LAVERSTOKE PARK FARM: QUALITY AT A PRICE
There can’t be too many people, I imagine, who have spent time in an SUV being driven around a farm by a former Formula One world champion while having an in depth chat about the taste merits of various breeds of chicken. But, last Thursday saw me indulging in just such a conversation as I spent two hours in the company of the whirlwind that is, former South African motor racer, turned businessman turned organic farmer, Jody Scheckter.
I had been invited down to meet him after tweeting about a desire to observe the method of hand pulling curds to make Mozzarella and was contacted by the farm’s P.R, Victoria with an invitation to visit. After a journey of less than an hour from Waterloo to Overton in Hampshire, I found myself arriving at the Headquarters of Laverstoke Park Farm, in the middle of over 2500 acres of beautiful prime grazing land.
Scheckter set up the farm, originally 500 acres, with the sole intention of providing the best food possible for his growing family by producing slow reared animals for meat and fruit and vegetables grown on organically managed land. As one might imagine with an Alpha male who had previously been involved in one of the world’s most testosterone er, driven sports, there are no half measures with Jody Scheckter and he has spent the last eight or so years building up Laverstoke, from what was initially a hobby into one of the most fascinating food producers in the country.
We began the day with a rapid tour of the farm. First to his extensive library of farming textbook, from which he had gleaned the recipe for the traditional blend of thirty-six grasses and herbs which cover his grazing land. Then on to his sizeable research department, which not only provides him with detailed analysis of the different soils at Laverstoke, but also offers the same facility for other farmers around the country. Finally, before lunch, to the abattoir, which had been designed with the aid of the very latest research in stress avoidance for animals on their way to slaughter.
It is all very impressive, but as I dared to suggest over lunch, if the end results are no good, it wouldn’t matter to me if the crops are planted at midnight by naked virgins and the animals are played Schubert before getting a bolt through the noggin. Fortunately, from what I sampled, all of this considerable effort does not seem to have been made in vain. We sat at a large dining table in the Scheckter family home to be presented with a tasting of sausages, vegetables, ice cream and beer, all bearing the Laverstoke Park Farm brand. It was all excellent stuff, but I was particularly taken with the wild boar sausages and the bitter ale , which uses fresh hops grown on the estate.
After lunch, we made our way to the dairy to see the mozzarella being made. Scheckter had applied his usual attention to detail to the whole affair and had not only spent considerable time in Italy visiting producers, but had also employed experts from Italy to make the cheese for him in the UK. Unfortunately for me, the maker had taken time off to deal with a family bereavement. His assistant, Simon, did his best to deputise and show me how hand pulling the curds was done, but fortunately, I was just as impressed with the Italian made machine which replicated the pulling action before shaping the balls of cheese and dropping them into a brine bath to “settle” before being packed. Jody pulled a ball of cheese from the brine bath passing it to me to sample. It was easily the freshest example I had tried, soft and creamy, a million miles away from the stuff available in our supermarkets, just screaming to be eaten with a few tomatoes and some bread.
Scheckter had to leave us now and I had to head for my train back to London, which only gave me time for a quick stop at the Laverstoke Park farm shop to buy a few things for Sunday lunch before I was driven back to the station. Food from Laverstoke does not come cheap and the prices can come as a bit of a shock to the system. A slab of superb gammon for example set me back nearly £30. Nobody’s notion of a
However the quality is unquestionable and as if to prove it, my next few meals were made up of not only the gammon, which HP served up roasted with a classic Cumberland Sauce, but also of a salad using that achingly fresh mozzarella and some grilled sausages along with meaty “beef Bacon”.
They showed that there is little doubt that Scheckter’s approach produces food of exceptional quality. His next task will be to persuade people that it is worth the price he needs to charge. Given the amount of energy he displayed during my short visit and the level of success he has in his life to date, it is hard to believe he wont achieve it.