Champagne? Forget it - kick off Christmas with a taste of Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 18:06 21 November 2018 | UPDATED: 18:10 21 November 2018
Food-lover Andy Newman says forget traditional Christmas gifts and source our glorious county for food treats for your nearest and dearest
I’m always surprised by people who complain about Christmas. I understand why you might not want to see festive decorations in the shops in August, but by this time of the year I don’t get why everyone isn’t embracing the joyful anticipation of one of the best times of the year.
What’s not to like? Most of us get an extended break from work (I know that doesn’t apply to everyone). There are presents, sparkly decorations, parties and goodwill to all. Above all, it’s an excuse to really indulge in food and drink, to splash out on the best ingredients, open those special bottles, make a particular effort in the kitchen.
One reason some people say they hate Christmas is the hassle of buying presents. Well, here’s a solution: the Norfolk Christmas hamper. Who wouldn’t want to receive a selection of the very best our county has to offer on Christmas Day? I have even made it easy for you – here are the ten things I would put in my festive foodie hamper from the county.
• You must have fizz at Christmas, so the first item in my Norfolk hamper would be a bottle of Winbirri Vintage Reserve sparkling wine. Made at Surlingham by local winemaker Lee Dyer, this is proper Champagne-beating stuff, with a crisp citrus acidity and a creamy lusciousness. Just the thing for Christmas morning.
• The gin revolution continues apace in the county, and there are many to choose from. But for my Christmas hamper, it has to be Boadicea Winter Gin, made in Beachamwell from Norfolk barley, and flavoured with cranberries and winter spices.
• Charcuterie is an ideal hamper item, and there are several Norfolk producers making names for themselves. One of my favourites is the coppa (air dried pork) from Claxton-based Marsh Pig, made from locally-reared free-range pigs.
• If you’re going to include charcuterie, you will need a jar of chutney, and here I turn to Norfolk’s chutney queen, Candi Robertson, who makes a whole range in her ‘chutney barn’ in Salle. Tempted as I am to choose one of her seasonal specials for the Christmas hamper, I will plump for the classic Parsnip and Chilli.
• Candi’s chutney barn is right next door to Crush Foods, whose range of rapeseed oils is delighting foodies everywhere. I’m a fan of their smoked chipotle chilli infused oil, with a deep, smoky flavour and just a hint of chilli. Rub it on your steak before griddling and your meat will sing.
• Much as I love Norfolk, I still think our county has a long way to go to punch above its weight when it comes to cheese. However, one I love is Nortons soft cheese, made at Nortons Dairy in Frettenham. If you really wanted to go the full Norfolk you could pick the ‘with lavender’ version, but for me it has to be the original.
• We have to have to sweet delights in the hamper, so let’s start with pudding. Personally I like to make enough puddings at Christmas to be able to give homemade gifts, but if time is short you won’t do much better than choosing a Christmas pudding from Brampton-based artisan pudding makers pudd’Eng – infused with stout and brandy, which in my view are the only two alcohols which should be in a Christmas pud.
•Next comes chocolate, another vital element in the festive fare. Norwich artisan chocolatiers Saffire use the finest Belgian chocolate and no additional artificial flavours to create beautiful and colourful handmade chocolates, so a box of those has to go in.
• Rounding off the sweet selection, something as natural as you can get: Norfolk honey. Leigh Goodsell of Leigh’s Bees has around 40 hives dotted around the north Norfolk countryside, with the honey taking on the flavour of whatever nature provides the bees to eat – so a jar of his honey is as good an expression of Norfolk terroir as you will find.
• Finally, why not round off your Norfolk Christmas hamper with a voucher for one of our independent restaurants. It’s no secret that the hospitality business is tough at the best of times, and with stiff competition from corporate chains, our locally-owned restaurants need and deserve our support. January is traditionally a lean time for the restaurant trade, so your voucher will enable you to banish the post-Christmas blues and help Norfolk’s best eateries make a strong start to 2019.
This is just my personal selection – no doubt you have your own favourites which you would put in your own Norfolk Christmas hamper. I’d love to hear what they are: if you are reading this online, scroll down and leave a comment, or tweet me @andynewmanpr.