” Rachael explains.
“This way people who can’t make it to us on time to do their own shop because they are working or whatever, will be able to pre-order and pay online. We’ll pull everything together and then all they will have to do is swing by on the way home and pick it up.”
And unlike pre-ordering from a supermarket when the freshness and condition of the produce isn’t always what you would have chosen for yourself, customers will benefit from the care, knowledge and attention to detail that has been a major factor in the impressive number of awards that have come Edward and Rachael’s way.
It’s also what, Rachael believes, has so successfully helped the still fledgling business ride out the economic downturn and numerous food scares.
Just how popular Knitsley Farm Shop has become can be gauged when Rachael reveals the on-site bakery is now turning out 60,000 pies a year for the retail side alone.
Bread is baked fresh daily, while demand for beef and pork has outstripped what the farm’s own herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and drove of rare breed pigs (the latter are not bred but fattened at Knitsley) can provide.
Extra beef and pork is sourced from neighbouring farms.
But along with Knitsley’s own lamb from the farm’s flock of 260 North Country Mules crossed with Texel tups and free range eggs laid on site by 200-odd Rhode Island Reds, no-one can argue that food miles aren’t being kept to a minimum.
It’s this organic approach that has against the odds seen independent outlets such as Knitsley manage to take business away from the multiples, as environmental concerns have come to the fore and serious failings like 2013’s horsemeat outrage have encouraged consumers to begin questioning where their food really comes from.
Rachael says the big food chains have lost a lot of the public’s trust. “People want to get back to the basic values of knowing where their food comes from. If they are going to spend a bit more, then they want to with local businesses where the quality and trust is there.
“It’s also a nicer environment to shop in. People are always commenting on the ambience and feel here. What creates it, I don’t know. But we have wonderful staff and many of the customers have now become friends. We know when they come in what they are going to order. I believe that sort of knowledge helps.
“People also know that we go that extra mile. In the wake of the horsemeat scandal that extra level of trust has become even more important.
“We also make it easy to shop. We get people in who live on their own and they don’t want to be put in a position where they have to buy a huge packet of something that they will never eat.
“Here you can buy one sausage, one slice of ham and a small pot of pease pudding, if that’s all you want.”
It has perhaps been fortuitous that Knitsley Farm Shop launched when it did and that Edward and Rachael have been able to tap into the sea change in the public’s attitudes to food.
Not that life seemed so rosy back in the autumn of 2008. “We opened just at the time that the banks collapsed. There was the big downturn in the world markets. I think if we had not been so far down the road we wouldn’t have gone ahead as everyone was saying we were heading into recession,” Rachael recalls.
“But we had a mortgage to pay so we had to plough on. Thankfully people took to us right from the start. The farm shop is just 500 yards from a very busy road and we have a large population living within a five to 10 minute drive.
“Most of our customers come from the Chester-le-Street, Durham and Derwentside areas, but people travel from much further afield. We had a couple from Berwick the other day. The woman had forgotten her handbag so she got in the car, drove home to get it and came back again!”
The farm shop development was not borne just from a need for the Jewson’s to diversify. They had escaped the worst of the foot and mouth crisis that blighted the early noughties and changed the face of our rural landscape.
But they had a collection of old, derelict outbuildings that were in need of love and attention. Edward came up with the idea of opening the farm shop.
The couple knew nothing about retail. Indeed, until that point Rachael had been an equine lecturer at nearby Houghall Community College (now East Durham College).
Their ethos was simple, however: to stock everything a person would need to host a successful dinner party at home, from the meat to the vegetables, wine, beers, dessert, cheeses and crackers.
They started with just five members of staff and having rapidly expanded the home baking side now employ 43.
The onus is on supporting local in all ways. What can’t be sourced from the farm is found in their own neighbourhood, with the net then widening across the North East.
Shoppers will find a host of well-known regional artisanal food names on the shelves from Wildon Grange’s award-winning dressings to cheeses and ice cream from Doddington Dairy near Wooler, Northumberland Tea, Wiga Wagaa Chilli’s, loaf cakes from Jenkins and Hustwit, Alnwick-based Proof of the Pudding desserts and real ales from Consett, Wylam and Durham Breweries, to name but a few.
The pool of good quality local producers is too small in the region for Knitsley to ask for exclusivity. “You can’t keep things exclusive,” Rachael says. “It would be unfair to the producers.”
It’s one of the reasons that the home made side of the business is so important. “It’s where we can be different. What we make and sell is unique to us,” Rachael says proudly.
And it’s that individuality that will hopefully see Edward and Rachael adding to their list of retail honours this May and again doing the North East proud on home soil at the VisitEngland awards.
Knitsley Farm Shop, East Knitsley Grange Farm, Knitsley, Consett, County Durham, DH8 9EW, 01207 592 059, www.knitsleyfarmshop.co.uk