Friday 25 November 2016

Devon-Dorset - Axminster and a visit to River Cottage

Last year I had the pleasure to visit River Cottage in Axminster, Devon for an autumn blogger trip.  It was a great chance to put names to the faces of bloggers in our various social media groups.  It was such a success that thanks to River Cottage and Foodies100 we were invited again this month.

River Cottage is situated in a valley just outside Lyme Regis, Dorset and Axminster, Devon, a really beautiful part of the UK of majestic hills and undulating valleys.  I traveled to Axminster with two of my blogging buddies, Nayna and Manjiri the day before where we stayed in a lovely B&B (more about that later).
We were able to spend some time in the morning walking around Axminster visiting shops for blog props and having coffee and cakes in an off the beaten track cafe.
Once we arrived at River Cottage we were taken down the steep track by tractor and greeted with large smiles by the staff and a warming glass of apple cider brandy, the chill just disppeared!
River Cottage HQ is a really warm and friendly place, a place of obvious activity and yet calm and peaceful.  Everywhere you look there is a moment that catches your breath and makes you stop.  I find this sort of location makes me reflect, even if only for a second, on what I like and what I would like to see in my future.
River Cottage HQ is really quite complex place, a cooking school, private event hire, meeting place and more.
The main workshop was a talk given to us by one of the River Cottage Chefs on brining meats and poultry ready for Christmas.
This wasn't something I had considered doing even though I had heard about it.  I thought it would be messy.  All the prep was ready and we were enthralled to hear exactly how to make a turkey, chicken, piece of beef, shoulder of pork (which we would eventually have for our meal) or even a loin of venison be preserved in such a simple and historic way.

There is a difference in a hot 20% brining solution used to 'cure' the shoulder of pork similar to the one we would soon be eating and a 10% cold brine perfect for turkey or chicken.

After the workshop and before the celebration Christmas meal we gathered in the yurt to warm by the fire and play a little guessing game.
We had to put our hands into a hole in a cardboard box and after feeling the various items inside write down a list of what we thought was inside.  There were shrieks of laughter and I thought this image of Manjiri was too good to miss!
When the fun was done for the evening we assembled for a very impressive and special Christmassy meal. Each course elicited groans of excitement and oohh's and aahh's from those seated along the two long refectory style table, filled with around 70 food and lifestyle bloggers.

We truly had a feast with dishes such as a ravioli on a bed of celeriac puree, a slow cooked ragu of rabbit, the slow cooked pork shoulder that had previously been brined and served with a char-grilled wedge of cabbage and a vegetable mash. There was a delicious side dish of home cooked haricot beans cooked with onions, tomatoes and fennel.  The pudding was an homage to the simple apple, a cup of  honeycomb crème brûlée served with apple crisp, apple puree and a rye & treacle crumble on the top - apple heaven!
Coffee and little delicacies were served but just like Cinderella we had to run to catch our lift back to the B&B with a warm and satisfied feeling inside and a longing to return again next year!

To read Nayna's account of the event click here.

I was a guest of River Cottage and was not required to write a positive review. As usual all photos and opinions are my own.  Thanks to Foodies100 for making all the arrangements.