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Enjoy the Best of Wiltshire Food

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Enjoy the Best of Wiltshire Food

The county of Wiltshire has an important place in the history of England, and has a case for being the most significant archaeological region of the country. The county holds a vast and impressive collection of Stone Age flint and stone tools, which are preserved in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and is also the site of Stonehenge, with its imposing circles of giant stones, and Avebury, with its fascinating avenues of monoliths, earthwork and enclosed circles. These two sites are know as the largest and most famous megalithic works in Europe.

Wiltshire has been able to keep much of its archaeological tradition due to a long and mostly peaceful history, although it has endured times of conflict, such as the fighting in the years following the departure of the Romans, when Wiltshire was the scene of a bitter struggle between the invading Saxons and the defending Britons. In fact the Saxon conquest of Wiltshire began around 552 AD with the victory of the Saxon leader Cynric against the native Britons at a site near Old Sarum. This opened the way for the Saxons to cross Salisbury plain and four years later, Cynric earned another victory, at Barbury Hill, adding more territory to the West Saxon Kingdom, known as Wessex.

Aside from its involvement in siding with Parliament during the English Civil War, Wiltshire has been mostly untroubled in the centuries since, remaining an agricultural heartland, with its key urban area situated around the town of Swindon. At its peak, Swindon, Wiltshire’s largest borough town was known to be a bustling market place, famous for the widespread selection of cured meats, pork belly and sausage varieties, and cattle were herded from the surrounding countryside to be sold at the huge market.

The association with pigs is a historic one. In fact, the town’s name is believed to have come from the word ‘Swine-toun’, and pigs have grazed in Wiltshire for almost 1,000 years. Surrounded by oak forests and low moorland, the local environment provided locally farmed swine with a rich and organic diet, which produced succulent, textured ham of excellent flavour.

Unlike some English counties, Wiltshire was not greatly impacted by the Industrial Revolution, and although this meant that the county was relatively poor for much of the Victorian era, it also ensured that the region maintained its heritage of agriculture. In turn, this has also led to a rich and varied cuisine. The food that is particularly popular in Wiltshire is largely based around dishes that are both homely and filling, and is strongly influenced by the thriving pig farming industry, though there are many rich and tempting foods associated with the county. Here are some of the best of Wiltshire foods.

Lardy Cake

One of Wiltshire’s most famous products, the Lardy Cake certainly packs in an impressive number of calories per slice as well as more sugar than your average chocolate cake, so we can say this is a product that definitely belongs in the luxury foods section. It is also a testament to the tough lives that were endured by those living in Wiltshire in the 1700s, for whom high fat, cheap food products offered the most effective way to keep up their energy through the long hours working in the fields.

Lardy Cake is made with a relatively simple bread dough, which is then filled with pockets of lard, dried fruits and sugar before being seasoned using spice or cinnamon for extra flavour. The dough is then kneaded into a deep oven dish and baked until it is golden brown. It was often served hot, perhaps with a little milk, if it was available, and is a delicious, hearty and filling dish.  

Devizes Pie

There are many English traditional foods that are an acquired taste and the offal-rich Devizes Pie is certainly one of them. There is some evidence to suggest this pie was being made in the 1400s, but it seems it was lost to the history books for more than 500 years before being revived during the 1960s, and it then reappeared at the Devizes Food and Drink Festival of 2006.

The ingredients include a variety of unusual meat cuts, including calf’s head and tongue. The offal was usually seasoned with plenty of herbs and spices, before it was encased in pastry made from a blend of flour, suet and boiling water, which made a tough, chewy outer shell. Modern versions of the pie usually employ more palatable cuts, such as bacon, veal and ham, and the result is surprisingly tasty.

Wiltshire Bacon

No list of Wiltshire foods would be complete without mention of the famous Wiltshire Bacon, cured in the town of Calne. Bacon curing was a key tradition in Wiltshire but before the 1840s, there had been very little experimentation with different methods of preserving the meat, as most curers opted for the cheap method of using salt to extend the life of the product.

That changed thanks to the Harris curers of Calne. With a reputation as experts, they sought alternative methods that would help preserve the longevity of meat, and improve its flavour. Their most successful experiment involved leaving the bacon to brine for a few days before they added either sugar or molasses to prolong its shelf life. The meat was left to hang in an ice-packed attic during the winter months. The result was a stronger, sweeter and yet more naturally salted bacon that has remained popular throughout England.

Urchfont Mustard

This Wiltshire food product is the unique creation of food tester William Tulberg. A relatively modern condiment, it was influenced by the writings of Surrey-born diarist John Evelyn. In his search for a spicy relish to bring out the rich flavour of pork sausages and pies, Tulberg experimented with a range of recipes before he decided on a chilli-based wholegrain recipe, which is then enhanced with vinegar.

Made with organic, local ingredients, Tracklement Urchfont Mustard caught on well, and is enjoyed across the country. Coming from the small village of Urchfont near Malmesbury, where it was first popular, Urchfont Mustard is a remarkable modern Wiltshire product.

Wiltshire Loaf

The name might put you in mind of a baked dish, but the Wiltshire Loaf is actually a cheese. To be precise, it is a semi-hard cheese, which is smooth and creamy outside and yet crumbly in the centre. Sometimes known by the name of North Wiltshire Loaf, this cheese was at the height of its popularity in the 1700s and early 1800s. It even had a mention Jane Austen’s Emma.

Made in Wiltshire, it was usually transported to London along the Thames. Production of the cheese died out with the arrival of the railways when it became more viable to transport raw milk in bulk instead of small amounts of cheese, but it has seen a revival in recent years thanks to the efforts of the Brinkworth Dairy, which makes it from a hand-written family recipe, and which has landed numerous cheese award including prizes for Best Territorial Cheese and a Gold Medal at the British Cheese awards 

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