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Feature: Local food in Lancashire

Posted on - 6th December, 2010 - 9:50am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Food & Drink, People, Videos

Locally sourced food has become a hot topic in recent years. As people become more conscious about what they eat and how far it’s travelled to get to their table, the organic label and the notion of something being produced on an independent basis has begun to appeal more and more to the public.

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Inevitably London receives the bulk of coverage when it comes to local food producers adopting innovative methods, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening elsewhere. Indeed, restaurants like Heathcotes in Longridge change their menu based on the availability of local produce, and the Inn at Whitewell (recently shown on The Trip) not only has a menu packed full of local Lancashire food, but also houses Bowland Forest Vintners, an independent wine merchant.

New research conducted earlier this year by Greenhalgh’s Bakery revealed that people’s taste in food is often shaped by their upbringing and local produce. Greenhalgh’s mapped the sales of its products across 57 stores and found areas where certain products were significantly more popular than others. Preston’s favourite lunchtime foods were hot soups and flat cakes, while Butter Pies were most popular in Chorley.

Two examples of local businesses that have grown vastly since being founded while remaining true to their passion for local food are Halls Bakery and Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses.

Click through on the timeline below to find out a bit more about the development and history of the two businesses.

Joseph Hall, Managing Director of Halls, thinks it’s important to keep things local: “The new focus on locally produced food is to everyone’s benefit.

“We have a company policy of sourcing as much raw material from Chorley as possible and we still use the same butcher my grandfather used back in the 1930s”.

A family-run business, Halls Pies source all their raw produce from local areas like Euxton and Bamber Bridge, and now have an annual turnover of approximately £1 million. In keeping with the fully local approach they take to food, all 36 staff (bar one) at Halls are from Chorley, and with research suggesting that local food provenance is now high up on consumer wish-lists, the business is set to reap the rewards.

Joseph thinks that carving out an identity as a local food producer is also important: “I also think there is a move amongst consumers as a kind of backlash against ‘Clone Town’ Britain, people are being awakened to the distinct lack of choice in the high street.

“Food is still an area where independents can operate and have a big competitive advantage with their message of quality and localism, we are keeping traditional food and are the guardians of diversity and tradition and of local values”.

To get more of a feel for the food production process itself, I visited Butlers Inglewhite Dairy to see what goes into making their signature Lancashire cheeses and the popular Blacksticks Blue.

After navigating my way through the winding country lanes, I arrive at Wilson Fields Farm to be greeted by Gillian Hall, Managing Director of Butlers Cheeses. She is the latest in the line of a family business that began in 1932, and now sells 1,000 tonnes of cheese a year with an annual turnover of £8 million. Butlers employ 80 staff across 2 dairies which in turn are supplied by 12 farms, the furthest of which is only 10 miles from the Inglewhite Dairy.

As we sit in the farmhouse sheltered from the cold, Gillian talks about the strong animal welfare principles and production standards that Butlers uphold. Having learnt elements of the trade from her mother, in 2004 she set about creating the now famous Blacksticks Blue cheese with her team.

“It was christened after the original farm where cheese-making resumed after the war, and we called it Blacksticks Blue.

“The farm actually gets its name from a group of tall horse chestnut trees which look like black sticks in Winter.

“So it sort of works for the cheese because the blue mould does look a bit like black sticks, as it grows in the lines where the cheese has been pierced”.

Apart from running Butlers Cheeses, I discover that Gillian also makes delicious bacon sandwiches, after I sheepishly ask if there’s anything else to eat (she’s laid out out a formidable spread of croissants and homemade flapjacks on the table).

Minutes later, Cheesemaker Tim Fisher arrives to show me around the dairy itself. Entering the building and clambering into regulation white coat, hairnet and wellies, the rising smell is, well, cheesy. Tim shows me the cheese at every stage of the process, starting as a very fluid state, progressing to something that resembles scrambled eggs before the final dried product is left to mature.

The taste of each cheese is determined by the type of bacteria culture used and also different maturing periods, Lancashire cheese is matured for 10 to 12 months, whereas a Double Gloucester would only be matured for six. Seeing the care and hands-on nature of the production process at Butlers is very heartening. The dairy is a tiny one in industry terms, but the small size allows for more personalisation, and the workforce here almost have a kind of extended family atmosphere about them.

Local produce is something worth keeping alive. When high streets up and down the country are becoming ever more identikit, food is one area in which we can still relish in the eccentricities, delights and individuality of Britain. Supermarkets might look like aisle upon aisle of mass-produced food, but there are still pockets of individualistic food retailers. As consumers, we need to support our independent food producers to allow them to continue making unique provisions and maybe try and rediscover some of the kinship that communities once had with local businesses. Hopefully, with businesses like Halls and Butlers, Lancashire produce has a strong future ahead of it.

Are you a local independent food producer? We’d love to hear from you, email us at contactus(at)blogpreston(dot)co(dot)uk.

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