While I was in Ludlow I paid a visit to the Ludlow Food Centre which, as I found out, is a real treasure trove for anyone who loves good food. It’s packed full of fresh, seasonal, local produce, 80% of which is sourced from the local area of Shropshire and the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Powys and Worcestershire. Not only that, but over 50% of the stock is produced or packaged on site right there at the centre. These items are clearly identifiable by a sticker carrying the centre’s logo; a diamond representing the four local counties where most of the produce comes from.
I was met at the centre by Rose, one of over eighty staff employed from the local area, and she gave me a guided tour, taking me into the inner workings of the centre, through the back rooms and to peer into some of the 8 production kitchens, where cheeses are made, fruit is turned into jam, meat is hung and butchered, bread is baked. Cheesecakes, pies and cakes are made on site, as well as quiches, ice cream and sausages. Even coffee is roasted on site using fairtrade beans bought directly from the famers and the centre includes a cafe where you can sit down with a cup and a slice of homemade cake. It’s really quite a set-up.
The centre is part of the Earl of Plymouth Oakly Park estate and the majority of the meat at the centre comes from there – all of the beef, lamb and pork and most of the game – and it’s hung and butchered on site. I was thrilled to hear that the farms on the estate are home to the largest breed in the UK (540) of the prized Gloucester Old Spot pigs which I’ve heard so much about. They also stock 500 Limosin beef cattle, 350 friesian-Holstein dairy cows and a mixture of 2000 ‘North Country Mule’ and ‘Lleyn’ sheep.
As we walked around I asked Rose if working around food all the time and seeing it being produced makes her ever feel like she can’t face it when she gets home. ‘Oh no’ she enthused ‘I love it’. She told me she likes to see the new produce come in as the seasons change and how, even though she’s been working at the centre for years, she still gets excited by the first arrivals of the year. This, of course, struck a chord with me and as we chattered like old friends about our shared love I marveled at how great it is to see someone who so clearly enjoys their job and genuinely feels passionate about it.
A selection of fruit and vegetables from the estate are also sold on site, along with Lady Windsor’s prize-winning marmalade. I was fortunate enough to meet Lady Windsor by chance when I returned the next morning to buy some goodies to take home. She was working, putting out stock, and I, having no idea who she was, asked her if I could take some photos. We got chatting and she showed me her marmalade which she is clearly very proud of.
Back home after my visit I feasted on the goods I’d brought back from the centre. That afternoon I had a slice of homemade coffee cake, which was delicious, and for dinner I cooked good old fashioned sausage and mash, using the Gloucester Old Spot pork sausages I’d bought, and I’m pleased to report that they were every bit as good as I’d anticipated. This was followed by a few slivers of local cheeses I’d brought back. If only I lived closer and could visit the centre every week but alas, I don’t. There is some hope though; they have very recently started to take orders for some products on their website and I’ve been told they plan to add new products as time goes on. They also produce hampers at Christmas time for the perfect gift. You can explore the online shop here.