The tractor rhythmically rocked its way down the steep stony track as we soaked up the scenery from the back of the trailer. As we slowly descended, the anticipation palpably rippled through the group and when we finally stepped out into River Cottage, we weren’t disappointed.
The rolling Devonshire hills flank the secluded setting and create a tranquil and picture postcard retreat. Rustic charm and quirky farm features add to the rural atmosphere and the lack of phone or internet reception make you feel as though you have left the real world behind.
I had been invited along to the River Cottage HQ with a group of other foodie bloggers to sample their famous fare and get in the festive spirit a few weeks early.
The afternoon started with a wander around the iconic farmhouse and gardens. Part of the charm of this location is that it is not fake shabby chic, but authentically old and rough around the edges. The butcher’s block, in the room we all recognised from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s TV show, had clearly seen some real use over the years. You could imagine the worn flagstones and wonky fireplaces all had their own stories to tell.
Outside, there is a well planted but not overly extravagant vegetable garden. The kind that the original owners may have maintained but these days is used as inspiration for the seasonal dishes created in the onsite kitchen.
The chefs at River Cottage have a home grown philosophy of cooking locally, organically and only with the best produce. There is no set menu and each day they develop meals based around their deliveries, what’s in the garden or their best finds from local suppliers.
After a wander around the grounds, we were treated to a cooking demonstration and taught how to brine our own ham and turkey – something I will definitely be doing at Christmas. I had never considered it before but it is so simple and the results were juicy, full of flavour and much more tempting than the usual bland bird. You can throw in your own herbs and spices, don’t need any special equipment and it is a lovely, allergy free way to liven up your meal.
A bit of blogger networking and time in the cosy yurt and it was time to settle down to the main event – our very own River Cottage dinner. The stripped stone walls of the dining room, strung with fairy lights and dried flowers, gave just the right amount of decoration without being overly fussy. Seated on two long tables, we were treated to an array of appetisers including a delicious apple aperitif, mussels and pulled rabbit.
I have to admit, with no need to cater for free from diets for the children, I indulged in every butter covered and garlic laden dish on offer! But they also catered very well for those with dietary restrictions and created a great dairy, gluten and sugar free menu for Vicki from Free From Fairy.
When food is stripped back to its components, with no artificial additives or factory processed ingredients, it is much easier and safer to adapt it for specific dietary requirements. As they make everything from scratch, they know exactly what is going in to their food and this radiated through in the quality and care that goes into each element.
The main meal finally rolled around and we were treated to Celariac ravioli with wild mushroom; Cider brined ham, carrot puree, fried savoy cabbage and braised beans; and a dessert of Honecomb crème brulee, apple puree and apple crisps.
It was divine. There’s really no other word for it. This isn’t fancy, michelin star style, small plates and big prices. It’s honest, fresh, flavour filled fare showing off the very best of each carefully crafted ingredient. Of course, the meal didn’t end at dessert and we enjoyed some chocolate covered petit fours before catching the tractor back up the now rainy and windswept winding slope, and wending our way back to reality.
If you want to experience the delights of River Cottage you can visit one of their reasonably priced Festive Feasts (£55 per person), book a cookery course or organise your own event.
I was invited as a guest to River Cottage by Foodies100 but all opinions are my own.