This weekend we ventured, in between the epic downpours, to the Forest of Dean, just at the bottom of the Cotswold escarpment, for a true foodies day out. We were invited to try out an experience day at Hillside Brewery and Harts Barn Cookery School, firstly trying our hand at our own Indian takeaway and then sampling the brewery’s award-winning beers.
We rocked up at Harts Barn Cookery School just after 10am, meeting our tutor for the morning – Versha Patel. The cookery school is part of Harts Barn Craft Centre and run by the Forest of Dean champion, Yvette Farrell, the cookery school principal. With its wall-to-wall windows, it was incredibly hard to keep up our concentration on Versha’s demonstrations rather than gaze straight out onto the spectacular Forest of Dean landscape.
It’s clear that Versha has a passion for straightforward Indian cooking (she introduced us to more than one excellent chopping gadget – and if you’ve ever seen my try and chop an onion, you’ll know it’s painful process that has lead to more than one ‘blue plaster’ scenario – we’ll definitely be getting one of these). Her enthusiasm was infectious. In pairs, we settled down to make our own naan dough and then let it prove for an hour whilst we tackled the rest of our menu.
Tom sliced an onion and mixed up our onion bhaji batter before deep frying, whilst I mixed ingredients for our very own chicken tikka masala. We’d been for the worst curry the night before and we were amazed at how different the two could be and how we, two very much amateurs, could put something together which put the previous night’s affair to shame.
Versha also made a really versatile Bombay potato dish which we will definitely be doing back home. Lastly, we both had a go a rolling out our own naans using a special rolling pin – velun, I definitely had a better rolling knack to Tom! The best bit – that we were able to pack up everything we made and tuck into it when we got home. Best curry we’ve had in an age.
Following our morning’s cookery class, we had a quick bite of lunch at the Old Dairy tearoom at Harts Barn Craft Centre. It was super quaint with a vintage vibe, but they had the BEST scones as light as air and melt in the mouth.
We then headed to Hillside Brewery just down the corner. The name definitely comes from the geography as the brewery is nestled in the Forest of Dean Valley. It’s run by father and son team – Paul and Peter Williamson – and founded in 2014. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, clocking up some 28 award for their beers and although they may be a self-confessed small brewery, they have eight beers currently in production (they’ve been advised by the accountant that they should probably stick at four – that doesn’t seem to stop them!)
A large of the brewery is sourcing their key ingredients as locally as possible – their hops are just 18 miles away from Ledbury. In fact, so keen to support local it has been selected by the Co-op as one of just six suppliers to provide a special traceability case study tracking the beer from the field to glass.
And what makes the beer so special? Well, the secret Hillside Brewery has its very own water source – a 60m bore hall reaching the underlying aquifer, a mineral rich H2O. Each award-winning bottle of beer is hand bottled, capped, labelled and shipped to local pubs or one of the 100 co-op stores in the vicinity.
In fact, you can tell a special Hillside Brewery pub by the artisan wooden bar pulls supplied. Teaming up with a local group of woodturners, the brewery runs an annual competition to design the bar pulls – the winner featuring in each pub which has a Hillside tipple on tap. And I hear you ask, but what does it taste like… Tom’s favourite ‘Legless Cow’ is described as a best bitter with a rich caramel flavour with a smooth citrus hop’ with ‘Over the Hill’ described as ‘a full bodied, single hop, malty dark mild with our Bramling Cross hop complementing a cocoa and roasted malt character.’
So there you have it, a perfect foodies day in the forest of dean. To find Hillside Brewery visit: https://www.hillsidebrewery.com/ and Harts Barn Cookery School http://www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk. Hillside Brewery has a number of experience days on offer including Archery Tag and several events. Tom’s keen to visit again for the Bottomless Beer and Brunch – guess I’ll be the designated driver then.
Thanks to Harts Barn Cookery School and Hillside Brewery for looking after us, of course, all taste buds are our own!