Perhaps it should be Purnell’s Restaurant, in Birmingham, which is home to the self-styled Yummy Brummy, Glyn Purnell, a man who has paved the way for this once-desolate region. Winning Michelin stars, dazzling on TV, making Birmingham, for a little while, the number one destination outside London, before it was usurped by the Lake District, his contribution to the region’s gastronomy has been immense.
If not Purnell, then perhaps it would be former Ludlow chefs Claude Bosi, Chris Bradley and Shaun Hill, who, together, spearheaded a gastronomic renaissance in Shropshire and earned it the nickname Gourmetville. Winning the region’s only two-star award from Michelin, Bosi and his one-star colleagues shone a global spotlight on the region at the turn of the decade – with Glyn Purnell among the cooks who passed through Bosi’s kitchen.
And yet it might not be any of those key players who have helped to characterise the remarkable rise and rise of West Midlands food.
Instead, we might look to a humbler outlet – a farm shop – to get a sense of the progress that’s being made.
Ludlow Farmshop was built in 2007 with the aim of offering the best fresh, local, seasonal and handmade food and drink.
The shop is set in the heart of the Earl of Plymouth’s Oakly Park estate on the outskirts of Ludlow, surrounded by farms and fields that provide grass-fed beef and lamb, rare breed Gloucester Old Spot pork, wild venison, and game, milk, honey, fruit, and vegetables with minimal food miles and complete control on quality.
Unlike many farm shops, it produces more than half of what it sells in a unique coming together of farming, artisan food production and local, seasonally focussed retailing. It cares for its surroundings and is constantly looking for ways to work with more growers, producers, and farmers to support both the local economy and the beautiful countryside. That is why 80% of what it sells is either made there or sourced from Shropshire and the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Powys.
The shop itself is a hive of activity in a unique, purpose-built food hall surrounded by seven production units where shoppers can see its award-winning teams baking, cheesemaking, coffee roasting, butchering, preserving, and cooking the wide variety of products on offer.
The Oakly Park estate was once part of a royal forest in the chase of Ludlow Castle. Clive of India purchased the estate in the second half of the 18th Century and it has remained in the hands of the Earls of Plymouth and Windsor-Clive family for six generations since then.
Activities on the estate today include in-hand farming enterprises producing milk, beef, lamb, pork, and a variety of arable crops.
Quarrying, renewable energy projects, and residential and commercial lettings add to the mix of rural business surrounding the farm shop. It is proud to be a part of Ludlow’s international reputation for food and independent spirit.
Perhaps, more than any other venue, it has done more to foster the region’s reputation for excellence.
Great food starts with great ingredients – every chef would say so – and that’s what Ludlow Farmshop provides. An exemplar of best practice, it sets national standards for excellence and has forward-thinking owners who have driving impressive growth and whose continued focus on quality is a daily source of inspiration.
You don’t have to travel to Ludlow, of course, to enjoy it – though, frankly, why wouldn’t you? It remains a nonpareil in this region. In this new era of online retailing, Ludlow Farmshop will come to you.
As the cost of living bites, as people make smarter choices about how and where they spend their money, as eating-in replaces some of our experiences of eating-out, Ludlow Farmshop is one step ahead. It offers a wide range of products online for delivery to anywhere in the UK, with seasonal bundle deals, bespoke butchery, dinners that can be warmed at home and a dazzling range of award-winning dairy, jams and marmalade, chutneys and pickles, as well as deli goods.
And if that’s not enough, the smart-thinkers who run the organisation’s website also offer bakery, drinks, storecupboard, snacks and nuts, fruit and vegetables and much, much more. You can do a weekly shop, buy for a special dinner at home, or buy an occasional treat – whatever takes your fancy and whatever suits your wallet.
We focused on three items that showcase the best of Ludlow – and, indeed, the West Midlands – with a roasting pack, from the butchery, a mini selection of cheeses, as you do, and a box of fruit and vegetables. The results, frankly, were out of this world.
A herb-fed chicken weighed in a 1.8kg and was filled with delicious flavour. Gently reared, and tasting all the better for it, it showed a level of quality that you’ll never find in a supermarket, and seldom in a restaurant. Slowly roasted and served generously across three days, it was filled with flavour.
A mixed box of fruit and vegetables, clocking in at a not-too-shabby £15, featured carrots, potatoes, onions, parsnips, savoy cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, clementines, gala apples, and pears.
Yes, a few tomatoes were smashed and apples bruised in carriage – that’s the price you pay for not driving – though the quality was immaculate.
A cauliflower cheese, roast potatoes, an apple tart tatin and creamed parsnips were among the resulting dishes. Delicious.
A small pack of four cheeses featured Remembered Hills, the best blue cheese in Britain; Cheese With No Name, a soft, wickedly rich, double-cream-filled brie-style cheese; Lady Halton smoked cheese, which was soft and permeated with beech smoke; and Oakly Park cheddar, a sharp, tasty, medium-rich, 12-month cheddar. In a word: brilliant.
Great food is about one thing – great ingredients – and that’s been the stock-in-trade of Ludlow Farmshop for 16 straight years. It’s made an outstanding contribution to the region’s food scene and remains a step ahead.