Wherever you are in Britain – city, suburb or countryside – you can be certain top-quality food is being produced nearby. More than 70% of the UK’s land is agricultural, we have more than 30,000km of coastline, and our producers are among the most skilled and innovative in the world. Which means, at Christmas time, our shopping basket spills over with good stuff.
Every British region lays claim to a speciality of some sort – and competition for the ‘best of’ crowns is fierce. Who could choose between cheese from the West Country, South-West Scotland or Yorkshire? Or vegetables from Norfolk or Pembrokeshire?
Luckily for consumers, online ordering and speedy delivery mean we can sample the best bits from everywhere. And with the challenges of the past couple of years making running a food business tougher than ever, widening their market through online sales has proven to be a lifeline for lots of farmers and producers.
Turkey and three veg
Sticking with tradition is half the fun of Christmas, which is why many of us will tuck into a sumptuous turkey on the big day. Finding the right bird can be baffling – which breed is best? Frozen or fresh? It’s likely the bird will be your single biggest foodie expense, so you want to get it right. Visit the Countryside website at: countrysideonline.co.uk and search ‘turkey finder’ – this handy tool will locate farmers near to you, so you can support your local producer.
John Hunt from Watergate Farm Turkeys recommends “free range Bronze turkey – I’ve always felt its slightly gamier taste makes for unbeatable eating. A whole bird cooks perfectly in its own succulent juices.”
Whole birds let you sample both light and dark meat. As a rule of thumb, go for 4kg to serve up to eight people, 5kg to serve up to 10 and 6kg to cater for a dozen.
Turkey crowns have the legs removed and the breast left on the bone. Many would say, though, that the best flavour and most succulent meat comes from roasting a whole bird, plus, buying a whole bird gives the best value for money.
Choose a breast or leg if you’re catering for a small number of people or want a taste of turkey alongside another meaty centrepiece. A large breast can be opened up, filled with your favourite stuffing, tied and roasted as a joint.But where would the turkey be without veg? Winter-dug roots – from carrots, parsnips and potatoes to beets and swedes – are firm, sweet and packed with flavour. Support nearby producers by ordering a box for local delivery or heading to a farm shop. If you’d like someone else to make the decisions, choose a special Christmas box packed with the essentials.
Watts Farms, Kent
A colourful festive selection includes purple carrots and gold potatoes, as well as local treats like Kentish chestnuts.
Greendale Farm Shop, Devon
All the Christmas essentials are covered and you can choose a box size to suit your gathering, so nothing goes to waste.
Parsnips and Pears, Nottinghamshire
Go for roots and greens galore with a classic festive selection, or mix things up with a Christmas salad box.
Whitmuir Organic Farm, East Lothian
A generous selection, including broccoli and celeriac, from Scotland’s veg-growing heartland.
One of the mysteries of Christmas is how you can eat a three-course lunch, then feel ravenous again two hours later. This is where the cheeseboard comes in. Serve up a few generous chunks – three’s about perfect – with soft, hard and blue varieties all represented. Make sure your cheese is at room temperature and choose complementary accompaniments such as dried figs and local honey.
Highland Fine Cheeses, Tain, Ross
Jersey and Ayrshire milk from a select group of local farms is transformed into everything from traditional crowdie to Highland brie. The company is focused on mould-ripened cheese with brie, blue and washed rind styles with loads of character and distinctive branding.
Fen Farm Dairy, Bungay, Suffolk
A third-generation family farm with its sights set firmly on thoughtful land management and sustainability produces some seriously special soft cheeses. Amber Miller says: “Our Truffle Bigod is perfect for Christmas as it’s a very indulgent cheese that’s rich, creamy and gooey. It has a really festive feel.”
Hartington Creamery, Matlock, Derbyshire
For many of us, Christmas could easily be called Stiltonmas, as there’s nothing that captures the spirit of the season better than a chunk of Stilton chased with a glass of port. Hartington’s blue and white artisanal versions are made under strict quality controls and have classic tangy-creamy flavours.
Long Clawson Dairy
Long Clawson Dairy is a traditional British cheese producer, based in the small village of Long Clawson in the county of Leicestershire. They produce a range of delicious Stiltons and specialist cheese, relying on local milk from more than 41 farms in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to create a range of very special cheeses.
Quicke’s, Newton St Cyres, Devon
For the best of the west country, turn to Quicke’s. The farm has been in the family for 14 generations and its clothbound cheddars bear the hallmark of tradition. The crumbly-nutty Devonshire red is a certain crowd-pleaser.
Bakery and Fruit Cakes
From sourdough toast and chicken liver paté to cheese and crackers, every Christmas meal calls for baked goods. As it takes a fair while to bake the perfect fruit cake, there’s nothing wrong with buying one made by the experts and cutting to the fun bit – the decorating.
Stag Bakeries, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
If you’re going to have cheese and charcuterie, you’ll be needing crackers. Stag Bakeries’ oatcakes flavoured with honey, smoked butter or seaweed are distinctive choices. Daniel Smith recommends “our Something Different for Cheese fruit cake. It’s packed with alcohol-infused fruit, pairs with any kind of cheese and comes in a lovely balsa-wood box.”
Wild Hearth Bakery, Comrie, Perthshire
From bread to pastries, the sourdough process is at the heart of everything Wild Hearth produces. Round, tinned and long loaves come in white or wholemeal varieties and will easily keep for up to a week.
Mrs Gill’s Country Cakes, Tiverton, Devon
When it comes to moist and delicious fruit cakes, using a 200-year-old recipe is the secret to Mrs Gill’s success. Choose a size of four, six or eight inches to cover with marzipan and icing or serve with a hunk of crumbly Wensleydale.
At Christmas, rules are suspended. Which means tucking into something sweet at any point in the day is entirely fine. Fudge is an ideal choice for filling stockings, while some extra-special chocolates are just what you need when settling down to watch ‘Home Alone’ for the hundredth time.
Hamilton Chocolatiers, Broadway, Cotswolds
Think of a flavour, any flavour, and you can probably get it at Hamilton Chocolatiers. A luxurious box featuring 96 handmade chocolates makes an extra-special Christmas treat for someone you really, really love.
Pump Street Chocolate, Orford, Suffolk
Pump Street’s bean-to-bar process sees cacao carefully sourced and respectfully treated at every stage of the process. Gift boxes let you savour the tastes of Ecuador, Panama and Jamaica in chocolate form.
Ruby’s Fudge, Cotheridge, Worcestershire
Handmade in a kitchen overlooking the Malvern Hills, this is buttery, crumbly fudge at its best. Classics include vanilla and stem ginger, and there are seasonal specials in the form of Christmas pudding or brandy and cranberry flavours.