For many years I’ve said that people taste a dish with their eyes well before it passes their lips. But the process actually starts even earlier than this – merely reading the menu encourages people to turn the ingredients over in their mind, and savour the flavours in their imagination, before they actually place their order.
What tickles the mental taste buds? As greater numbers of us in the UK join the foodie fraternity, and become more aware of how today’s food is produced, processed and transported, there’s an increasing focus on provenance – where food comes from.
The nearer the tastier
People like the idea of eating local produce. Partly this is logical – local produce is going to be fresher and tastier than ingredients that have been mass produced and transported huge distances. Furthermore, the thought that a particular dish comes burdened with unnecessary food miles spoils the enjoyment. Yet much of the appeal of local provenance is harder to pin down – it’s the strong feeling that a large part of the pleasure of dining in a particular region is the discovery of the unique local tastes, flavours and specialities.
For all these reasons, from the ethical and logical to the more sensual and imaginative, we’ve always been totally committed to using local produce in the kitchen at Summer Lodge. How hard has it been? Not very! We have so many passionate producers on our doorstep, and so many unique local specialities that are the envy of the world, that buying from further afield would be nothing short of crazy.
We keep it local – very local!
Our corner of Dorset is famed for its dairy produce (celebrated by Thomas Hardy as “the valley of the Great Dairies” in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles) so 26 of the 27 artisan cheeses we offer are from local farms – only the Stilton come more than a few miles. The Clotted Cream for our Afternoon Tea is produced on dairy farms around Shaftesbury and the Blackmore Vale.
Succulent and tender Dorset lamb, when in season, features prominently on the menu, while all the other meats, from Exmoor venison and fresh game to the beef and chicken, are sourced locally. The delicious bacon comes from the famous Denhay Farm near Honiton.
The sparkling fresh fish and shellfish comes straight off boats operating out of nearby Bridport, Portland and Brixham – the bass is line caught while the scallops are individually hand-picked by divers, thus avoiding the environmental damage caused by nets or dredging.
The bakery in the village supplies our granary bread and toasting bread, but we bake
everything else in our own kitchen. Over the summer we grow all our own vegetables, salad leaves and herbs in our kitchen garden and in the winter we produce our own root vegetables. We make some of our own preserves, pickles and chutneys using fruits and vegetables we have picked ourselves in the area and from our own garden – these include hedgerow berries, wild garlic, crab apples, beetroot and surplus vegetables from the kitchen garden as well as sloes for gin! Other jams and preserves are made locally in Bridport.
Free range eggs come from the Vickery family farm just yards from the hotel while Dorset Cereals has created a delicious variety of Muesli exclusively for our guests. South Perrott Apple Farm, just over the border in Somerset, supplies our delicious apple juice. Clipper Teas of Beaminster provide our Fair Trade tea, while the English sparkling wine is made on our doorstep at the Furleigh Estate near Bridport.
Recognition from the Sustainable Restaurant Association
This focus on making the most of the great produce that’s on our doorstep, as well as the fact that we compost all our waste and avoid the use of pesticides in our kitchen garden, whilst also make strenuous efforts to conduct ourselves in a socially responsible manner, has now been officially recognised by the Sustainable Restaurant Association. After rigorously reviewing every aspect of our operation they’ve awarded us their highest rating – a Three star Sustainability Champion accolade. Obviously we’re delighted to receive this endorsement and we’ll be redoubling our efforts to do even better in the future.
By Steve Titman