Phil Kemp has his Christmas palate tantalised and teased by Kevin Depree of The Godalming Food Company
Every year in the run-up to Christmas, we invariably suffer from a promotional tidal wave of publicity from the large manufacturers and national retailers who want us to fill our homes with their Christmas-themed grocery products. For many of us catering for Christmas understandably becomes a dreaded chore – but, there is another way which is not only refreshingly different, it can also be great fun too.
Scattered across Surrey is a healthy community of independent grocery retailers, who not only supply a refreshingly different range of food and drink to proudly grace your Christmas dinner table, but also source exciting products from local producers. They will also provide suggestions and helpful guidance on what you can do to make this Christmas special.
Tucked away in my home town of Godalming’s High Street is an independent retailer that quite deservedly describes itself as ‘A Food & Coffee Oasis’. And given that its proprietor Kevin Depree some 25 years ago joined the catering industry as a chef, to quickly rise up through the ranks to end up running restaurants, who better to guide an exploration of the culinary side of Christmas?
“Here at The Godalming Food Company we run a deli-style shop where we pride ourselves on a totally personal shopping experience,” enthused Kevin, as we stood close to a display of extremely tempting breads and cakes. “And I have tasted every single product you see on the shelves in here, some more often than not, especially when it comes to the decent wines. I’ve made a point to refresh my memory how each of those taste – quite regularly!”
Kevin laughed at my quip on how poor memory does have a hidden benefit in his line of business, before quite appropriately leading me over to the shelves laden with wines, spirits and beers.
“Our motto is local wherever possible, and if not local then certainly English next. There appear to be a lot of local brewers making good beer. We’ve also got a very good wine scene in Surrey, and some great spirits up and coming too.” Kevin picked up a bottle of ale. “This is from the Crafty Brewing Company, a micro-brewery in Dunsfold. Luke, the owner, used to brew in Godalming and the five ales he makes are extremely good.”
“Now this cider has got a really good story behind it,” said Kevin as he tapped at a bottle labelled The Garden Cider Company. “It’s made in Chiddingfold using apples brought in by people from their gardens, and in return they get rewarded with bottles of cider made from their and other people’s donated apples. It sells here really, really well.
“To the wine and gin. There is a good demand for Horsmonden White, a still wine from the Davenport Vineyards in Sussex. Closer to home we stock Silent Pool Rosé from the Albury Organic Vineyard, a good wine, as are the wines from the Greyfriars Winery near Guildford who do a really good sparkling wine. All of these are in our fridge at the moment so that you can come in and taste them. You can also sample the gins we have including Juniper Green from a company based in Bramley and Dancing Dragontail a summer gin – here with Gutsy Monkey the winter gin from The Gin Kitchen in Dorking. And, of course, we stock The Silent Pool Distillery’s range of gins and cordials.”
Having previously seen a hamper that The Godalming Food Company had filled with an interesting range of different items, I asked Kevin to suggest how he could make a choice from the products he was introducing me to.
“There is a demand for hampers all year round, and as well as alcohol there are of course many food items to choose from. To make it easier for Christmas we provide some hamper ideas in our brochure – but we can adapt the range to suit what you need. This can, for example, make allowances for gluten intolerance. We’ll even walk around the shop and help customers fill a hamper tray by making suggestions according to who they intend the hamper to be given to. And at Christmas we try and make it all about families sharing.
Steering Kevin back to continuing my tour, particularly with locally sourced products, we moved on to the food sections.
“Some time ago I was asked by a customer: ‘What products wouldn’t you be without?’ A great question, and here I can give you some examples. The guys at Briscoes used to run pubs in Reigate where they used savoury jellies in their food recipes. Now they produce artisan jellies that can be mixed in sauces or eaten with cheese or cold meats. They sell phenomenally well throughout the year. Another is Le Mesurier Horseradish Sauce, created in Godalming and described as ‘so hot it makes your eyes water’!
“Local cheeses include those from the Gimblett Cheese micro-dairy in Haslemere. Little parcels of creamy goodness! Local company Crosbies make loads of quiches and tartlets, as well as fantastic cakes. Chris and Claire Crosbie are excellent bakers and make some of the best gluten-free brownies I’ve ever tasted.”
Kevin noticed that I was keenly eyeing up the chocolate section. “Ah, Amelia Rope’s chocolate is lovely, as are those from Noble & Stace Chocolatiers. Farnham-based Mummy Makes crumbly fudge is a nice local product. But let’s get spicy with the Art of Curry sauces made by Sameena, her products are amazing – as are Dee’s Pies from Kingston in Surrey. Amazing pies with lots and lots of filling and not too much pastry which seems to be the cost-cutting norm from other makers.
“Our artisan coffees come from Redber, roasted and blended in Guildford, and also from the Surrey Hills Coffee roastery in Dorking. All Fairtrade and very tasty coffee. You’ll love this too.” Kevin picked up a pack of Tweetea. “They’re over in Cranleigh and have come up with something so unique. She has created tasty fruit teas from natural ingredients for children. Not only is it popular with kids, adults like it too!”
Kevin was in overdrive now, so although I’m running out of space I’ll let him finish with the passion he undoubtedly has for food, and as he told me right at the beginning of the interview: ‘I’ve always loved food, I’ve never wanted to do anything but be in and around food.’
“Our Surrey Honey is produced so close to us we believe that the bees fly over the deli at some point en route to visit flowers to feast on! Jams and marmalades? Mad Jams in Godalming are handcrafted in a unique style – try pineapple and cracked pepper for instance, or strawberry and Pimms! And a great way to finish is with Two Birds, an additive you can add to yoghurt, porridge and muesli – it really lifts the texture and flavour of what you are eating. Very, very popular and we’ll always stock those.”
To say I enjoyed my introduction to locally produced food and drinks that will go down extremely well at Christmas is a total understatement. It’s a no-brainer to me. Hunt out your local independent deli retailer and go and talk to them. It’ll be the best Christmas feasting you’ve had in a long time!
Phil Kemp is a Godalming-based writer and photographer. www.weyriver.co.uk