A taste of the country from the Somerset Ploughmen

Tue, 03/19/2013

 From misty sunrises over the levels and moors and the iconic silhouette of Glastonbury Tor, to lush green pastures and wildlife-rich orchards, the Somerset Ploughmen pride themselves on taking a taste of their home to London.

The Somerset Ploughmen’s range includes prize-winning cheeses produced by the Montgomery family in North and South Cadbury and world renowned cider, cider brandies and pomona made by Julian Temperley at Burrow Hill, along with artisan brews including mead from Avalon Vineyard and chutneys, pickles and jams by the Cherry Tree.

Henry Hobhouse of Somerset Ploughmen knows his local food and farming industry inside out. His family has farmed the fertile land around Hadspen village since 1765 and he has managed his own cider apple orchards. Henry uses his contacts and expertise to select a range of fine produce that encapsulates all that is great about his home county.

“Every salesman has to be seriously proud of his product. Everything I sell is what I have in my own house – it’s what I want to feed to my family and friends,” Henry said.

Somerset’s most famous tipple

It is no surprise that Henry has selected cider and cider Brandy produced by Julian Temperley, a man who many regard as the industry’s finest ambassador.

A traditional cidermaker, Julian is the man behind the Somerset Cider Bus, which has established itself as one of Glastonbury Festival’s biggest attractions, and he also happens to be the father of Alice Temperley – a leading fashion designer who counts the Duchess of Cambridge among her fans.

Julian was granted the first full cider distilling licence in recorded history from HM Customs back in 1989. Somerset Cider Brandy is now served at some of the world’s most prestigious establishments and sold through some of the most respected outlets across the globe.

According to Julian, the landscape, soil and weather conditions at Pass Vale Farm, nestled at the foot of Burrow Hill in Kingsbury Epsicopi, are perfect for growing cider apples. Apart from being a haven for wildlife, his 160 acres of orchards are also home to more than 40 varieties of cider apple, with evocative names including the vintage Dabinett, Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Yarlington Mill and Harry Masters.

Apples are gathered, blended and pressed in the shortening days of autumn. Nothing is added – all sugar comes from the summer sun. The juice is then fermented for three months in huge oak vats before being sold as cider or distilled in ancient copper stills that rejoice in the names of Fifi and Josephine. Clear spirit, known as Eau de Vie, “water of life”, is drawn off and trickled into barrels where it gains colour from the oak while losing a quantity of spirit alcohol, “the angels’ share”, through the wood.

According to Julian, the casks he uses make a significant difference to the finished product, and he has imported barrels from around the world. As well as the provenance of the oak, the former contents of the barrels also influence the flavour of the brandy.

“Barrels are a lot more than just storage vessels; 50 per cent of the flavour of every brown spirit is the wood – we just happen to start off with some of the best apples in the world,” he explained.

“But it’s not rocket science, we are just adding the practices of spirit making areas to our wonderful cider making heritage.”

Varieties of Somerset Cider Brandy range from three to 20-year-old. Apple Eau de Vie, Somerset Pomona and apple aperitif Kingston Black make up the range. The brews have won praise from celebrity foodies including Mark Hix, Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall, Raymond Blanc and Tom Parker-Bowles.

“Apart from keeping us all amused, it gives us immense pride to know we are appreciated,” Julian added.


The big cheese

The Montgomery family have been farming in North and South Cadbury for three generations, making their renowned Montgomery's Cheddar. Jamie Montgomery's grandfather, Sir Archibald Langman, bought the farm in 1911 and continued traditional Somerset cheesemaking while many others gave up during and after WWII.

Cheeses are made from the Montgomery's own herd of 200 Friesian cows, and Jamie still uses the same methods that his family has used for generations. He employs the strains of starter culture his grandfather did and is one of the few cheesemakers who still use calf rennet for setting the curds. And he is almost unique in using a peg mill to break up the cheddared curd, which gives his cheese its brittle, broken texture.

Cheeses are wrapped in muslin cloth and matured on wooden shelves for 12 months – some are matured for 18 months to create an even richer Cheddar.

The alchemy of artisan cheesemaking sees careful attention paid to the influence of factors including grass, cows, silage, temperature, rennet and bacteria. Made with unpasteurised milk, Montgomery's Cheddar is the epitome of traditional, handmade, unpasteurised Somerset cheddar. Its deep, rich, nutty flavours have won worldwide acclaim, but its famous blue lines were not popular with supermarkets.

“That’s the character of that particular cheese,” Jamie explained. “It adds to the flavour but they wouldn’t have it. They wanted every cheese to be the same.”

Consequently, Jamie now shuns the supermarkets that scrutinised his craft cheese and squeezed his profits, preferring instead to sell through smaller outlets and specialist retailers such as the Somerset Ploughmen.

“It’s good to be away from all that,” Jamie concluded.



You’ll find the Somerset Ploughmen and a very warm welcome at Southbank Market every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.