You would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful English county than Suffolk. Nestled on the east of the country, between the counties of Essex and Norfolk, the county of Suffolk encompasses a quite remarkable range of landscapes and scenery, from the beautiful sandy beaches and the dramatic cliffs of the Suffolk coast to the gently rolling hills and broad fields that characterise the west of the county. To the north, Suffolk shares a border with the haunting waterscapes of the Fens and Breckland to the east offers long rows of ancient trees and rich, expansive heathland.
From the beginnings of human activity in the land now known as England, Suffolk has been a thriving part of our civilisation. There is clear evidence of flint mines that date from prehistoric times in the Breckland area, while the famous Mildenhall silver treasure, which is now displayed in the British Museum, reveals to us the wealth of the area at the time of the Roman occupation. Later on, in the era of the Saxons and Danes, the county was part of the kingdom of East Anglia, and throughout this era and the Middle Ages, the sea trade and the wool industry gave Suffolk considerable economic power and influence.
Horse racing has also added another dimension to the history and character of the county. Although Suffolk is also known for the production of a fine breed of draft horses, which has become known as Suffolk Punch, the county has also earned a reputation as the beating heart of thoroughbred flat racing, ever since royals and aristocrats began to gather on Newmarket Heath in the 17th century, and the town of Newmarket is a hive of equestrian activity.
Tourism has also played a key role in the development of the county over the last two hundred years as visitors have flocked to the area to enjoy the stunning scenery. At the same time, Suffolk has managed to retain its farming character. For many centuries, agriculture has been the lifeblood of Suffolk, which produces a huge variety of crops ranging from cereals and vegetables to dairy, sheep and pork farming, not to mention a thriving seafood industry along the coast.
This combination of tourism and food production has given rise to a fascinating food culture and more recently to a thriving modern food industry. Suffolk is home to countless festivals held every year, such as the Beccles Food and Drink Festival in May and September’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. The county has a strong claim to be one of the best to visit for foodies and fans of artisanal produce. Here is just a sample of the culinary delights that Suffolk has to offer.
Sausages have long been considered a Suffolk specialty. Perhaps the most famous of the county’s sausage exports is the Newmarket Sausage, which has been awarded the much sought-after Protected Geographical Indication status by the European Union, putting them alongside such English classics as Plymouth Gin and Cornish Pasties. Musk’s Sausages, produced in the county, have also earned Royal approval and the sausage-making industry in Suffolk is celebrated by two separate occasions: the Framlingham Sausage Festival in October and Jimmy’s Sausage and Beer Festival, held every July.
Foggers Pear Cyder
Produced by Stoke Farm Orchards, this Suffolk pear cyder is a heady concoction, and represents the finest of Sussex’s pear cyder brewing tradition. It’s a traditional farm style of cyder, that presents with a golden brown colour and is packed with real orchard flavour. The drink is produced from pears harvested across two acres, made up of Conference, Comice, Beurre Hardy and Williams varieties. The fruit is carefully crushed, pressed, mixed with cider yeasts and is then fermented, before being drained off after eight months and bottled.
Mustard and Pickles
Condiments are a long standing tradition in the eastern counties of England, and there are numerous examples of the craft to be found in Suffolk. One of the most famous examples is Stokes’ Cider and Horseradish mustard, an award winning combination of three long established local flavours, which is best served with pork. And for pickle fans, Suffolk Pickle offers a tangy, fruity combination of pickled vegetables, molasses and spices, which goes perfectly with a lunch of bread, butter and cheese.
Baron Bigod Cheese
Suffolk has a thriving artisanal cheesemaking industry that has been responsible for a variety of celebrated cheeses, from Suffolk Gold and Suffolk Blue to the quirkily named Baron Bigod. The latter cheese is a brie-style product, made from the raw milk of Montbeliarde cows and is aged for up to eight weeks in a cave-like environment. The result is a cheese with a white bloomy rind and a smooth, creamy, and soft texture beneath, creating earthy aromas and a savoury taste. The ideal addition to any lunch, it is best served with fresh crusty bread.
Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk, has earned a reputation as one of the finest vineyards in the East of England. The vineyard is part of a working agricultural estate with over two decades of wine making success behind it. The eponymous and fragrant Germanic grape variety really thrives on the soil in the area and combined with considerable winemaking skill, produces a sophisticated white wine that offers hints of herbs and apples along with floral aromas, a combination that was good enough to the Wyken Bacchus a 2009 Best White Wine award.
Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale
Greene King are one of the famous brewers in England, with their IPA and Abbot Ale products proving popular across the country. Less well known is the Greene King Strong Suffolk, which actually contains two ales: Old 5X, which is allowed to mature in 100-barrel oak vats for at over two years, and BPA, a dark, full-bodied fresh brewed beer, which is added just before bottling. The result is a punchy, elegant beer packed with alcohol and offering a dark, rich and fruity taste.
In the Waveney Valley in the area of Bungay, close to the Norfolk border, Pied Bridge Farm has established one of the most celebrated meat producing operations in the county. The farm is well known for the quality of its lamb, but it has also done much to promote the return of mutton, which is technically meat from two year old sheep. Mutton provides a deeper flavour and much more texture than lamb, and the sheep in this region, which are allowed to forage on local pasture offer a distinctive mutton flavour that is worth seeking out.
Suffolk Rusks are a traditional Suffolk food. They have some similarities to scones but are oven dried, which gives them a crisp exterior and quite dense yet soft interior. The rusk is made using a relatively simple recipe, but the real skill is in the careful preparation and precise baking. Suffolk rusks are twice baked and then divided into two halves after the first bake before being returned to the oven again to harden before they can be eaten, a delicate operation that produces a tasty tea time dish.
As with mutton, venison is an old-fashioned product that is enjoying a resurgence in England, and Suffolk has been at the forefront of the revival, thanks partly to the dramatic increase in deer numbers that has been seen in the county in recent years. Venison is one of the healthiest meat options and an interesting and more sustainable option than lamb or beef, versatile enough to be used in a variety of recipes. Somerleyton Estate is the base for one of the county’s leading venison production operations, and they produce a fascinating variety of venison cuts, from speciality cooking cuts to venison sausages and venison pies.