On a day when the rest of the U.K seemed to be sweltering in record-breaking temperatures, the Jurassic Coast was bombarded by thunderstorms, with lightning strikes all along the coast, and torrential rain coming across in waves.
I decided to abandon outdoor plans and investigate a new kid on the block, Duck’s Farm Shop in Portesham. It opened a couple of months ago, and I’ve been meaning to pop by, and to be honest I love any excuse to drive along the Burton Bradstock to Abbotsbury coast road, whatever the weather. I have been along Highway One, the legendary Pacific Coast Highway on America’s west coast, and although it’s spectacular, I still think the humble little B3157 would give it a run for its money. The landscape is suddenly much more heathy and windswept than the gentle farmland inland, and the views across St Catherine’s Chapel, along Chesil Beach and the Fleet down to Portland are stunning. There are lots of places to stop by the side of the road, and I often do to take photos, but none ever quite seem to do it justice.
Anyway, Duck’s Farm Shop is in Portesham, on the main B3157 to Weymouth. It is a great location for passing holiday-makers, and while I was there two or three sets of cyclists stopped for the cafe. Opened this summer, the shop has a cafe, deli counter, fresh meat & vegetables, lots of interesting groceries and bread and cakes from local bakers. The emphasis is very much on local produce, and along with the Dorset farm shop staples of Moores biscuits, Dorset Tea, Olives et Al etc, there are quite a few new labels that I hadn’t seen before. I had a nice chat with one of the staff who was telling me that they’ve had a fantastic response from producers, many of whom are really passionate about their products and go the extra mile to help Duck’s offer the best they can. One example was Dorset Spice Shed, who make a selection of themed rubs, spice mixes and flavoured salts. When asked if they do single spices, the answer was “not yet, but I can!”, and lo and behold, there they are for sale now. These spice mixes, sprinkles and rubs are a great shortcut for jazzing up a piece of meat or fish, or seasoning anything that needs a boost. The salts seemed like a great idea to keep by the cooker for everyday use.
Another good, almost cheating, ingredient, is the range of infused oils and vinegars, which are decanted into lovely glass bottles which are then refilled at a discounted rate. The recycler/reuser in me seriously approves of this – when I used to sell homemade preserves in our village shop I offered a deposit on jars, and a surprisingly high percentage came back, so I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
The deli had a good selection of local and international cheeses, meats, salamis and pates, and there is also a counter selling Tom’s Pies and Toppings Pies, including several variations on the pork pie.
Cakes are made by a baker in the village, by Jessica’s Cakes (also local) or in-house by the new chef, who will be running the smart, cosy cafe, which offers hot drinks, cream teas, lunches and snacks.
The meat is also local, with the beef coming from a whopping 1.5 miles away! The groceries selection was interesting, including good-looking pastas, local flour, and several preserves, including From Dorset With Love‘s fruit curds, which are getting quite a reputation as the best thing since/on sliced bread! Some of the fruit and vegetables comes from Tamarisk Farm, an organic holding in an idyllic (if wind-swept) spot, on the hillside overlooking West Bexington and Chesil Beach.
It’s great to see another Farm Shop on the scene – we are quite spoilt for choice, as we have so many good ones on our doorstep, all offering a slightly different emphasis. Felicity’s in Morecombelake (A35) has their own homegrown rare-breed pork, a great range of seeds and garden goods, and awesome tear & share breads and pastries on a Saturday morning. Washingpool (Bridport) has a huge range, including lots of their own meat and vegetables, and can offer school visits, nature trails and seasonal events. Miller’s in Kilmington has brilliant fruit & veg, a fresh fish van and a vast range of both local and French goods, as the owner goes on weekly visits to France and brings home everything from the basics to real French cheeses, tinned goods, chocolate, fish soup, cassoulet etc. All these shops have cafes or restaurants, and also sell locally produced gifts and crafts. Some goods are expensive, carrying a farm shop premium, but some goods compare very favourably price-wise with elsewhere, and in many cases you could do a useful chunk of the weekly shop, as well as just popping in for special occasions or treats. Christmas shopping in a farm shop is a joy compared to a supermarket or high street, and you know the money you spend is going through fewer pairs of hands and shareholders before it reaches the producers themselves. There are so many farm shops along this stretch I can’t list them all – do try some of the smaller ones, like Bride Valley in Abbotsbury or Tamarisk Farm at West Bexington, too. Each tends to specialise in something different, and most produce at least their own meat, so it’s always worth checking out a new one if you see one.
I would definitely make a detour to Ducks, maybe via one of the beaches on the coast road, or perhaps it would be better to pack a Duck’s picnic and head to West Bexington, Cogden or Burton Bradstock and have lunch with a Jurassic backdrop. Just don’t pick the middle of a thunderstorm, as I did!