IT is a sunny December morning and Vallum Farm is a hive of activity. David Kennedy – he of the acclaimed Food Social and River Café restaurants and a former North East Chef of the Year – is prepping a magnificent joint of lamb in the kitchen while his baker Murray Rhind pops another tray of soda bread in the oven.
Up at the smokery, Bernard Lynch has a batch of salmon on the go, while in the ice cream lab, Vicky Moffitt is experimenting with cranberries.
Ken Holland is on his veg plot, pulling beets for soup in the Vallum Tearoom, while at the Wildflower Studio, Hannah Price is adding herbs to bouquet samples for one of Vallum’s brides.
This is truly a hive of activity; an artisan hub in the truest sense of the word, where producers work together with a common purpose, working together and trading with one another as their forebears did with Hadrian’s auxiliaries on this same land 2,000 years ago.
‘Artisan’ is one of those in-vogue terms often bandied around a little too freely, but here at Vallum artisan hub, it is a very apt description for the producers gathered in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall.
David Kennedy is the latest and arguably best-known name to join this community, and the first tenant of the newly restored Old Cow Barn, one-time milking shed and now the focus for the artisan hub being created here.
His new restaurant, function and weddings space and truly amazing shop all feature produce grown and made here. “That’s the whole ethos – we all work together and supply one another with our produce,” says David.
“The community ethos is what first attracted me here, in addition to the commitment here of tracing produce from field/producer to plate, and telling that story to our visitors.
David and his business partner Paul Scott opened David Kennedy at Vallum at the end of November, attracted by the vision of farmer Peter Moffitt, who farms here in the footsteps of his late father John, and his wife Vicky, who first opened the Vallum Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour in 2005.
They were impressed, says David, by the commitment to create not just a collection of businesses on one site, but a genuine community where producers work together and supply one another with a common ethos.
“This is not just a collection of businesses; we are a community working together, not only to serve a requirement in the area for superb produce, but also with a commitment to keeping artisan traditions alive,” says David.
Vicky and Peter have designed the Old Cow Barn also as a means of informing visitors about traditional production methods, and it includes a market passage and walkway with huge picture windows through which visitors can see artisans at work.
There is also a programme of workshops planned for 2013, and an education programme in the making.
“We could have restored this barn and simply rented out space to other businesses and left it at that,” says Vicky, “but we wanted to do so much more than that. We are building a community which works together and keeps artisan traditions alive, informing visitors about those traditions.
“We are custodians of this land, living off it as Hadrian’s auxiliaries did, and we believe passionately that we have a responsibility to its history and tradition.
“The Roman auxiliaries here would have traded with local farmers for supplies of beef, lamb, grains and such like, and they would also import spices. That short trip from field to plate fused with herbs, spices and ideas is now back at Vallum.”
The artisan hub has certainly caught the imagination of foodies regionwide. Vallum, which stands on Milecastle 18, eight miles west of Newcastle, officially launched the hub with a Christmas Fair featuring food and craft from 35 visiting producers and attracted a staggering 5,000 visitors.
“We were amazed,” says Vicky. “We’d been tweeting about the restoration of the Old Cow Barn and the plans to bring David here and further grow our community, but we had no idea how much interest there was until we had the fair in mid-November and were swamped with people itching to see the barn and meet our producers.
“It just goes to show how committed people are in this area to local produce, traditionally made.”
Vicky is currently moving production of her Great Taste Award-winning Vallum ice cream fully into the Old Cow Barn and working on a programme of markets and foodie events for 2013.
The Old Cow Barn expands the already active community at Vallum, which includes the nationally renowned heritage vegetable producers Ken and Tracy Holland of North Country Growers, Bernard and Pamela Lynch of Bywell Smokery, and Vallum Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour.
David Kennedy’s new venture follows the success of David Kennedy’s Food Social at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle and David Kennedy’s River Café in North Shields, which was recently awarded a prestigious Bib Gourmand.
“David’s food is renowned for its robust, local flavours and traditional, honest values,” so it is perfect for Vallum,” says Vicky. “David Kennedy at Vallum has caused great excitement among David’s team, not least because they get to work hand in hand with on-site producers. David’s baker Murray Rhind is now filling David’s shop at Vallum with an abundance of wonderful breads and patisserie and customers can browse and buy freshly baked artisan breads while they watch Murray at work. It perfectly sums up our community ethos here.”
Vallum began welcoming visitors in 2005, when Vicky and Peter launched their award-winning Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour.
Since then, their home-produced fare has won many Great Taste Awards and their Sunday lunch has been Extremely Highly Recommended by Your Northumberland.
The Moffitt family has farmed at Vallum for many years and their Brown Swiss cows – the only herd of their type in the region – supply the milk for the ice cream handmade by Vicky and her team.
Vicky says: “After many months of work, it’s a privilege for us to officially launch this new and unique community of artisan producers who share a common passion for locally, traditionally produced food and craft and value the rich history and tradition of this magical site.
“My husband, like his father before him, has farmed here for many years and we feel passionately about bringing the area to more people, while at the same time creating a growing community of artisans who can work together.
“The Old Cow Barn is designed to allow visitors to see our artisans at work, so that people can truly understand the short journey here from field to plate, and our new workshop spaces will host many events, which will again help our visitors to learn more about this amazing countryside, where Hadrian’s auxiliaries lived from the land, just as we do. We’re the perfect gateway from which to explore Hadrian’s Wall for visitors.”
Vallum artisan producer hub, East Wallhouses, Newcastle, NE18 0LL. Tel: 01434 672 652, www.vallumfarm.co.uk