Shop local for your festive food and drink

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Shoppers looking for something eco-friendly for the Christmas table or gift need not travel far for ideas.

Aylsham must be the best placed town in the country to practice the ethos of Slow Food – local food, grown with concern for the environment, transported a short distance to consumers and fair pricing for both consumers and producers.  

Many outlets around Aylsham have that philosophy. Even exotic foods, which cannot be grown here, are processed with ethical concern for their sources.

Just west of Aylsham, outside Reepham, Norfolk Coffee roast dried coffee beans that have come directly from small producers in Africa, Asian and South America. Their signature coffee, 1549, underpinned Slow Food’s Big Slow Brunch in October. (The 1549 brand is the date of Kett’s rebellion in Norwich against the medieval equivalent of “fast food” – a revolt in response to the enclosure of land.)

Closer to Aylsham along the same road, Norfolk Teas blend equally cosmopolitan and ethical teas.
Crush Foods, as well as extracting and bottling cold-pressed rape seed oil – Norfolk’s answer (and equally healthy) to Mediterranean olive oil – mix muesli and granola from local grain sources as well as dried tropical fruits.

North Norfolk produces the best barley in the country for malting and beer-making, along a strip of land between Weybourne and Sandringham a few miles inland from the coast.

Martin James, of Panther Brewery in Reepham with his craft beers.

More than 50 ales made from this ingredient are available and it’s no surprise that local breweries are north, south, east and west of Aylsham, producing a huge range of craft beers.

And it’s not just beer – within half-an-hour’s drive is an award-winning vineyard, Babu’s Vineyard at Weston Longville (main picture: Peter Ross shows the Slow Food group round his Babu’s vineyard), while Norwich gin makers Gyre & Gimble have a distillery at The Walpole Arms, a gastro pub less than five miles from Aylsham.

Aylsham is very well-placed for the supply of locally grown vegetables and locally reared livestock. Within the town boundary is a community market garden, run by Eves Hill, supplying not just vegetable boxes for most of the year, but they also run training courses for people who want to grow their own.

And exactly a year ago, Aylsham greengrocers, S & M Brett, a family business with a 65-acre farm in Bintree near Dereham and a depot at Aylsham, was revamped into Harvest – a much more environmentally friendly shop.

Nearby, G F White butchers in Red Lion Street, gets its beef from Park Farm, Blickling, while Coxford’s source their beef from Bittern Herefords in nearby Antingham.

Less than half-an-hour drive northwards are the world famous crabs and lobsters, caught off the globally unique chalk reef which runs between Weybourne and Overstrand, while just a few miles further west, the salt marsh creeks of Blakeney, Morston and Brancaster, grow the finest mussels and oysters.

So it is possible to enjoy the finest food, with the shortest food miles and the lowest carbon-footprint, of probably anywhere in the United Kingdom – right here in Aylsham.

Happy Christmas from Slow Food Aylsham.

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