Sussex Gourmet Bus Tour

by - April 14, 2011

It was a case of the morning after the night before. The night before in question was the Sussex Beer Festival where, to my surprise, I discovered that I am a porter drinker. I managed to work my way through the wonderful porters and beers made by local micro brewery Kissingate, which was a new discovery for me. Check them out if you can. I enjoyed them so much I ending up wandering home with a punnet of chips for company. Classy.

Anyway, fuggy headed, I boarded the beautiful old Routemaster waiting for us on Brighton seafront for an adventure across Sussex, dropping us off at various food producers in the area for tastings and to see how they create their fantastic products.

Each talked in depth about their processes and history which was so fascinating I could write individual posts for each. Instead, I will leave you with details of all of our stops and a small interesting tidbit from each.

First stop was Cocoaloco in West Grinstead who make the most glorious organic chocolates. After donning very fetching blue hair nets, we were told why American chocolate tastes so odd. Apparently it is because the distance the cocoa had to travel meant that the oils in it used to go rancid. The Americans got used to this taste and that is why the (mainstream brand) chocolate there is made to taste, to our palettes, pants. The chocolate at Cocoaloco is thankfully far from pants and I left clutching a huge jar of their dark chocolate chunks with ginger.

Next on the stop was a much needed visit to a much loved brewery, Dark Star in Partridge Green. The first thing they did was give us each a pint of either their Hophead or Festival which sorted me out! Here's an interesting fact; the water used during commercial brewing has often gone through a process called Burtonisation. Why? Burton on Trent was said to be the best place to brew beer because of the local water. Upon analysis, the water was found to have high levels of calcium sulphate in it, giving Burton beers their superior taste. So sulphate is added to the water during brewing and this is called Burtonisation, a process used at the Dark Star!

Also what I like about Dark Star that maybe some of the other real ale breweries could do with taking on board, is their modern approach to marketing. With it they are actively appealing to the younger generation of real ale drinker, which can only be a good thing for the future. Useful to know you can turn up to the brewery and purchase beer direct. I bought some of their Espresso black beer which is brewed with their own specially blended coffee.

Now full of chocolate and beer, we headed to The Talbot Inn at Cuckfield for a rather nice 2 course lunch. We had a beautiful starter of open ravioli with mackerel, nettle foam and a flavour punch tomato pearl which really made the dish.

Main was succulent local lamb with watercress puree, kale and fondant potato. Lovely. I made a mental note to return for dinner sometime soon.

After our pit-stop lunch we headed to the Sussex High Weald Dairy and saw one of their best sellers, the Ashdown Foresters, in progress. This is an unpressed cheese which gets its spaceship shape from the colanders the whey drains through. Although they do produce cheese from cows, sheep and goats, sheep's cheese is preferred as it has 20% fat as opposed to just 10% found in cow and goat milk. So it requires less milk to make the same amount of cheese. I'm a big fan already of this dairy, my favourites being the Sussex Slipcote and the squeak-tastic Halloumi.

Last stop was a visit and tasting at the fantastic award-winning Ridgeview Estate. The chalky soil of the South Downs (where the estate is situated) is said to be similar to that of the Champagne region, so that's why their sparkling wines are so good. I discovered last year that when it comes to sparkling wines, I'm a Blanc de Blanc fan, which is why I loved Ridgeview's Grosvenor 2007 the best from the tasting. Sadly this had long sold out and we were treated to a bottle from the vinyard's personal stash but I'd look out for the 2008 batch due out soon.

Also, I really liked the collection of Champagne glasses from the decades they had displayed on the side (click to enlarge).

It really makes you very proud to see all of these fantastic, hard grafting people making these exceptional products so close to us using, in many cases, produce from our own land. Raising the demand for their products will help keep them in business and even get their products into the big boy supermarkets. Selected Sainsbury's and Waitrose stores stock some of the High Weald Dairy cheeses and four local Co-ops sell the entire range. Waitrose sell Ridgeview wines. Of course many of our local independent stores and pubs have always, and continue to, stock these super products.

Part of this Spring's Brighton Food Festival, this tour was a fast sell out with just 40 or so spaces. Hopefully this is something that will become more frequent throughout the year as it was a resounding success. At just £40 for the tour, including the 2 course lunch at The Talbot, it was also a total bargain. I had such a good time and so did everyone else it seemed, the atmosphere on return journey (probably fulled by a tipple or three!) was joyous and lively as we chugged back to Brighton.

Thanks to all of the producers for their time to show us around and the very generous tastings. Also thanks the organisers of this tour - let's have more of this please!

Next up in my Brighton Festival series, I'll show you the incredible meal demonstrated and served by some of Brighton's best restaurants in the Best of Brighton Live Food Show. Wait 'til you see the dish that Terre a Terre created!

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