River Cottage HQ

Last week I was privileged enough to visit River Cottage HQ for an exclusive event held by Foodies 100 in conjunction with River Cottage.

River Cottage is set in the idyllic Devon countryside just outside the market town of Axminster. A place that I have wanted to visit for a long time due to the fact that I try and cook and eat as the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall prescribes. Eat locally grown and locally made vegetables, produce and fish from our waters. Here is a little snippet telling you a little more behind this beautiful venue just a short 45 minute drive from my hometown of Exeter.

“River Cottage has given millions of TV viewers a taste for great cooking since 1998, when Hugh first brought his famous food ethos to Channel 4. Our hard-hitting campaigns have changed the eating habits of a nation and improved the welfare and sustainability of animals and fish.

These days River Cottage splits neatly into two.

Our River Cottage HQ, found on the Devon and Dorset border, is home to everything we do and is the base for our Cookery and Chefs’ School, unique dining experiences and memorable events.

There are four Canteens, our award-winning restaurants and delis based in the South West where we combine our philosophy with the finest producers in Axminster, Bristol, Plymouth and – most recently – Winchester.

It’s our greatest delight to share our passion for food integrity and consumption of local, seasonal produce with tens of thousands of people every year. 

River Cottage A-Z of Ingredients is the most recent release. It’s the definitive River Cottage kitchen companion. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his team of experts have between them an unprecedented breadth of culinary expertise on subjects that range from fishing and foraging to bread-making, preserving and much more. In this volume they profile their best-loved and most-used ingredients. With more than three hundred entries covering vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, meat, fish, fungi, foraged foods, pulses, grains, dairy, oils and vinegars, the River Cottage A to Z is a compendium of all the ingredients the resourceful modern cook might want to use in their kitchen.”

I would like to tell you a little bit about my experience at River Cottage in the hope that it will highlight what I see as a real asset to the south west. Exemplary culinary expertise using our abundant locally grown veggies, locally reered meat and fish from sea just a stones throw away. I arrived with a couple of other Exeter based bloggers at about 3pm. Lauren from Eating Exeter and Steph from Exploring Exeter were my companions for the event. We parked the car and joined the group of other eager beavers all waiting to be picked up by the tractor to be taken down the winding and very bumpy track. River Cottage really have thought of everything and on this freezing cold grey afternoon the heat from the log burner in the shelter was very welcome. Pip from The Slimming Foodie even added a few logs to really get the fire going! After a short wait and a photo opportunity we hopped on to the tractor and made our way slowly down to the farm. Nestled amongst the rolling Devon hills with twinkling lights. It really was pretty as a picture.

On arrival we were greeted by a lovely member of staff who directed us in to the main dining area. Teas, coffees and various flavoured cordials were offered as refreshment alongside some little bite size pancakes topped with apple purée, local honey and natural yoghurt. I will definitely be recreating that tasty morcel in my kitchen at home!

After introductions, we were directed to take a seat for a demonstration with the charismatic chef, Andy. He was on hand to give us plenty of tips on brining and curing meats in the build up to the Christmas holidays. Delicious ideas were sent our way on brining chicken and turkeys to create a more succulent bird alongside the curing and air drying of venison. It really is much easier than you would think so for all you carnivores out there I would suggest you give it a try.

If you wanted a more in depth instruction you could always book on to one of the many courses held at River Cottage. I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed. Whether you are an amateur cook, food enthusiast or a full-blown smallholder, there’s a course to inspire you. Lasting from one to four days, their courses are hosted by the River Cottage team of experts and authors. With an emphasis on local, seasonal produce with a nose-to-tail approach. There are specific courses designed for your own personal needs. How about a course on wild food cookery or indeed a Christmas curing and smoking course?

From here we were split into two groups so we could take part in a few fun events. The first was held in the beautifully toasty yurt with the most amazingly toasty fire burning happily away in the middle. We had to guess the ingredients in a closed box and whoever guessed the most correctly won a fabulous prize of £25.00 to spend in the small River Cottage shop. Well done to Amy who writes a blog called The Devonshire Wife for guessing the most correctly.

Our next event was in the main farm house right next to the kitchen where Hugh films many of his recipes for his television shows! Another fabulous log burner was doing its job in the corner keeping everyone toasty as we all got chatting. It was a networking event to introduce each other to other bloggers and turned into a very informative discussion on how blogs work and what we can do personally to make our blogs work better for us.

Then on to the main event! The dinner…. what everyone had been waiting for. A delicious spread of local and seasonal produce with the majority coming straight from the River Cottage kitchen garden just outside the back of the main farmhouse. You can’t get better than that can you? We were treated to an aperitif made from apple juice and cider brandy. A warming kick behind a wonderfully appley flavour that was perfect with canapés provided. Mussels served with red onion and vinager, carrot hummus on seeded bread, potato, leek and cheese croquettes served with a date chutney and a delicious purée of romanesco cauliflower with roasted romanesco on the top. I knew at this point that I was in foodie heaven!

Our starter was a deliciously buttery ravioli stuffed with seasonal celeriac and covered in the most wonderful wild mushrooms. Such a simple dish, but oh so tasty. The main course followed with an elegant simplicity. A potato and parsnip rosti carefully placed on a smear of carrot purée. A perfectly poached egg perched precariously on the top of the rosti that begged to be broken into so the oozing yolk could melt into the rosti. On the side, the most delicious cabbage that was simply pan fried in butter. An added extra were some delicious hodmedod’s beans cooked in a rich tomato sauce.

Dessert came in the form of a honeycomb creme brûlée. One of my all time favourite desserts. Served alongside were some seasonal stewed apple topped topped with a treacle crunch and an exquisite apple crisp.

The meal itself was absolutely first class and the service was exceptional. I for one couldn’t fault it. Every dietary requirement was catered for without fuss or hesitation. Sus from Rough Measures and Vicki from Free From Fairy both being sugar free and Ceri from Natural Kitchen Adventures being gluten free. Nothing was too much for the team and I congratulate them for that.

Coffee and petit fours were offered to round off what had been a truly wonderful day. I look forward to the day when I can return.

Thank you Foodies 100 and River Cottage for inviting me.

Disclaimer; I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own. 

4 thoughts on “River Cottage HQ

  1. This sounds like a dream day! There are so many wonderful foodie hotspots in the South West, we’re so lucky to have them! (Unfortunately I haven’t managed to make it out of Exeter to explore them yet – we were meant to go to a Riverford supper event last week but upon reaching the car [which I have to park 20 mins away from home due to us living in the city centre and therefore not being eligible for the parking permit scheme] I discovered that I’d drained the battery by leaving the light on 3 days earlier!! One day I shall get out of the city to explore haha!) xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

    1. Riverford is fabulous and well worth a visit. In a way it’s similar to River Cottage in its ideas. They both use home grown produce which I love. You must get out and explore.. I don’t have a car so do a lot of the buses and trains available. It takes a bit of planning but means you can get out and about. I also live in the city centre and sometimes it is easier to hop on a bus or a train instead of fighting the crazy traffic! X

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