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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:


The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook your cuts

21st March 2018

The ultimate lamb cuts guide – so you’ll never be stumped on what’s available or how to cook a cut again.

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

With Easter Sunday fast approaching, it’s time to think about the big feast, the spring equivalent to Christmas lunch. Instead of sticking to the same old fail-safe lamb joint, discover the world of nose-to-tail cooking with your new favourite cut.

When it comes to choosing the perfect cut, price doesn’t necessarily reflect the best. In fact, cuts that include a large amount of bone can be the most flavoursome and tender. This is thanks to collagen and marrow released from the bone in cooking, which tenderises and flavours the meat.

Unfortunately, nose-to-tail cooking has fallen out of fashion at home, with many of us opting for the same old faithful lamb leg joint for our Sunday roast.

Trust us, you’re missing out. Here’s our guide to finding the perfect lamb cut for every occasion (and you might even save yourself a quid or two too).

The ultimate lamb cuts guide

Lamb shank

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: Slow cooking

The shank is a meaty cut from the lower end of the lamb leg. Excellent for slow cooking, it’s great value. The bone running through the centre provides a lot of the flavour, releasing collagen as the joint cooks and tenderising the flesh. 

How to cook lamb shank

Shanks need low and slow cooking to achieve meltingly tender meat that falls off the bone. The rich meat can handle a good amount of flavour, so be bold.

For delicious red wine braised shanks, dust the shanks in flour then brown in a hot pan before roasting in a low oven with carrots, celery, onions, herbs and plenty of red wine.

For a bold take on a Moroccan tagine, marinade the shanks in a ground spice rub of cumin, coriander, ginger, paprika, before stewing in plenty of passata, preserved lemons, apricots and saffron. Serve with flaked almonds, fresh coriander and fluffy couscous. Or try Skye Gygnell’s zero-waste lamb shank recipe.

How much to get

1 lamb shank will serve 1–2 people.

Lamb leg and lamb steaks

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Leg best for: roasting

Leg steaks best for: quick cooking

Everyone’s favourite Easter Sunday roasting joint, lamb leg is popular due to it’s dark, melt-in-the-mouth meat and high meat-to-bone ratio, making this one easy to carve at the dinner table.

How to cook a lamb leg

You can keep things simple by slowly roasting the leg whole, studded with garlic and rosemary, for dark, tender meat.

For a centrepiece with a difference, try a sweet, nutty stuffing and drizzle over homemade Romesco sauce as in our super simple recipe.

How to cook lamb steaks

If you’re stuck for time and looking for a quicker supper, lamb leg steaks are a wonderful lean cut, each with a portion of bone in to keep the meat wonderfully juicy when cooked. Griddle or pan fry for 3–5 minutes on each side for medium-rare meat, or longer if you like it well done.

How much to get

1kg leg of lamb will serve 4–6 people.

Allow 1 x 225g lamb leg steak per person.

Lamb rump

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: Quick cooking

Also known as leg chops, this cut is really versatile and is mid-priced.

Lamb rump

Best for: quick roast

Also referred to as chump, rump comes from the back side of the lamb where the top of the leg meets the loin. It’s a plump yet lean cut, with a generous layer of fat to keep the meat juicy. Unlike beef rump, lamb rump isn’t quite as popular, but it definitely should be.

How to cook lamb rump

Boneless rump/chump steak

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Herb crusting is a great way to retain moisture in leaner lamb cuts and works a dream with lamb rump/chump steak. Blitz woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme with garlic and homemade breadcrumbs until course. Brown the steaks in a hot pan then brush with mustard and roll in your herb crust. Roast in the oven until slightly pink in the middle (about 15–20 minutes) and rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Bone-in chump chops

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Unlike the boneless steaks, chump chops contain bone so need slightly longer cooking. Rub with oil and fresh chopped herbs like mint and parsley then oven bake until crisp and golden brown for about 30–45 minutes, depending on the size of your chops.

Both kinds of lamb chops and steaks are ideal for barbecuing and need no more than a drizzle of oil and seasoning before hitting the coals for perfect, smokey meat.

How much to get

1 x 250g lamb rump/chump steak per person

1 x 350g lamb chump chop (with bone) per person

Lamb loin

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Loin best for: roasting

Chops best for: quick frying or grilling

Taken from the top of the back, the loin is a prized cut of lamb due to the super tender meat. It’s an ideal cut for roasting, however, as it doesn’t have a layer of fat for protection, care must be taken not to overcook. The loin comes in different cuts:

Rolled lamb loin (also known as saddle)

Loin chops (chunky and boneless)

Barnsley chops (effectively two loin chops in one or a double-sided chop cut across the whole loin with the bone)

Noisettes (smaller medallions of lamb loin wrapped in a thin layer of fat with no bone)

How to cook lamb loin

Rolled lamb loin

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts
Also known as a saddle of lamb, rolled lamb loin makes for a great family roast. The loin of lamb is a tender and prized cut of the animal as it’s from an area where the meat has worked the least – making it an ideal cut for roasting. However take care not to overcook – it should be served pink in the middle.

You can also stuff it, which soaks up the roasting juices from the lamb whilst cooking. Put seasoned lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in middle of oven 30 to 40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 50°C for medium-rare/ 55°C for medium. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Loin chop and Barnsley chop

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

As with rump, lamb loin chops are wonderful cooked on the bbq, smothered in a herby, garlic marinade. The Barnsley chop (named as it’s believed to have originated in a hotel in Barnsley) needs slightly longer cooking than a regular chop, so try roasting in the oven with a bottom layer of onions, celery and carrot for 10–15 minutes before finishing off on the BBQ for that smokey flavour.


The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Noisettes make a elegant dinner party option. Wrap each noisette in parma ham, then fry in a pan to crisp up and finish in the oven for 15–20 minutes. Serve with gratin Dauphinoise and wilted seasonal greens.

How much to get

1 x 220g loin chop or 1 x 250g barnsley chop per hungry person

1–2 noisettes per person

Rack of lamb

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: quick roasting or grilling

Taken from the lamb rib, the rack is an impressive all rounder. It’s super quick to cook, easy to achieve perfectly crisp skin and tender, melt-in-the-mouth flesh. The cutlets are individual rib steaks taken from the rack at the top of the animal and look beautiful on the plate.

How to cook a rack of lamb

Unlike some fattier cuts, the rack is light and delicate, so needs a light dressing to avoid overpowering the flavours of the meat. Lightly score the fat then sear on each side in a hot pan until golden brown before finishing in the oven. Serve drizzled with mint sauce or atop a lightly dressed Spring salad. You can also crust the rack with a herby mixture as with the rump (see above).

Lamb cutlets

Cutlets are a perfect quick cook cut and benefit from light cooking such as on the BBQ, grill or griddle. Dress with lemon and olive oil and eat like lollipops.

How much to get

1 rack of lamb containing 4 cutlets (around 560g) will serve 2 people

1–2 individual cutlets per person


The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: slow roasting

Lamb breast is a value cut that is often underused as it has quite a lot of fat and can be tough if cooked incorrectly. Treat as you would pork belly  –  the layer of fat brings oodles of flavour and helps to tenderise the meat as it cooks.

How to cook lamb breast

Rolled lamb breast

For perfect rolled lamb breast (also know as ‘rack of ribs’), brown on each side in a hot pan then roast low and slow on a bed of shallots. This cut can handle a good dose of flavour, so whip up your own wild garlic and lemon oil and drizzle over juicy rings of lamb breast. Check out our recipe.

Lamb ribs (or riblets)

Also known as riblets, these are one of the most delicious ways of eating lamb, and certainly the least expensive. For the best spare ribs you’ll eat, marinate them for an hour or so in a Moroccan style spice mix of  ground cumin, coriander seeds, some lemon zest and chilli. Cook long and slow for 2 hours at 140C in the oven, then cut into individual ribs. Add a glaze of pomegranate molasses or honey, and cook for 15 mins at 180C to get them deliciously sticky.

How much to get

700g lamb breast will serve 4 people

Allow 6 lamb ribs per person.

Lamb shoulder

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: slow roasting

This large cut from the top front leg of the lamb has lots of lean juicy meat. The bone and generous marbling help keep the meat juicy and the flavour intense.

How to cook lamb shoulder

Create your own pulled lamb by marinating a whole shoulder of lamb with garlic, chilli, paprika and cumin. Wrap in foil and cook slowly until the meat pulls away from the bone with a fork. Serve stuffed into bread buns, flatbreads or use as a stuffing for filo pastry pasties.

How much to get

2kg of lamb shoulder will serve 6–8 people

Lamb neck

The only lamb cuts guide you’ll ever need: how to choose and cook cuts

Best for: slow cooking

The neck fillet is often underrated. It’s inexpensive as it takes a little longer to cook than other popular cuts — but it’s the marbling through the cut that gives all the flavour.

How to cook lamb neck

Lamb neck can be cooked whole, long and slow to ensure tender meat.

You can also chop the neck into chunks and brown off for use in stews and curries. Marinade the cubes of neck in a rub of ground coriander, cumin, sumac and chilli before pushing onto skewers and flaming over the BBQ for wonderful homemade kebab. Serve with hummus and warm wood fired pita bread.

How much to get

1 lamb neck fillet (350–400g) will serve 2 people

What to look out for when buying lamb

The most important thing to watch out for is the quality of the animal — always buy outdoor reared, grass fed meat from a reputable farm for the best meat. The bones should be slightly pink in colour and the fat quite dry and crumbly. As a rule of thumb, the darker the colour of meat, the older the animal — young lamb will be pale pink and older lamb pinkish-red.

Cooking tips for lamb

Always bring meat to room temperature before cooking to allow perfectly cooked meat throughout. You can serve lamb a little bit pink – when cooked the meat should always look moist and juicy, but never bloody.

Our lambs are born in spring as nature intended; arriving into the world with the first nip of luscious pasture growth.

Every time you buy from us, you directly help the recovery of wildlife, help to build soils and take carbon out of the atmosphere. Discover our British lamb and pre-order your Easter feast now at

Find out why ‘new season’ spring lamb is myth and why Farmdrop pays British farmers double what they get in the supermarkets.


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.


Why has everyone gone nuts for natural wine?

5th February 2018

Since when did wine become unnatural? Turns out the production of some wines is comparable to the rearing of a battery chicken. Here’s everything you need to know about natural wine that’s had nothing added, nothing removed, uncorked for you by Georgina Wilson-Powell, editor of the ethical lifestyle mag pebble magazine.

Everything you need to know about natural wine in the UK and beyond

Tasters eyeing up natural wine at the Raw Wine fair in London

Natural wine sometimes doesn’t help itself. There’s natural, organic and biodynamic for a start. Plus the cloudy appearance and lack of knowing what to look for doesn’t always get us off on the right foot. But put the Oyster Bay down a minute. Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron fills us in on why natural wine should be a natural choice.

Why should we care about natural wines?

Bog-standard wine is about as good for you as eating a battery chicken. We’ve become used to watching what food we put in our mouths, we question the traceability of water, coffee, tea, gin and whisky but when it comes to wine, most of us assume nice vineyards make non-nasty wine.

“Even those who are big foodies, who watch what they eat, don’t actually think about what is in their wine glass. The wine industry is full of the same big brand issues that exist in the rest of the food world, it’s just that most people have never thought about it”, says Legeron, a Master of Wine and the creator of RAW WINE, which is back in London this March for its eleventh edition worldwide. “We’re the only fair in the world to champion full disclosure,” explains Legeron. “Which means that all producers attending have to declare exactly how their wines have been made.”

What’s the difference between natural, biodynamic and organic wine?

“The most important thing to remember is that winemaking is a two-stage process: there’s the growing of grapes and then the making of wine,” says Legeron. “Organic and biodynamic wines are more concerned with the farming than with the cellar but both define the parameters of grape-growing.

As a rule of thumb, organic is stricter than conventional wine (in terms of additives and processing aids that are permitted); biodynamic tends to be stricter still and natural is the strictest of all. For a wine to be truly natural it has to have nothing added, nothing removed.

Organics and biodynamics done properly are actually pretty much the same thing – they are both about nurturing the living. – Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron

Organic winemakers are primarily concerned with finding solutions to problems that eschew the use of synthetic chemical products or pesticides. Biodynamics goes a step further as it is a holistic approach. Biodynamic winemakers aim to build the resilience of the plant and its environment so that the problems don’t arise in the first place. Natural wines can come from both biodynamic and organic grapes, which is why some natural wines are also technically organic or biodynamic wines.

Where things can get complicated is in the cellar. There are no easy answers as organic and biodynamic winemaking regulations are different in different countries – in some places, for example, you can add yeast to start the fermentation process, in others you can’t.”


Everything you need to know about natural wine in the UK and beyond

Cloudy apple juice is a sign of quality, but why not with wine? Photo: Tom Moggach

How does natural wine taste compared to conventional wine?

“Some can seem barely different at all while others can be quite challenging, This is especially true for white wines, particularly if you are a drinker of crisp Sauvignon Blanc, for example,” explains Legeron. “A natural equivalent would be much riper and fuller in texture and would show honeyed, acacia-type aromas rather than tart gooseberry. This is in large part down to the growing and winemaking choices and because of the absence of sulphites.

“Also, makers of low-intervention wine tend to force things less – they let aromas develop naturally over time – so you tend to find wines that are a lot less oaked, and often a lot lower in alcohol. And since natural wines are usually unfiltered and unfined, the resulting wine can sometimes be cloudy, which certainly is no bad thing, just think about how we’ve got used to cloudy apple juice being a sign of quality!”

So, what’s in conventional wine that’s bad for you?

“Dozens of winemaking additives, processing aids and manipulations are permitted by law. Anti-foaming agents (which are added to wine vats so that the liquid can be pumped faster), for example, are regularly used and in some countries even the use of hydrogen peroxide is legal!” says Legeron.

“Even things like sulphites that are added in substantial quantities to most commercially-produced wines today are really not great for your health. What’s more, the products have very little traceability and aren’t regulated so in the end even the final quality of the additives used can be dubious.”

Everything you need to know about natural wine in the UK and beyond

Samplers at he Raw Wine fair in New York

When did wine become unnatural?

Wine has been made for around 8,000 years and most people assume very quaintly very little has changed. Up until 100 or even 50 years ago that might have been the case, but it certainly isn’t now.

“We have shaped the way wine tastes in the last 40 years with temperature control, aromatic yeast and sulphites and a bunch of other stuff so that 90% of what you taste today is a product that has been worked up for a modern palette,” explains Legeron. “Forget everything you know about wine and relearn it with natural wine.”

And then there’s the environmental cost of making wine. How do natural wines help their environment?

Vines don’t need water to survive, like olive trees and wheat they can be dry farmed. But often they’re not.

“It is frankly outrageous that some producers in drought-ravaged California, for example, pump gallons of water out of the ground to irrigate newly planted vineyards in places where the water table is dropping. And for what? For the sake of the bottom line since given time and patience vines adapt,” says Legeron.

“Vines can absolutely thrive with dry-farming. As one producer told me, ‘They’re like the cockroaches of the plant world and isn’t that wonderful? Natural wine can only be born of the living as you need a healthy, biodiverse microflora in the vineyard to help produce healthy grapes and a healthy fermentation, so clean, pesticide-free farming and natural wine are obligatory bedfellows.”

Bottles on display at the Raw Wine fair.

Is it true that organic or natural wine can leave less of a hangover?

“Yes that’s true,” says Legeron. “It’s to do with the mixing of the alcohol and sulphites in your body and the way your body deals with sulphites. Essentially when you drink it without sulphites you digest the alcohol almost as a food, so the impact is a lot less on your body.”

What’s a good wine to start with?

“I think it’s reassuring to start with a region you know – Burgundy for example,” explains Legeron. “When I don’t know anything, I look at the people, very often the wine has a resonance with the people who make it. Look for the people who smile and are welcoming. You can only make raw wine for the right reason, it’s too hard otherwise.”

Raw Wine runs from 11-12 March 2018 in London at The Store Studios, WC2.

This feature was originally published in pebble magazine in 2017. For more features on ethical living, good food, natural wine and sustainable design sign up to pebble’s weekly newsletter

5 top natural wines to get you started

Gran Cerdo Rossa, The Wine Love, £8.95. All the juicy elements of Tempranillo, with no oak to mask its charm.

Gran Cerdo Blanco, The Wine Love, £8.95. Pale colour, very fresh with good acidity, like a crisp green apple.

Dom Vigneaux Syrah, Domaine des Vigneaux, £11.95. Black fruit and plums/cherries on the nose, with an earthy farmyard character.

Bout des Doigts Pinot Noir, Domaine des Vigneaux, £12.95. A pleasingly understated Pinot Noir – aromas of rhubarb and red beetroot with notes of fennel and liquorice.

Baglio Bianco IGP, Cantine Rallo, £13.15.  All the tannic structure and body that distinguishes orange wines from white but downright easy drinking.

Discover all of our brand new range of carefully selected organic, vegan, natural and vegetarian wines at


8 farm stay holidays guaranteed to beat winter blues

9th January 2018

The farm stay encapsulates the holiday many of us crave: an unfettered getaway, remote from the mundanity of office life, that narrows the divide between food and plate. Question is, what most takes your fancy?

Brushing elbows with a farming family in the Italian countryside, or getting lost (but not, hopefully, too lost) in 4,200 acres of lush Tennessee wilderness? Here are a few picks of the best farm stays around the world to get you started.

1. Coombeshead Farm, Cornwall, UK

Tom Adam’s Pitt Cue has been a huge part of London’s charcoal-fuelled barbecue and grilled meat movement since he started with a trailer pitch on South Bank. So it was with great intrigue when Adams and British export and New York restaurateur April Bloomfield joined forces to open a B&B farm stay in a rather remote part of Cornwall. A large portion of ingredients used in the restaurant kitchen are grown and reared on site, including the Mangalitza pigs that made Pitt Cue famous.

2. Ca ‘de Memi, Veneto, Italy

Ca ‘de Memi, a 40-minute train journey from Venice, is a family-run operation: Ottorino, who helped establish the farm in its modern incarnation, works the land, while Michela, with her daughters, works the breakfast table. The family’s 14-hectare plot is run on the principles of slow food, growing vegetables and herbs and rearing Paduan hens, Muscovy ducks, and rabbits.

3. Serenbe, Georgia, USA

Here’s one for the sustainable-minded adventurer. A 900-acre farm ­– one that’s part of an environmentally conscious community, no less ­– with 15 miles of footpaths among untouched forests, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, and all the wildlife that comes with it. There’s plenty of opportunity for exploration, while tours of its working farm are available for those more comfortable with someone who knows where they’re going.

4. O’Vineyards, Carcassonne, France

Somewhere between Toulouse and Montpellier is the town of Carcassonne with an imposing 13th-century citadel, complete with watchtowers, battlements and all. O’Vineyards and it’s working winery is found just north of here and guests are free to wander the Syrah and Sauvignon vineyards before taking full advantage of the produce made on site. Five-course dinners and an ample supply of wine provide the main draws.

5. Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Australia

Views of Grampians National Park, close encounters with endangered animals, and tucked-away colonial lodges are abound in and around Royal Mail’s estate. As extraordinary a location as this is, most of the focus at this farm stay is on food and drink. Chefs lead tours of the kitchen’s organic garden, picked clean by resident ducks (rather than maintained with industrial pesticides), the restaurant is headed up by Robin Wickens (regarded as one of Australia’s best chefs), and the cellar, decades in the making, houses around 26,000 bottles.

6. Blackberry Farm, Tennessee, USA

Given its 4,200-acre estate, Blackberry Farm is a farm stay with more than enough variety and intrigue in its natural bounty with which to furnish the bellies and curiosity of its guests. The farm has become a favourite for visiting chefs and producers, not just for the raw materials grown here, but for what’s for lunch too. To top things off, the farm has an on-site World Beer Cup award-winning brewery concocting saisons, pilsners, and pale ales for its guests and the wider market.

7. Asara Wine Estate, Western Cape, South Africa

Stellenbosch. Arguably one of the prettiest wine regions in the world. Asura Wine Estate, along with its hotel, bumps up against Stellenbosch with some vineyards of its own ­– 104 hectares of mostly red grape varieties are grown here, from Malbec to Petit Verdot. The whole mise en place means it’s a wine lover’s dream with wine tasting, wine tours, and bike rides through local vineyards.

8. Brown’s Field, Chiba, Japan

Embedding yourself in the Japanese countryside among rice fields, traditional bathhouses, and Ewok-style treehouses sounds almost subversive to Japan’s affinity for the high tech. But there lies pleasure in the simple things. At Brown’s Field, a small farm run by an American ex-journalist and his Japanese wife on the east Chiba coast, everyone from local volunteers to hotel guests are invited to muck in with daily life at the farm. Sound a bit feudal? When rewards of a day’s work are shared at the communal dinner table, you’ll realise maybe Japanese peasant life wasn’t so bad.

Bitten by the travel bug? Visit these great food markets of the world on your way.

Prefer closer to home? Don’t miss these six deliciously idyllic UK farm breaks.

Cooking Farming

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

1st January 2018

Ancient grains are back in popular favour. A trend that we reckon will only continue to rise. But what even is an ancient grain? And why should we care? Here’s our guide to why we’ve gone crazy for them, their benefits and how to cook them.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Grains make up more than half of the world’s daily calorific intake. Not to mention the vast amount that also goes to feed livestock – which, in turn, we eat too. It goes without saying that without grain we’d have very different eating habits. And if the world’s grain supply were to suddenly stop tomorrow? We’d be in big trouble.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

“We eat wheat that is dead”

Wheat, corn and rice are the main players – the ones we humans eat the most of. These are crops that have been selectively bred for thousands of years, developed for their resistance to disease and ability to produce high yields. The problem lies with how intensively these main crops are grown, designed to rely heavily on fertilisers and herbicides to grow – damaging not just for our health, but our soils, water and environment as a whole – and to last longer on our shelves. Rather than breeding these crops for their flavour or nutrition, our main source of energy has been bred simply for the quantity it yields, and the economic return it provides big agro-business.

“The problem is we don’t eat true wholewheat. We eat wheat that is dead and denuded so it’s shelf-stable. We lost the taste of wheat and all its health benefits. And for something we eat so much of, it really is a true disaster. If we’re going to change the food system, we have to change how we grow and consume wheat.”

– Dan Barber

What are ancient grains?

And that’s where these so-called ancient grains come in. These refer to grains – like, spelt, barley and millet – and pseudo-cereals – like, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth – that have been little changed by selective breeding. Meaning, they are genetically very similar, both in terms of flavour, nutrition and yield, to the grains our ancestors would have eaten centuries ago.

Forget superfoods, it’s all about diversity

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Naked Barley growing at Wakelyns Agroforestry – a research farm run by Professor Martin Wolfe a couple of miles away from Hodmedod’s HQ in Suffolk, it’s the perfect place for organic trial plots. This enables the team to try out new and ancient grain varieties on a very small scale and to look at how existing crops might work in different systems.

It’s not because they’re ancient that they’re better – if anything that tag is meaningless – it’s their diversity and what this can bring to our diets and farming systems that’s the key”, stresses Josiah Meldrum, co-founder of Hodmedod’s, the pioneering British suppliers of unusual and underused grains.

“More genetically diverse farm systems, that include a range of cereals in a long rotation, tend to be more resilient to disease and pests. These older varieties also have deeper roots and are better able to draw more of their water and nutrients from the soil than the input-hungry short rotation monocultures we’ve come to rely on”.

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

After a global search for seed, a couple of years of trials and several months working out how to flake and mill it, Hodmedod’s have welcomed organic naked barley into their range.

These ancient grains are often more nutritious (a little more exciting) too. A good example is naked barley. Named so because unlike normal barley, the grain falls from the ear without the need for polishing. This also means that, unlike polished or pearled barley, when you eat naked barley you’re eating a whole grain.

Naked barley was a popular crop among Bronze and Iron Age farmers because it’s easy to prepare for milling and eating immediately after harvest, but by the mid 20th-century it had practically disappeared, with wheat taking its place. However, naked barley is a crop that requires half as much water per tonne as wheat and needs far less fertiliser. It’s high in complex carbohydrates, especially beta-glucan – a soluble fibre that has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. Also when compared to wheat, it’s higher in protein – around 15 or 16% as compared to 10 or 12% for wheat.

“It might have been forgotten by modern farmers and millers, but it can really fit into today’s farming systems, and while it doesn’t produce as high a yield as many other cereals, what you do get from it is far more beneficial to both our health and the environment”, says Josiah.

Enter the UK’s first home-grown crop of quinoa

What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Sandoval quinoa crops being grown in East Anglia for Hodmedod’s.

The trick is in getting people to buy it. In the UK, farmers rotate their crops. Meaning, they alternate between crops that exhaust the supply of soil nutrients with those that replenish them. When it comes to grain, however, many farmers struggle to grow and sell any that aren’t wheat at a profit, simply because there isn’t a big enough market for them.

Thanks to Hodmedod’s and a handful of other pioneering farmers and chefs, change is happening to promote the benefits of unusual and under-used grains, encouraging people to use their purchasing power and incentivising farmers to diversify the grains they sell. Hodmedod’s are selling the UK’s first-ever crop of quinoa, Gilchesters Organics grow and mill grains from einkorn to rye, and Sharpham Park’s organic spelt is sold as flour, porridge and grain.

As consumers, the key is in varying what we eat and supporting the farming systems that enable us to do that – farming systems that are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and rethinking what they grow so it’s more in tune with agro-ecological principles, precisely by introducing a diversity of plants to the land. Helping them to do that could start, simply, with the grains we eat.

Here are a few to start.

5 ancient grains (and a pseudo-cereal) to try in 2018


What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Spelt is an ancient member of the wheat family and a hybrid of emmer wheat and goat grass. It grows five-feet high whereas modern wheat has been bred down to a more machine-friendly waist height. Nutty in taste, it’s full of fibre and a tasty addition to stews and soups. Pearled spelt is made by bouncing it over five rotating stones which remove the outer bran so it can absorb water and flavour when making risotto. Try Sharpham Park’s organic whole or pearled varieties, grown in Somerset.


What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Einkorn is the earliest type of wheat that humans grew and ate. Einkorn production completely disappeared in the UK until 2008, when Doves Farm started working with a small group of organic farmers to re-establish the production of einkorn. Higher in protein than commercial wheats, einkorn flour has a nutty flavour and makes great rustic style breads and pizza bases.   


What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, but it’s used in much the same way. Grown in Peru, Chile and Bolivia for thousands of years, quinoa formed the staple diet of the Incas. It’s a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids, and it’s gluten-free. Try its black, red or white varieties in salads, use it to bulk out casseroles or as an alternative to rice or couscous. Try Hodmedod’s pioneering British quinoa.


What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

Millet has a mild, sweet, nut-like flavour. A staple for a third of the world’s population, it’s most commonly eaten in India, China and Africa. It’s another gluten-free seed, a good source of protein and is high in fibre and B vitamins. Use it in place of oats to make porridge!


What are ancient grains and why should we eat them?

These tiny seeds are yet another great protein source and are also naturally gluten-free. You can use it much like quinoa, or in place of other grains in salads and soups, or try toasting them in a dry frying pan for added crunch to salads or breakfast bowls.

Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about amaranth.

Discover Hodmedod’s and Sharpham Park at