Our own celebrity chef, Rosemary Shrager celebrates English wines.
This month will see many local vineyards picking their grapes, so I thought I would talk very brieﬂy about the history of British vineyards.
The Romans ﬁrst introduced wine making to England, and in Norman times at least 40 vineyards were mentioned in the Domesday book. When Henry VIII came to power in 1509, 139 vineyards were recorded. Then, by the 1680s wine was being enjoyed by all.
The drink then started going through an epidemic of Phylloxera and powdery mildew. In the 19th century, just as the wine began to recover, the explorers of New America were dealing with the wine trade, and in 1860 Lord Palmerstone supported free trade and drastically cut 83% tax on imported wines, so the superior foreign wine was sold at a much lower cost. The British vineyards were brought to an abrupt end, and with the onset of the First World War, we needed food to be grown.
After a few ups and downs, since 1939 wine making has come back and there are now a reported 460 vineyards producing wine throughout England. Chapel Down near Tenterden is the biggest producer. Sussex and Kent have a perfect soil (chalk) for growing grapes for sparkling wines on the south facing slopes.
We are winning awards across the world for our sparkling wines and even beating Champagne. The Hush Heath winery in Staplehurst has won numerous Decanter gold medals for their wines – the Balfour Brut Rose is delicious and I highly recommend it. It’s as good as any pink Champagne.
I recently met Hush Heath’s owner Richard Balfour-Lynn at The Goudhurst Inn and we shared a lot in common – for me food and for Richard, wines. The vineyard is very much a family business – the cider is named after the son Jake, the English Rose is called Nannette after one daughter and another wine is named Skye’s English Chardonnay after another daughter.
Their process of growing the vines starts around May during the time of the buds bursting. There can still be frost around, and this could do a lot of damage to the crop. To deal with this, they have a weather station that tells them if the temperature goes to plus two degrees, they are alerted, everybody scrambles to light giant candles called Bouges to keep the frost away from the vines. It must be quite a sight! Go on and find out for yourself, it’s worth a visit. www.hushheath.com.
I would like to give you this recipe as winter is setting in and also its fun to do.
Enjoy! Speak next month.
MAPLE CURED BACON
SERVINGS: Makes 1.3KG
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes, plus 5 days curing time
COOKING TIME: 10 minutes
• 500ml maple syrup
• 1.3kg pork, from the boneless piece of the loin
• 600g sea salt, e.g. sel gris
• Olive oil, for frying
- Pour 250ml of maple syrup on the pork, making sure the ﬂ esh side is covered.
- Leave in a sealed plastic container in the fridge for a day. Turn the pork a couple of times so that it’s all soaked in the syrup.
- On the second day, remove the pork from the syrup (reserving it), take 300g of the salt and spread it on the pork then add back to the syrup. Leave for a day in the fridge turning a couple of times.
- On the third day, wash off the syrup and salt. Return the pork to the plastic container, pour over the remaining syrup and salt, and leave in the fridge for two days. Turn it twice a day to ensure the pork is evenly coated.
- On the fifth day, wash the salt and syrup off and you have bacon. Remove the rind before cooking.
- Cut a slice and taste it. If it’s a bit salty for your taste, soak it in water for an hour or two. Keep it in the fridge for a few weeks and slice to order.
- To cook, fry in a little olive oil.