Saturday 14 July 2012

The Sparrowhawk & Leagram's Lancashire Cheese

The Sparrowhawk, Fence, Lancashire
Taste Lancashire Produce Evening with Leagram Organic Dairy
11th July 2012

Disclosure: I attended this evening as the guest of Visit Lancashire, but I have not received any payment, nor even travel expenses for attending or writing this article.

This was the last in the current series of Taste Lancashire evenings, where Lancashire restaurants have been teamed up with a local producer to showcase both the restaurant and the producer.  On this occasion the restaurant was the Sparrowhawk in Fence, and the producer was Leagram Organic Dairy of Chipping.

Luke Payne
Interestingly, the Sparrowhawk had, earlier in the year, run a little competition among the kitchen to design a menu for tonight, and the winner was eighteen-year old Junior Chef de Partie, Luke Payne, who became head chef for the evening to deliver his menu.  It was perhaps a little unfortunate that he had designed the menu much earlier in the year, and so it was certainly substantial.  But there's no denying it was a very creditable performance on the night: congratulations to him and the management of the Sparrowhawk for giving him this opportunity.

The Lancashire Foot is Lancashire's version of the Cornish pasty, once a staple meal for the county's miners.  Here it was filled with Leagram's Lancashire and onions into a small starter-sized (phew) pasty.  The other tarter, which I had, also featured Leagram's cheese, here in a very tasty, but nicely balanced rarebit topping on a piece of haddock that was just a bit too thin, and got lost between the rarebit topping and the tomatoes.  The menu doesn't say, and I forgot to ask, but I hope they were Lancashire tomatoes: Blackpool, Ormskirk, Southport etc. were all centres of marketing gardening in the 20th century, and still produce tomatoes commercially, as does Burney's of Clitheroe (just the other side of Pendle Hill). I thought that if the tomatoes and rocket had been passed through a light dressing, that would have improved the dish a lot, as it was a little dry overall.
Smoked haddock rarebit with tomato salad

Rag pudding is a steamed suet pudding, not unlike spotted dick, often traditionally cooked in a shirt sleeve, and served in either sweet, or (as here) savoury forms.  Unfortunately, it was a steamy hot evening and nobody on my table had the rag pudding.  On reflection, my gastronomic curiosity should have won the day, rather than the "safe" lamb option, as I suspect it probably wouldn't have been as heavy and hearty a dish as it sounded on first reading the menu.

Rump of lamb with rosemary hash brown, minted pea purée and balsamic jus
This was some very good lamb, nicely cooked, though I thought that it could have been a little better trimmed.  The minted pea purée was a delight, and beautifully cut the richness of the lamb and the gravy (which was, thankfully, not overly balsamic).  For me, the disappointment was the "hash brown" which didn't really seem to be what I think of as a hash brown, and was if anything closer to a heavy version of the classic pommes dauphine. I didn't pick up much of the rosemary that was supposed to be in the potato either.  A bit of work on the potato, and this would be a super dish.

Before dessert, platters of various Leagram cheeses were brought round for tasting.

The irrepressible Bob Kitching
Leagram Organic Dairy is based in the pretty Ribble Valley village of Chipping, one of the newest producers of Lancashire cheese.  Leagram are well known both locally and further afield, not just for their cheese, but also for Bob Kitching's cheesemaking demonstrations and his cheese waistcoats and ties.

Bob runs the dairy along with his daughter Faye, and it was Faye who joined us at the Sparrowhawk to talk about the dairy and its products.

Faye Kitching (apologies for the photo which
makes it look like she's conducting the restaurant in singing the Cheese Chorus)
Leagram currently make some 28 varieties of cheese. They produce a wide range of what I call cheese with bits in, a style of cheese which I abhor, but also make the usual range of creamy, crumbly and tasty traditional Lancashire cheeses.  I had always thought these were essentially the same cheese at different stages of development, but apparently that's wrong, and the cultures used are slightly different for the three styles.  My favourite of the traditional Lancashires (though sold in a less than traditional cone shape) is the 2 year-old tasty, sold under the name "Bob's Knobs" (or in the slightly prudish Booths supermarkets as "Volcano").  There is an excellent blue cheese, made in quite a creamy, Italianate style.  But, besides the traditional Lancashires, my favourite of all the Leagram's cheeses are the really fresh one-day old curd cheeses (the Ramshackle sheep's milk version was here for tasting), which are pretty unique.  As well as on their own, with fruit and/or honey, or grilled on a crumpet, or even bruléed as a dessert, they make a superb British replacement for the queso fresco used in many Mexican dishes.  Well worth seeking out.

Both the desserts were unqualified successes.  The apple pie was reported to be have just the right hint of spices, and certainly looked the business.  The ice-cream, made with Leagram's Lancashire Cheese, had everyone in raptures.
Spiced apple pie with Lancashire cheese ice cream
My rhubarb crème brûlée really couldn't be faulted.  Great custard on lightly spiced (ginger?) rhubarb, with the thinnest, most delicate glassy brûlée topping.  The two ginger biscuits served on the side were jolly good too.  The Sparrowhawk needs to put this on its main menu as soon as possible.
Rhubarb & Custard Crème Brûlée with homemade gingerbread biscuits

Remarkably for such a small place, there are two pub-restaurants in Fence, both with good names for food: The Fence Gate Inn and The Sparrowhawk.  Obviously, this wasn't a "normal" meal at The Sparrowhawk, but the atmosphere, service and food all seemed to me a notch above their competition, and I hope to return soon.

Sparrowhawk on Urbanspoon

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