Browsing Category


Farming Thinking

The secret to saving our blue planet

21st March 2018

Sole of Discretion, a fishing co-operative based in Plymouth England, was the first wild fishing company in the UK to be accredited Organic by the Soil Association.

Using only static nets and hand liners, these fishers are helping to preserve fish stocks and the ecology of the seabed for future generations.

Farmdrop paid a visit to Plymouth to hear their incredible journey and the tastier and more transparent world they’re helping to build.

Sole of Discretion’s high-quality and sustainable fish is exclusively available to buy direct from

Farming Thinking

How supermarkets ruined pork

21st March 2018
  • New campaign positions pork as healthy a chicken but a staggering 90% of all pork sold in the UK is intensively farmed.
  • Lizzie Rivera reveals the truth behind the pork we eat, the murky world of food labelling, and how supermarket dominance is at fault.  

Free-range pigs at Fernhill-Farm. This type of high-welfare farming is far removed from the reality of how much of British pork is made.

Pork is making a comeback. Its decline in popularity has been so slow you may not have noticed it – but farmers and supermarkets have. So a new campaign has been launched to rekindle our love of the majestic-sounding pork medallion, firstly by taking on chicken (whose popularity has soared) and secondly by taking on the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yep, a pig farmer hit headlines last week by formally requesting the phrases ‘pig-out’, ‘eat like a pig’ and ‘porker’ are removed from the dictionary because they are offensive to the animals that are, in reality, no greedier than any others.

In fact, British pigs are now 44% leaner than they were in the 1970s, while us greedy-hogs – oops! humans – are 30% fatter, according to the latest data from the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.

Pork drops: how we fell out of love with pork

The new Love Pork campaign encourages people to eat more pork but 90% of all pork sold in the UK is intensively farmed.

Sales of pork fell by 8% between 2013 and last year, with around one million fewer households buying pork. Meanwhile sales of chicken, touted as the healthy white meat, soared by 18%.

A significant factor of this decline may have been the World Health Organisation’s warning in 2015 that processed and cured meat ranked alongside cigarettes as a cause of cancer.

The evidence that links a high intake of red and processed meat to poor health is growing according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA). It is not yet clear why this is, but one theory is the higher saturated fat or salt intake in foods such as burgers and sausages, and the typically un-healthier lifestyles of the people who regularly consume these foods.

The key point here is “high intake”. Dr Frankie Phillips, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the BDA, says the official recommendation is to eat less than 70g of red meat per day – about the amount in a pork medallion.

She also highlights how pork is also rich in protein and provides a source of a range of essential vitamins and minerals.

Hence the new “Love Porkmarketing campaign, which presents pork as healthy as chicken by highlighting that a pork medallion contains a whole 0.03g less saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast.

So, we can eat pork as often as we do chicken. Right? Well, not quite…

Telling porkies: health claims and intensive farming

As our last report on chicken investigated, there’s a lot more to the arguments for how “healthy” a meat is for you than the simplistic fat and protein content marketing message. And there’s a huge range of pork to choose from – from intensively reared to free-range and organic.

So, while “Love Pork”  is not telling outright porkies, they’re not telling the whole truth either because the way a pig is farmed has a significant impact on its nutritional value.

And that is another reason we’re seeing a decline of meat sales generally – consumer concern for animal welfare.

A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last year revealed that the number of intensive farms (housing 2,000 pigs for grown meat) in the UK has risen by a quarter since 2011. “Mega Farms”, which hold at least 2,500 pigs, are also increasing at a concerning pace with the largest UK pig farm able to hold a staggering 23,000 pigs.

Piglets suckling their mother on an intensive pig farm.

Intensive farming now accounts for an incredible 90% of all pork sold in the UK, according to Philip Lymbery, chief executive Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

When it comes to pigs, what passes as acceptable is pretty horrifying. Piglets are born to sows in farrowing crates, which are so small the sows can’t even turn around.

The piglets compete with one another for teats that aren’t providing enough milk for them all, so they have their teeth painfully clipped to minimise damage when fighting to suckle.

“That’s not a pig, that’s a genetic monster who’s lived in a shed all its life.”

Unstimulated, their tails will have been docked by the time they are transferred to pens at three weeks old (without anaesthetic if they were under seven days old) to stop them causing serious damage when they bite each other as their boredom turns to aggression. The growing pigs live on hard slatted floors so the excrement they live in can conveniently be washed away.

Fed growth hormones to grow quickly, commercially reared pigs are ready for slaughter from five months old, twice as fast as higher welfare breeds which grow at a more natural pace.

They are fattened up on cereals and are fed routine antibiotics because diseases spread quickly in tightly packed conditions and they haven’t fed from their mother for long enough to build up immunity. In September 2016, a study by organic certification body Soil Association revealed 63% of pork samples contained antibiotic-resistant E. coli.

Farms Not Factories have campaigned against the intensive farming of pigs – a farming system which is heavily reliant on antibiotics.

“In Britain, a nation of animal lovers, most of our pigs are in factory farms in conditions that in my view can only be described as utter deprivation,” says Lymbery, who believes it’s supermarkets who have benefited from this centralisation of supply.

Intense competition between the supermarkets and their tiny margins mean that meat has become cheaper than ever. The farmers themselves have been forced into levels of efficiency that have never been seen before – and that includes pushing animals to grow at unnatural rates. As one farmer explains it: “That’s not a pig, that’s a genetic monster who’s lived in a shed all its life.”

But over the last decade supermarkets have also realised consumers want their animals to be treated better. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to treat the animals better – just market them to suggest this is the case.

The word ‘fresh’ leads to 30% of consumers to believe products are more free-range than they are

Lymbery says: “Packaging on animal products can be designed to make consumers feel better about what they are buying. Pictures of animals happily grazing in rolling fields do nothing to inform people of the truth about how farm animals are actually raised.”

He points to research that shows simply adding the word ‘fresh’ leads to about 30% of consumers believing products are more free-range than they actually are.

Even worse, when I asked David Clarke, CEO of Red Tractor, which certifies 85% of pig farms, what are the advantages of “outdoor bred pork” (which means the pigs are born outdoors and raised indoors) his reply is: “The advantages are some people are prepared to pay more money for it because they think it’s better welfare.”

Happy as a pig…outdoors

A free-range, organic pig at Purton House Organics farm in Wiltshire.

At the other end of the spectrum a luckier 10% of pigs are raised in truly higher-welfare, free-range and organic conditions.

Pigs are very sociable animals and when given the chance they will happily spend their days grazing or rooting the ground with their sensitive snouts – or wallowing in the mud to cool down. If it’s cold, shelter with plenty of straw is their perfect hideaway.

Given the opportunity to behave naturally, pigs on these farms will automatically designate themselves a toilet area – away from where they live and eat.

This style of farming goes hand-in-hand with passionate and enthusiastic farmers fighting to keep the rarest pig breeds in existence – such as the Gloucester Old Spot, The British Saddleback and The Tamworth.

At Fernhill Farm, there are just two Saddleback sister sows, who each have the potential to produce about 24 piglets a year. These animals get to live as a family unit in eight acres of land and rotate around the woodlands and gardens to cultivate, fertilise, clear scrub and help to reclaim unmanaged woodlands.

One of Fernhill Farm’s two saddleback sows with one of her piglets.

“We consider them as part of the team, clearing up windfall apples, garden and vegetable waste, weeds and consuming large quantities of fodder beet throughout winter,” says owner Jennifer Hunter.

“To us they form part of our holistic approach to farming rather than a stand alone business. Pigs were my first love after studying animal behaviour and they sure do deliver on bringing a bit of joy into our lives.”

The Saddleback is one of the original British breeds of pig and is gentle and quiet perfectly suited to life outdoors, with great bacon potential.

Rare breeds have been phased out of commercial farms because they don’t grow quickly enough, but unsurprisingly the quality of the meat is incomparable. It will have depth of colour and be full of flavour, fry beautifully in its own fat and it won’t release grungy water.

Some British farmers are even turning rare breed meat into charcuterie – with impressive results. British Salami from Marsh Pig, for example, typically has a third less fat so you get all of the flavour without the greasy after taste.

Of course, meat from these pigs is more expensive – and some cuts can cost the same price as a steak. It’s a tough sell to re-educate consumers who have lost touch with how their food is really produced. But, somewhat ironically, these pigs need to be eaten so they can continue to be farmed and ensure the survival of the breeds.

Going the whole hog

The rise in popularity of nose-to-tail eating means even a pig’s head now comes with a price tag of about £15, whereas butchers were literally giving them away a few years ago.

Yet, the head is still the most undervalued part of the pig, according to chef James Golding, who uses it to make Bath-chaps (cured and smoked pork cheeks), braised cheeks and crispy ears.

As chef director of The Pig ‘restaurant with rooms’, who rear their own pigs, you’d expect Golding to be a big fan of pork.

“It is so versatile and tasty, whether you’re roasting a shoulder for dinner or making a paté, every product is packed full of flavour,” he says. But there’s one condition.

“As long as it’s responsibly reared, it’s a beautiful meat.” To Golding, the difference between a quality piece of pork and a cheap one is huge.

“The depth of flavour is the biggest difference and the smell is intense. We finish our pigs on apples and it does transfer into the meat, it’s delicious.”

The message to eat less but higher welfare meat is no longer just about animal welfare but human health as well.

The difference between low-welfare and high-welfare farming also impacts the nutritional value. For example, the biggest nutritional difference between organic meat and non-organic is that organic meat contains around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, according to a report published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Plus, organic meat was found to have slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats linked to heart disease.

Organic and truly free-range pigs are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers common in intensive farming. This is especially important in light of reports highlighting how the overuse of antibiotics in farming is undermining the treatment of infections in humans.

Suddenly the advice to eat meat less often so we can afford to eat better quality doesn’t seem so unreasonable, it seems necessary.

This is where buying cheaper, less common cuts can provide the best of both worlds. The meaty chump, from the rump, is easy to cook in a pan or under the grill. The cheek, from the other end of the pig, is fatty and great in a stew. Deboning, stuffing and rolling the loin can make it go further – and removing the skin to make a tasty crackling makes this go further still. Of course, the shoulder can be slow-roasted until tasty and tender, but it can also be minced for a delicious, slow-grown and slow-cooked ragu.

Lizzie Rivera is a journalist and founder of BICBIM, London’s ethical food and fashion guide, covering the eco-friendly and ethical brands that produce top-quality food, fashion and experiences. 

Shop for high-welfare and organic pork at

Discover more about the effects of factory farming on our food:


Why ‘new season’ spring lamb is a myth

8th March 2018

Why you need to forget everything you thought you knew about eating spring lamb.

spring lamb myth

Sheep with their lambs in the summer at Fernhill Farm.

Easter Sunday lunch wouldn’t be complete without a leg of ‘new season’ spring lamb on the table, so supermarkets tell us. After all, there’s almost no better sign of a change in season than the sight of young lambs frolicking in lush pasture.

However, when you think about it, this makes little seasonal sense. Surely spring is when lambs are born, not eaten?

Why lamb at Easter?

History, custom and eating ‘celebration food’ at the end of fasting play a large part in the idea of eating lamb at Easter. In Medieval England the celebration fell at the end of a period of fasting known as ‘the hungry month’. People were able to get hold of lamb at this time, symbolising the lamb of God.

Where does spring lamb actually come from?

Up until around mid-summer, a lot of the lamb sold at supermarkets is imported from countries with longer lambing seasons such as New Zealand. British ‘new season’ spring lamb sold at this time of year will have been born in January and reared indoors with their mothers’ milk during the cold months.

A few sheep breeds can lamb naturally in winter in Britain, yet most can’t. Some ewes will be given oestrogen to bring them into season earlier. Ewes lambing outside of spring won’t be fed on spring grass but on a supplementary feed such as ‘concentrate’ which is pelleted cereal. Known as “suck lamb” it is sweet but paler with a mild flavour that some say is a little porky compared with lamb born in the spring and raised on grass outdoors over the summer.

What happens to lamb born in spring in Britain?

spring lamb myth

What are ewe looking at?

British spring-born lamb comes into the height of its seasonal best in the summer, from around mid-June and into September. Much of the British lamb sold at this time of year will have been born in the spring of last year.

In the trade this isn’t technically called lamb but is known as hogget, which is a one-year-old animal in its second spring or summer. Having had a full year out on grass, it’s the best of both worlds in terms of being full of flavour yet terrifically tender.

We need to talk about ‘terroir’

Small-scale farmers proud of their provenance will tell you there is such a thing as lamb ‘terroir’. This is where consumers can expect differences in flavour and taste depending on the location of where grazing happens and also the breed of sheep.

Romney lamb raised on natural grasses and samphire of the salt marshes in Kent has a rich flavour and natural marbled fat. Head to the Shetlands and you’ll find a leaner meat from native breed lamb raised on its heather-filled grassland.

Shepherd Andy Wear amongst the clover with his sheepdog on his farm, Fernhill Farm, in the Mendip Hills.

Farmers Jen and Andy Wear rear sheep at their record-setting Fernhill Farm in Mendip Hills. They describe their lamb as having a “distinctive flavour gained from a forage diet that is part of this green and pleasant land”, says Andy. “Sheep have the ability to harvest minerals deep within the soil when they eat a nutrient-rich mix of a variety of plants and grasses,” Jen explains.

On the importance of spring-born lambs spending time out on pasture, Jen says: “During the summer months, mature plants put their energy into setting their seeds for the survival of their species, thus bringing up deep-rooted minerals that sheep can digest and release to us. Slow maturing lambs fed on mature plants naturally bring beneficial qualities.” Not baaad huh.

All lamb reared by our shepherds Andy at Park Farm and Andy at Fernhill Farm whose flock graze on the land at Luke’s Story Organics’farm in the Chew Valley too) are nearing hoggett age at this time of year. They will have had a full year out on grass. Grass-fed meat tends to be lower in total fat and also has higher levels of ‘good fats’ such as Omega-3 and higher vitamin levels, particularly Vitamin E.

Grass fed vs. grain fed beef: here’s why you need to know the difference.

Pair lamb with new season wild garlic in our recipe and here’s more ideas on how to wild stuff in our handy guide.

Cooking Farming

Everything you need to know about Yorkshire Rhubarb

20th February 2018

Why the neon pink, protected status stalks of lovingly-grown forced Yorkshire rhubarb deserve a destiny beyond crumble. Plus, a collection of sweet and savoury recipes to help you celebrate the height of its season.

Yorkshire Rhubarb : world famous and made in the dark

Give the gloriously pink stuff the delicious send off it deserves.

Rhubarb is a national hero of a fruit (although it’s actually a stalk vegetable). When the beautifully bright pink forced variety first pops up on menus, you know it’s time to get excited, very excited. Available from January to late March/early April, forced rhubarb is grown in the dark in the wonderfully named ‘rhubarb triangle’, the area around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford.

They can grow up to five centimetres a day in the controlled light and soil conditions that give forced rhubarb its glorious bright pink hue, white flesh and delicate, sharp flavour. And if you’re anything like Nigel Slater when he was a kid, you’ll love slicing off a thumb of the pink-stuff and casually dipping it into brown sugar for a quick tangy hit — a bit like a stripped-back sherbet dip.

Meet the sixth-generation forced rhubarb farmer

Yorkshire Rhubarb : world famous and made in the dark

Jonathan Westwood of Westwood & Sons is the sixth generation in his family to grow forced rhubarb in the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ around Wakefield.

David Westwood’s family farm have been producing forced rhubarb for generations. Their farm is located in Wakefield in the heart of Yorkshire’s ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ where the crop thrives in the sulphur rich soil. The sulphur is said to have originated from the soot of the industry in the area.

David continues a process started by great-uncle in 1870, where the roots are grown outside for two years to ensure a good build up of sugars for sweet and tender rhubarb. The roots are then are moved to sheds to be grown in the dark and the rhubarb stalks are harvested by candlelight to avoid photosynthesis which can make the stalks bitter and more acidic.

With the help of his family, especially his son Jonathan, David continues this complex traditional method to ensure its delicate flavour and incredible bright pink colour, recognised the world over as a sign of quality and provenance. There are even tales of ‘hearing’ the creaks and crackles of its stalks moving up the soil as it grows rapidly in the darkness.

Meet the beatboxing rhubarb that makes sounds as it grows.

The growth of forced Yorkshire rhubarb began in West Riding during in the late 1800s when other fresh fruits were in short supply. Forced Yorkshire rhubarb now enjoys the top European Food Status of a Product of Designated Origin (PDO), and has garnered international repute with the world’s best chefs.

5 ways to cook forced Yorkshire rhubarb


Yorkshire Rhubarb : world famous and made in the dark

Rhubarb: not just for dessert. Try British line-caught mackerel with tangy rhubarb relish. Photo: Natale Towell.

Delightfully easy, this is great if you’re short on time, or just can’t wait get stuck into it’s bright stalks. Slice rhubarb into chunky batons and place in a pan with equal parts sugar and water, lemon juice and zest. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and poach for five minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for a cool take on rhubarb and custard. Try your hand at our Rhubarb & Black Pepper Compote for a savoury spicy twist or a tangy hit in our Mackerel and Rhubarb Relish dish.


Yorkshire Rhubarb : world famous and made in the dark

Not sure what to do with it all? Preserve rhubarb in a pickle.

Throw together the usual pickle suspects sugar, cider vinegar, salt, ginger and peppercorns, boil up and pop into jars. Serve with crumbly cheese, charcuterie or oily fish such as mackerel or sardines — it’ll cut through the fat nicely. New to pickling? Try our easy and fresh-tasting Rhubarb Pickle that’s got a little poke too.


Did you know you can use rhubarb to make a deliciously silky butter to smother over meat and pan-fried fish? Start with poaching method above. Add a little fish stock, reduce for five minutes and push through a sieve. Reheat before serving and whisk in a generous knob of butter — this will give it good gloss. You can try this with veg stock and serve with pork.


Let the rhubarb shine in this simple, four ingredient sweet treat. Simmer gently three parts of rhubarb cut into chunks with two parts caster sugar and one part water with a little lemon juice until soft. Leave the mixture to cool and blitz in a blender until smooth. Use an ice cream maker to chill and then place in the tub in the freezer. Or if you don’t have an ice cream maker, place in a tub and stir up with a fork every hour for up to six hours and you’ll have a tantalising, granita-like texture.


Yorkshire Rhubarb : world famous and made in the dark

Impress the family with a surprisingly easy showstopper of a forced Yorkshire rhubarb frangipane tart. Photo: Natale Towell.

Perfect to enjoy after a Sunday lunch, show the stalks off in a simple yet elegant, rich and almond-y frangipane. Or keep you options open by baking them in a batch to enjoy  over a few days on top of french toast, pancakes, or muesli with yoghurt. To bake, place the batons in a dish in a medium-hot oven with shavings of orange zest and a little juice until softened but still hold their shape. And finally, we know there’s much, much more to rhubarb than crumble, but we won’t deny you a classic. Up your usual crumble with crunchy nuts and fresh ginger in our Rhubarb Gingernut Crumble.

Discover Westwood & Son’s and Reg the Veg’s latest crop of forced Yorkshire Rhubarb at

Watch rhubarb being harvested by candlelight at the fellow Yorkshire ‘rhubarb triangle’ farmers the Oldroyd family as featured by the BBC.

Farming Living

Grape Britain: the English winemakers taking on mass-production with more natural, sustainable and vegan-friendly wines

19th February 2018

Meet the English winemakers taking on the world’s mass-producers and winning international awards along the way.

The beautiful vineyards of Three Choirs in Gloucestershire.

The story of English wine is one of perseverance, belief against the odds, and a touch of the eccentricity Brits are globally renowned for.  

You have to be a little crazy to take on winemakers with hundreds of years of heritage by planting vines in the UK’s famously humid conditions when fragile grapes are notoriously prone to fungal problems.

But if the French can make world-renowned Champagne in a climate that’s not too dissimilar to ours, there’s no reason we shouldn’t also be able to produce wines that sparkle.

And it is, of course, sparkling wine the British are earning a formidable reputation for. The UK weather creates grapes with good levels of acidity which leads to wines that are typically light, fresh and with a distinct fruit character.

“It was a very hard sell in the early days, but we’re good farmers and if you produce good fruit you’ll make good wine,” says Martin Fowke, Winemaking director at Three Choirs Vineyards, which was established in Hampshire in 1973.  

The landscape of English winemakers

During that time the prestige of English winemakers and English wines has soared, once widely disregarded they now scoop top prizes at international awards.

Larger English winemakers such as Nyetimber and Denbies are probably the most well known. But, there are now more than 500 vineyards across England and Wales producing reds, whites and rosés as warmer temperatures (yes, really!) produce grapes with higher sugar levels.

Relatively new to the game, these winemakers tend to be more forward-thinking when it comes to viticulture. Sustainability and looking after the long-term future of the soil, rather than killing it with a chemical concoctions for short-term gains, is a necessary priority.

“You’re amazing if you’re growing organic grapes anywhere in the world,” says Nick Mason from importer Bancroft Wines, and who has specialised in organic for more than 15 years. “You’re incredible if you’re doing it in England.”

Which is perhaps why less than three per cent of vineyards across England and Wales are classed as organic and only one per cent are biodynamic, according to English Wine Producers records.

Albury Organic Vineyards in Surrey. Photo courtesy of John Mobbs.

Organic vineyards encourage biodiversity and don’t allow systemic chemicals to be sprayed on the vines; biodynamic principals take this one step further and work in tune with the moon to encourage a natural harmony between the earth, the vines and the cosmos.

We have to look for signs of disease all the time because all we’ve got to work with are natural, preventative measures. Our vineyard manager Alex is out among the vines everyday, probably 50% more than she would be on a non-organic vineyard,” says Lucy Letley from Surrey’s Albury Vineyard, which has 12 acres of vines producing around 20,000 bottles each year to organic and biodynamic standards.

“But, we work in this way because it’s quite clear the soil is of much better quality than if chemically sprayed. This produces better quality fruit, and we believe, better quality wine.”

Natural wines in particular offer a completely different drinking experience to the heavily manipulated wines most people are used to and are commonly described as being ‘alive’. No two bottles will be exactly the same and the flavours and aromas are usually more pronounced. Drinking them almost requires you to relearn everything you think you know about wine.

They are rising in popularity as consumers become more aware of the realities of mass-produced wine. Sales of organic wine increased by 8% last year across the UK; natural wine bars are popping up in London; and most good restaurants now have organic, biodynamic and natural offerings. In fact, they dominate the wine list at Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin starred Le Manoir.

Factory produced wine

As such, English winemakers aren’t just taking on the artisanal producers in the ‘mountains’ of Champagne.

They’re offering something completely different to large-scale production, which at its worst produces bottled pesticides and additives with some grape juice thrown in.

The issue, as ever, comes down to the quantities of wines required to fill supermarket shelves and brands manipulating production to create identi-kit bottles so consumers get exactly the same experience each time they unscrew a cap.

The quickest route from vine to bottle is basically to kill everything – including the soil – and manage the whole farming process with pesticides, insecticides and fungicides.

In France, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world, there is a growing backlash. In 2015, the daughter of a vine grower James-Bernard Murat, pursued legal action to establish responsibility for her father’s death from cancer linked to pesticide use over a 40-year period and in 2016 there were protests following the revelation that children’s hair in Bordeaux  showed traces of more than 40 potentially dangerous pesticides – some illegal.

By the end of last year a study identified 11 different synthetic chemical compounds in 38 prestigious grand crus from the region. This was presented as good news because it meant the levels had been reduced by about a third – and the majority of consumers have no idea any of this is going on.

Most aren’t even aware that even in the European Union winemakers are allowed to adjust the flavour with a toy chest of around 70 additives introduced to the fermentation process because these aren’t required to be listed on the labels unless they’re one of three official allergens – egg, milk or sulphites.

We need to talk about sulphites

A low sulphur white wine from Three Choirs Vineyards.

Sulphur dioxide has a particularly bad reputation because of the legislation that requires all labels to state “contains sulphites” for any bottles with more than 10 parts per million.

The paradox is that even in natural wines the fermentation process can produce more than this, organically.

For the majority of wine drinkers, research suggests small doses of sulphites, up to about 100 parts per million, are not an issue. Despite the rumours, it’s also unlikely to be the cause of terrible hangovers.

“It’s a complete red herring and it’s the least of our problems,” says Mason.

In small quantities they stop the wine from aging too quickly and a lot of organic and biodynamic producers will add a tiny amount at the end of the winemaking process to prevent the bottle from spoiling – which most people deem to be acceptable.  

Wine purists won’t use them at all because they believe it mutes the flavours.

This is one of the reasons large commercial operations use them in much higher quantities – less distinct character means broader appeal. The levels of sulphites permitted in commercial production is up to 400 parts per million in sweet wines.

Vegan and vegetarian wines

Also unbeknown to many consumers the use of animal products in the winemaking process. Egg whites, isinglass (fish bladder extract) and casein (from milk) are used in the fining process to make wine less cloudy and to stabilise colour and flavours.

Vegan alternatives such as Bentonite, an American clay, are now widely available and used. However, a number of vegan wines simply don’t label themselves as such. A comprehensive list is available at online directory, a community resource recommended by The Vegan Society.

Although they don’t contain any animal products, biodynamic wines are potentially problematic for vegans, as one process for fertilising the soil is planting cow horns and cow manure.

“As we live in a non-vegan world, animal products are used in almost all areas of life,” says Dominika Piasecka from the Vegan Society. “We leave it up to the individual vegan to take it as far as they wish.”

English Sparkling Wines are developing a formidable reputation. Photo courtesy of John Mobbs.

English wines to look look out for this year

Master of wine Isabelle Legeron and founder of the international RAW wine fairs is campaigning for all additives to be listed on labels.

In the meantime, a good place to start is with winemakers you can speak to – and visit.

Sparkling wines made in the classic Champagne style, such as the Classic Cuvee, are a nice introduction to the possibilities English wines.

For something more ‘English’ tasting look for the Seyval grape on the label, recommends Letley from the Albury Estate. Their Blanc de Blancs is less complex with slightly lighter and greener flavours of elderflower and apple.

It was a good harvest across the UK in 2016, with grapes offering rounded fruit character so you shouldn’t go far wrong with something from this year.

Fowke recommends the 2016 Coleridge Hills from The Three Choirs stable of wines and says there are some very interesting 2017 bottles coming along, especially the rosés and Bacchus.

Lizzie Rivera is a journalist and founder of BICBIM, London’s ethical food and fashion guide, covering the eco-friendly and ethical brands that produce top-quality food, fashion and experiences. 

Interested in reading more about wine? Find out why everyone has gone nuts for natural wine and the 10 common wine myths, busted in Jancis Robinson’s the 24-Hour Wine Expert. 


Pullet eggs: what are they, why they’re hard to find and how to cook them

19th February 2018

There’s a mini egg scandal happening in Britain. Farmers are forced to throw away millions of smaller pullet eggs each year because they don’t make the size-grade. Thankfully, there is a way to pick up pullet eggs direct from the farm and save them from their food-waste fate.

Ordinary eggs vs. small pullet eggs

Ordinary eggs vs. smaller pullet eggs. Photo: Natale Towell.

One of the greatest pleasures of local food is the increased likelihood of running into unusual ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere. So familiar are we with what industrially produced eggs have to offer, you won’t find small pullet eggs in a supermarket and instead medium, large and even extra-large are the order of the day.

Pullet eggs are not found in the supermarkets because they are too small to conform to the rules set by regulators. This shortsighted approach to selling fresh eggs has meant that millions of pullet eggs are not reaching tables but are destined for liquid eggs, or even worse, the bin. Which is a real shame, because they’re a delight.

What are pullet eggs?

A pullet is a hen that is under one year old and has only been laying eggs for only a few months. Pullet eggs are the first eggs laid by hens at about 18 weeks old. These young hens are just getting into their egg-laying groove, meaning these eggs will be noticeably smaller than the usual eggs you come across. And that’s where the beauty in them lies – quite simply, they are delicious.

Chefs can’t get enough of them because of their brightly coloured yolks and a unique richness that eggs from an older hen simply don’t have. Pullet eggs also hold together beautifully (like little mountains) in the pan, so are incredible for poaching and frying. The smaller size of pullet eggs only last about 4 weeks before they get bigger. They’re not around for long and that’s why they’re not available all year round.

Rowie with her free-ranging hens

Rowie with her free-ranging hens. Photo: Nigel Akehurst.


Why is it so hard to find pullet eggs?

Outside of their incredible richness (we’ve definitely heard the words ‘avian caviar’), pullet eggs highlight economic and sustainability issues too. Up to 10% of every egg farmer’s stock is thrown away because the eggs are too small. By not selling these eggs, farmers are losing out. You may have seen us talking to Jamie Oliver about them on Jamie And Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast.

Jamie says: “They may be little but farmers say they’re the tastiest you can get. The great British public are missing out on a premium seasonal product and worse, farmers’ livelihoods are on the line.”

Third-generation poultry farmers Danny and Susie Macmillan of Mac’s Farm who featured on the show say they lose around £60,000 a year due to few people eating pullet eggs. The supermarkets may not want them, but the rise in public interest in our pullet eggs after the show aired showed us that you do. Which is fantastic news for our farmers Rowie at Purton House Organics and Andrew at Haresfield farm, who now have a home for pullets hens’ eggs.

Pullet egg on the bottom, ordinary egg on top

Pullet egg on the bottom, ordinary egg on top. Photo: Natale Towell.

How to cook a pullet egg

Our recipe developer and MasterChef semi-finalist Beth shares her tips for the perfect pullet:

You can cook a pullet egg in the same way you would a normal egg. However, using pullet eggs for poaching is much easier as they have a brilliant ability hold together more so than normal eggs. For soft boiled pullet eggs, cook for 3 to 4 minutes from a rolling boil and make sure you use eggs that are at room temperature.

To easily remove its shell, put the egg straight into iced water and leave to cool (for about 5 minutes). Gently roll the egg along a surface to get an even layer of cracks in its shell and you’ll feel it come away. Find a weak spot to get under the shell and gently pull it off.

Just how small is a pullet egg?

Got pullet eggs and can’t wait to get cracking? To help you use them in baking, here’s a quick size comparison guide based on EU weights:

Standard EU Egg Sizes

Extra-large (XL) 73g+

Large (L) 63g – 73g

Medium (M) 53g – 63g

Small (S) less than 53g

Average Pullet 35g – 40g

How do you use yours? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was originally published in May 2017.

Pick up your pullet eggs now available from organic farmer Andrew at Haresfield Farm. 

Keep your eyes peeled for availability from Rowie at Purton House Organics.

Here’s why we pay farmers double compared to supermarkets.