Eat, drink, shop local — why it matters

As the 5th Nello’s Longest Table approaches and we all begin to give thought to our special feasts and picnics, this is a gentle reminder that one of the main aims of this great community event is to encourage support of our local traders. On signing up for your table, we have asked everyone to […]
Visit Country Cheeses for a great selection of artisan-made West Country cheeses

As the 5th Nello’s Longest Table approaches and we all begin to give thought to our special feasts and picnics, this is a gentle reminder that one of the main aims of this great community event is to encourage support of our local traders. On signing up for your table, we have asked everyone to make sure that your Nello feasts are ‘local or locally sourced’. However you choose to interpret this is entirely up to you. Here are a few of our thoughts on why it is important — and enjoyable — to shop local.

— Shopping locally for locally produced food ensures that meals that we enjoy are as fresh and delicious as possible, while costing our planet the fewest food miles.

— Shopping locally is economical. We don’t need to drive or pay for parking and we will further save money by not buying more than we need or want (supermarkets inevitably coax us into unnecessary purchases, too much of which inevitably ends up in the waste bin).

— Shopping locally provides us all with a more enjoyable, more personal experience. The butcher can explain how to cook different cuts of meat or cut steaks just as we like them, we can taste cheese before we buy, and we can seek advice about wines to find the styles that we enjoy best.

— Shopping locally and supporting our independent traders ensures that the money we spend stays within our community, where it usually re-spent. Shopping at Tescos or Waitrose or Aldi benefits only their shareholders, never our community.

— Shopping locally means far less plastic and paper waste. While supermarkets delight in pre-packing everything in both plastic and cardboard wrappers, resulting in mountains of unnecessary packaging, shopping locally is a totally different experience which, if we are careful, can almost be single-use-plastic free.

Your feast for Nello’s Longest Table — some ideas

So what to buy and where? Here’s a reminder of some of the wonderful places to buy food and drink literally on our doorstep.

We are fortunate indeed that Topsham still has three independent butchers. Arthurs has its loyal devotees, and rightly so: not only is the meat always superb, Tony’s sausages in our opinion are the best anywhere. Taste of course is very personal, and the Butcher at Darts Farm has its many fans, too. Alastair and Phil always put up a fabulous meat display, there is a huge range of cuts on offer, from the most economical to special-occasion premium. It’s good to know that some of the meat available at Darts Farm comes from the Mike, Jim and Paul’s own herd of Red Ruby cattle that we see grazing contentedly on the grasslands of the Clyst just off the Exmouth Road. The third butcher? It’s the Pig & Pallet where you can buy both fresh housemade sausages (and sometimes meat such as their outstanding smoked ribs), as well as an imaginative range of artisan own-cured, nitrite-free charcuterie, salumi and even biltong.

Richards Fruit & Vegetables has been supplying fruit, vegetables and flowers to Topsham residents as well as local restaurants for more than 40 years. If you would like anything special or just a bit different, you only have to ask Richard. At Darts Farm, much of the fresh veg on display as you walk into the Food Hall comes from the Darts’ own farm and fields, picked that morning. You simply can’t get any fresher than that.

The West Country is nothing if not rich dairy country. Country Cheeses is one of the best cheese shops not just in our region but anywhere in the country. Gary and Elise Jungheim are true artisan affineurs. They buy almost exclusively cheeses made in the West Country (sometimes to their own specification), then, in their temperature-controlled cheese cave, they mature them until they are in optimum condition before bringing them for sale to the shop. Buying cheese at Country Cheeses is an always enjoyable experience, where you can talk, taste and learn along the way. Both Arthurs and Darts Farm also have great selections of cheeses, both local and continental. And you can buy fresh West Country milk to dispense into your own glass bottle (how much better milk tastes from a cold glass bottle!) at Nourish.

We are only five miles from the sea and fisherman Derek Thorman still brings his own catch as well as fish purchased off the boats from Exmouth and Brixham to Topsham three times a week in his mobile van. Everything is smackingly fresh, Derek will advise on cooking, and he is also expert at filleting or preparing your fish just as you like it. If Topsham used to be the port that supported a large number of salmon fishermen (learn more about this in Topsham Museum), today only two salmon boats remain, and 2018 may well be their last season, a shame after literally centuries of tradition. Over these summer months, possibly for the last time, fisherman Andy Chadwick drifts down with the tides, before casting his seine net on favoured bends or stretches of the river with strange names – Black Oar Hard, the Clock, the Drain – trying to catch the few elusive Exe salmon that manage to make their way back upriver. The paucity of fish is most certainly not the fault of the netsmen, much more probably due to overfishing by industrial trawlers somewhere out in the North Sea. Andy will be at the Topsham Food Festival artisan market, with fresh Exe salmon if available, and also with smoked Exe salmon and other fishy goodies. Don’t miss this opportunity: it may be our last chance to enjoy Exe salmon! David Kerley at The Fish Shed at Darts Farm offers a good selection of wet fish, as well as probably the best fish & chips anywhere around.

For bread and baked goods, visit Shaul’s Bakery, which began life in Exeter in 1961, and is still a family business where everything comes in fresh daily. Good bread is also available from Country Cheeses twice a week, while the wonderful Vicky’s bread is regularly brought freshly-baked from Cornwall to Darts Farm.

Don’t miss a visit to Nourish, Topsham’s own zero-waste shop, to help you to cut down on waste by buying ingredients loose to fill into your own containers. You can purchase grains, pastas, oils, vinegars, coffee and much more, along with a range of products such as beeswax wrapping paper (to use instead of cling film), and environmentally friendly washing products to help us live more sustainably.

What is life without wine? Jim at Topsham Wines is without doubt one of the best small independent wine merchants in the Exeter area. Jim knows his wines and since space in the small shop is limited, every bottle that he stocks is one that he would quite happily drink himself. Ask Jim for advice, whatever your budget, and you will find something of interest that will bring you pleasure. Guaranteed. We are also fortunate in Topsham to be able to enjoy our very own wine, Pebblebed, made from grapes grown a few miles from here in Ebford and Clyst St George, harvested each year with the collective help of our whole community. Anna Bowen has taken over from her late and much missed husband Geoff and the wines are as excellent as ever. Stop to taste and to purchase at the Pebblebed Cellar or if you would like to arrange a visit to the vineyard itself, then purchase a vineyard voucher.

Since it’s Nello’s Longest Table, those of us who remember the iconic Nello’s Ristorante will be raising a glass to the memory of our dear friend. Nello’s wonderful house Barbera d’Alba, evolved and refined over the succeeding years by winemaker Mario Fontana of Cascina Fontana in the Barolo wine hills, is still available here in Topsham – you purchase Mario’s Barbera d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo direct from Vino  who bring them in direct from the vineyard, or else search out these special wines in the wine section at Darts Farm.

Finally, don’t forget, you’ll find lots of good things to eat and drink in the Matthews Hall Saturday Market and there will also be an artisan food and drink market taking place on Topsham Quay on Saturday June 30th as part of the Topsham Food Festival.

Eating, drinking, shopping local: it’s not hard to do, the food and wine we purchase locally is better than ever, and by doing so we will all be helping to keep our local community vital and prosperous.

Now, let’s all go out and plan our feasts for Nello’s Longest Table!

— Marc Millon