Home to Cheddar Gorge, Thatchers Cider and Yeo Valley, Somerset boasts some delicious and familiar big names. But there’s also intoxicating cider brandy, ancient spelt, smoked delicacies and grade-A oysters to be found amongst this county’s rollicking hills. Plan an indulgent weekend itinerary around these tasty treats to guarantee delicious memories.
This stalwart of British booze has been nestled at Myrtle Farm in Sandford for 116 years. A tour of Thatchers (Thursday-Saturday) starts in the fascinating ‘collection orchard’ which currently grows 458 types of apple for the master brewers to experiment with. You’ll munch on crisp, dry and fizzy fruits as apple-whisperer Richard Morgan-Jones blows your mind with how many ways there are to make a deliciously refreshing tipple. Emerging from a dark barn crammed with giant, oak fermentation tanks, you’re immediately mesmerised by a giant apple whirlpool, and this is all before a drink!
The on-site shop sells variations of Thatchers cider from the barrel, a very popular option with locals. But if you’ve forgotten to bring your keg, you’ll still get to sample a wide range of cider at the end of the tour in the Railway Inn.
Somerset Cider Brandy Company
Another great apple squeezing institution, the inimitable Somerset Cider Brandy Company have been in Martock for more than 200 years. Nestled among 180 acres of cider apple orchards are 170-year old vats, a labyrinth shop piled with twinkling bottles and comical press clippings, a 90 million-year-old ichthyosaurus fossil (really), and some shiny copper stills. You might not think it, but the stills are what this enchanting location is most famous for. In 1989, owner Julian Temperley secured the UK’s first ever full cider-distilling license, and the farm has been distilling award-winning, and very potent cider brandy ever since. The farm is free to visit Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm or you can book a tour for £5 (€5.88) that lasts roughly an hour-and-a-half.
Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company
Carved by glaciers, Cheddar Gorge’s hulking limestone cliffs – famed for their beauty as well as for once concealing Cheddar Man – are home to Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. The village of Cheddar has been producing England’s famous cheese since the 12th century and at this cheesemaker you can watch the process from start to finish in the small public factory.
Once you’ve had a chance to appreciate how this delicious food comes to be, head to the cheese counter to taste a variety of moreish morsels. Everything from mild to nettle-infused cheddar is on offer from the friendly staff. They make six to nine different types of cheddar each day, and the shop is open every day of the year bar three over the festive period.
From a cheesy gorge, to a yoghurt-filled valley, Yeo Valley’s charming family farm is open to members of the public, and they have a lot to offer! The vast-yet-homely staff canteen is the heart of the building, where you can order fluffy pancakes topped with yoghurt for breakfast, or an organic and very locally-sourced burger for lunch. The friendly staff can tell you exactly where everything on your plate came from as well as how it was produced, making for some very inspiring and informative chat around the large communal picnic tables. Resident chef Paul Collins runs super resourceful in-house cooking demonstrations that can be booked through their website as well.
Brown and Forrest Smokery
This tiny family-run smokery outside of Curry Rivel are enhancing everything from salmon to lamb. Their shop has more than forty of both hot- and cold-smoked delicacies to try and buy. Specialising in small-scale batches, they ‘smoke to order’ and you can get hampers brimming with beech and apple-smoked eel, oaky salmon and even smoked local cheeses! There’s a small restaurant on site and you can tour the seemingly simple smoking facilities with one of the passionate staff members who will blow your mind with how much research and experimentation goes into this delicious craft.
Another surprising foodie revival taking place in Somerset, is that of ancient spelt. Sharpham Park’s owner and founder of Mulberry, Roger Saul, started researching the grain as an alternative for wheat for a coeliac family member and was astounded to learn of the many health benefits of spelt. He set about restoring the 300-acre farm, reintroducing deer and walnut trees to the land as well as implementing an organic rotation scheme to protect the environment. Make a beeline for the Sharpham Pantry Restaurant to sample their delicious fare, or you can pick up their flours and pastas in Waitrose to have a go at your own recipes.
Porlock Bay Oysters
If you’d like to finish your trip on a romantic note, no need to put Porlock Bay Oysters as your last stop on the itinerary, because we asked these expert oyster farmers and, disappointingly, they admitted there is no confirmed link between eating oysters and getting frisky. However, Porlock’s Oysters have a grade A rating, meaning they are some of the purest (and most delicious) shellfish around. Pop into the Porlock Weir Hotel and sample half a dozen for £12 (€14.11) while admiring views of the harbour, covered in unique purple-pink stones.
Where to stay
If super-swanky The Newt in Somerset is out of your budget, Double Tree by Hilton, Cadbury House in Yatton is a welcoming alternative. With sprawling gardens featuring a huge plastic cow and live peacocks, the outdoors are brought indoors with a warm, floral theme running throughout the hotel.
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Niamh O'Brien travelled to the Sunshine Coast with support from Visit Somerset. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.