“We’re all about taking pride in local ingredients and showcasing the huge range of amazing food on our doorstep.” Jamie Thompson’s enthusiasm for championing the bakers, the butchers, the fishmongers and cheesemongers of Kent and Sussex is the driving force behind Vine + Country Wine and Food Tours. Together with his partner Stephanie Jones, Jamie couldn’t be a better advocate for the Garden of England’s artisanal foodie offerings.
It’s a philosophy we share at Gusbourne. It’s why we entrust Vine + Country with cooking for our Discovery and Estate vineyard tours. Enjoyed with wine made on site with grapes from our own vineyards, the ingredients and dishes that Jamie and Steph serve represent the best of our area’s impressive gastronomic offerings. Cheeses, meats, charcuterie, fish, bread, fruit and foraged delights from the woodlands nearby all make an appearance according to the season.
“We love our cheese lady!” says Steph. “We learned from her that even cheeses have seasons. We love talking cheese at her deli just outside Bexhill, which is brilliant for goat and sheep’s milk cheeses. We also use High Weald Dairy in West Sussex, which has a huge range of local cheeses and also produces an organic British halloumi – the only makers in England allowed to use the protected name. And it’s really good.”
“We’re proud of what’s being done by the artisans and producers in this area”
So what can visitors expect from a lunch at The Nest or a seasonal picnic basket put together by Vine + Country?
The best of Kent and Sussex across a selection of three artisanal picnic baskets – charcuterie, seafood and vegetarian. Every box will feature local cheeses, dried fruits, walnuts, fresh and marinated vegetables, seasonal hummus and a sweet spiced cider-apple chutney to go with the cheese. Smoked fish and a selection of homemade charcuterie from local pork shoulder and duck breast in the seafood and charcuterie versions.
“Everything is always 100% local!” exclaims Jamie. “We’re proud of what’s being done by the artisans and producers in this area. We have a staunchly local greengrocer who even stocks produce from nearby allotments. Then there’s Romney Marsh lamb, fresh fish from Hastings, local game like pheasant and quail in season.”
“There’s also a fantastic tradition of fruit farming in this area," says Steph. “Cherries in all kinds of varieties, some for eating, some for cooking – all delicious just as they come. Apples of course – you wouldn’t believe how many kinds. Walnuts and cobnuts too. We use local fruit in chutneys and other recipes – we make a roasted, caramelised cherry focaccia that is seriously out of this world.”
Then there’s what Jamie and Steph forage themselves: wild spring garlic (“great in pesto and hummus,” says Steph,) nettle tops, gorse, sorrel, sea purslane and rock samphire. Plus one of the biggest prizes for any forager, mushrooms. “My mum and gran were mushroomers,” says Jamie, “so I grew up being able to identify what was and wasn’t edible – and so far I’ve never got it wrong! In a lucky season, I can find morels around here. I even got myself a truffle hound once, but it was useless. The only thing it found was squirrels.”
It could just be the perfect staycation day out – one that mirrors the way Jamie and Steph travel. “Whenever we visit somewhere new, the first place we go is the market. If you want to get to know a culture or an area, go see what people are eating. And drinking. Because what grows together goes together.”
Gusbourne Estate has now reopened for self-guided tours, cellar door purchases and picnics. Visitors can book a picnic basket for £80 for two people, including a bottle of Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2016, to enjoy at one of our newly created picnic spots amongst the vines.
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