As Northumberland welcomes the launch of its first artisan producer hub, TASTE enjoys a taste of Hadrian’s Wall country
IT is a sunny December morning and Vallum Farm is a hive of activity. David Kennedy – he of the acclaimed Food Social and River Café restaurants and a former North East Chef of the Year – is prepping a magnificent joint of lamb in the kitchen while his baker Murray Rhind pops another tray of soda bread in the oven.
Up at the smokery, Bernard Lynch has a batch of salmon on the go, while in the ice cream lab, Vicky Moffitt is experimenting with cranberries.
Ken Holland is on his veg plot, pulling beets for soup in the Vallum Tearoom, while at the Wildflower Studio, Hannah Price is adding herbs to bouquet samples for one of Vallum’s brides.
This is truly a hive of activity; an artisan hub in the truest sense of the word, where producers work together with a common purpose, working together and trading with one another as their forebears did with Hadrian’s auxiliaries on this same land 2,000 years ago.
‘Artisan’ is one of those in-vogue terms often bandied around a little too freely, but here at Vallum artisan hub, it is a very apt description for the producers gathered in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall.
David Kennedy is the latest and arguably best-known name to join this community, and the first tenant of the newly restored Old Cow Barn, one-time milking shed and now the focus for the artisan hub being created here.
His new restaurant, function and weddings space and truly amazing shop all feature produce grown and made here. “That’s the whole ethos – we all work together and supply one another with our produce,” says David.
“The community ethos is what first attracted me here, in addition to the commitment here of tracing produce from field/producer to plate, and telling that story to our visitors.
David and his business partner Paul Scott opened David Kennedy at Vallum at the end of November, attracted by the vision of farmer Peter Moffitt, who farms here in the footsteps of his late father John, and his wife Vicky, who first opened the Vallum Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour in 2005.
They were impressed, says David, by the commitment to create not just a collection of businesses on one site, but a genuine community where producers work together and supply one another with a common ethos.
“This is not just a collection of businesses; we are a community working together, not only to serve a requirement in the area for superb produce, but also with a commitment to keeping artisan traditions alive,” says David.
Vicky and Peter have designed the Old Cow Barn also as a means of informing visitors about traditional production methods, and it includes a market passage and walkway with huge picture windows through which visitors can see artisans at work.
There is also a programme of workshops planned for 2013, and an education programme in the making.
“We could have restored this barn and simply rented out space to other businesses and left it at that,” says Vicky, “but we wanted to do so much more than that. We are building a community which works together and keeps artisan traditions alive, informing visitors about those traditions.
“We are custodians of this land, living off it as Hadrian’s auxiliaries did, and we believe passionately that we have a responsibility to its history and tradition.
“The Roman auxiliaries here would have traded with local farmers for supplies of beef, lamb, grains and such like, and they would also import spices. That short trip from field to plate fused with herbs, spices and ideas is now back at Vallum.”