Many of England’s oldest counties combine a centuries old rural tradition with being an integral par of the nation’s history, and Gloucestershire is a good example.
One of England’s best known counties, lying at the border between England and Wales, Gloucestershire has always been an important location and that importance has been further enhanced by the fact that one of the country’s most significant ports, Bristol, has historically, always been located in the county.
The River Severn, one of England’s most significant waterways, dominates the county, dividing it from north to south. It enters the county from neighbouring Worcestershire and then passes through the low-lying Vale of Gloucester, shaping the local environment. To the west of the river is the Forest of Dean, while the eastern edge of the vale leads to the picturesque Cotswolds, which is home to some of England’s most idyllic villages.
The historical significance of Gloucestershire goes back to the Stone Age, and there is plenty of evidence across the county to indicate prehistoric activity, most notably the widespread and much studied burial mounds. At the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, both Cirencester and Gloucester were significant towns and there was an array of villas and military camps in the area. Following the departure of the Romans, Gloucestershire was conquered by the Saxon Hwicca tribe, who forced out the Britons, and then became part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.
The county endured a significantly troubled history throughout the middle ages and into the 17th century. During wartime, Gloucestershire was a key crossroads for campaigns in the south of England and into Wales, and it was the scene of many battles for the English crown and against the Welsh, as indicated by the many major Norman castles in the region, including Berkeley, Bristol and Gloucester. Later, it was a key area during the English Civil War, as both sides fought to occupy Bristol.
Economically, the county had a strong woollen textile industry from the mid-14th right up to the late 18th century, while at the same time Bristol prospered as both a cloth-weaving centre and a major port. There was also some ironworking and coal mining in the Forest of Dean during the Industrial Revolution, although the last of these minds was closed in 1965.
But agriculture has long been the most important economic activity in the county, although the traditional Cotswolds’ sheep farming industry has declined and has in many places been replaced by arable and cattle farming, while in the north east of Gloucestershire, there are also considerable holdings of fruit orchards. Gloucester and Cheltenham represent significant areas of employment, and Bristol remains a major city, though it is no longer included in the geographical county of Gloucestershire in modern maps.
The combination of arable, sheep and cattle farming with fruit processing, as well as the access to the world via a thriving sea trade and the River Severn has produced a distinctive Gloucestershire cuisine, which has something for everyone!
Gloucestershire Perry and Cider
Perry is a distinctively English drink, and is made by fermenting the juice of pressed, local perry pears although a proportion of cider apple juice can also be used. Cider is also a traditional English drink and a local speciality. Gloucestershire ciders offer an impressive range of tastes ranging from sweet and medium sweet to dry and bitter. Perries, by contrast, tend to have a soft, almost floral taste, and are usually much paler. Local cider and perry is made only from locally grown fruit, and along with Herefordshire and Worcestershire, the county is one of England’s biggest apple and pear growers.
Winstones Ice Cream
Based on the edge of a beautiful area of National Trust common land, which is dominated by green pastures, Winstones Ice Cream is the family business of the Winstone family who have been making high quality artisan ice cream in Gloucestershire since 1925.
The Winstones’ operation is now being run by its fourth generation and still produces luxury dairy ice cream handcrafted from only the best local double cream and milk. With the focus firmly on quality, their ice cream is produced in small batches and features a fascinating range of flavours from salted caramel and mint choc chip to Union Jack (blue candyfloss, vanilla and raspberry)
Traditionally Farmed Gloucestershire Old Spot Pork
The Old Spot pig has long been associated with Gloucestershire, and the pork produced from this county is reputedly among the best in the world, thanks to its higher tenderness, increased juiciness and strong flavour. It is sold throughout Gloucestershire and beyond in a variety of cuts ranging from legs and chops to shoulders and sausages, and traditionally farmed Old Spot is born and reared only in natural and organic environments, which also positively influences the flavour.
Double Gloucester is the county’s most famous product. It is a globally famous cheese that is produced with full fat cow’s milk made from the cream from one night’s milking and from the following day’s milking. This may be the reason behind the name, although Double Gloucester cheeses are also traditionally twice the height of Single Gloucester cheeses, which may be an alternative explanation.
The texture of this cheese is delightfully buttery and smooth when young, but it is usually aged for at least four months, and over that time, the rind and texture become very hard. This is what enables locals to use rounds of the cheese in the famous Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event! Double Gloucester is a remarkably tasty cheese, producing a rich and nutty flavour and is coloured with annatto extract to produce that famous colour.
Severn and Wye Smoked Salmon
Severn and Wye Smokery has been run by the Cook family for over 40 years and supplies high quality seafood produced using traditional techniques. The company works with the RSPCA, the Marine Stewardship Council and a range of organic certifiers to ensure that their fish is sourced responsibly. They have also made impressive efforts to increase sustainability, by cutting out the need to use fossil fuels, and installing wastewater purifiers and biomass boilers. Their range of smoked seafood is extremely highly regarded, particularly their delicious smoked salmon.
This cheese is not as famous as Double Gloucester, but Cerney Pyramid is a delightful modern English product that deserves attention. Created in the Cotswolds, the cheese is roughly similar to Valencay and is shaped into a pyramid, which is then coated with oak ash and sea salt. Made with raw goat’s milk, Cerney Pyramid can be eaten after one or two weeks, and it provides a fresh flavour and a mild, creamy texture that develops beautifully with age.
Despite the name, Hereford Hop is actually made in Dymock in Gloucestershire. It was first made in the late 1980s by Charles Martell and is an unusual cheese produced from either raw or pasteurized cow’s milk and then rolled in toasted hops. The resulting texture is firm and creamy, and it has a strong, yeasty scent, as well as a slightly bitter aftertaste due to the hops, making it a delightful pairing with a glass of ale and some rustic bread.
This soft, pungent cheese dates back to 1972 and is made from the milk of the rare Gloucester breed of cow, although it is sometimes combined with the milk from Friesian cattle. The cheese rind is washed with perry made from Stinking Bishop pears, which gives the cheese its strong smell and distinctive brown or pinkish colour. The cheese has a smooth and creamy texture with very strong aromas and memorable flavours. It is perfect for spreading on crackers and enjoyed a moment of global fame in 2005 when it was featured in the movie The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Gloucestershire Squab Pie
Many old English food traditions are based around using scraps of food to make filling meals and Gloucestershire Squab Pie is a perfect example. The county has long been associated with sheep farming, and woollen merchants paid for the building of many of Gloucestershire’s beautiful churches, so both lamb and mutton were a common source of meat in the county. In an effort to maximise the longevity of the sustenance, locals created this delicious recipe that involves using mutton or lamb leftovers and combining them with onions, potatoes, swedes and apples in a pastry case.