Finally we had a chance to visit docoDom and Delightful Deming in their adopted home town of Bristol, and hoo boy did we have us a time.
The West Country is fantasic for good grub: simple and delicious are the keywords. It's worth going a little out of your way to find something a little bit special, and romping around winding Somerset roads on what seems like the first sunny day of the year is an adventure to which I'm always happy to sign up. D&D had a place they wanted to show us, a place of myth, legend, and some of the greatest cider going.
Wilkin's Cider Farm in Mudgley, within spittin' distance of the Cheddar Gorge and with fine views over the floodlands of the Somerset Levels, is not so much tucked away as actively disguised. I'm told it was only recently that Roger, the owner and cider boss, bothered to put up a sign making sure that punters knew they were heading in the right direction and not down into a swamp-filled dead end.
Wilkins is not yer average poshed-up rural retail experience. Basically, once you wend your way up the ever-narrowing path to Roger's gaff, this is the welcome that awaits.
Roger sells a small selection of local chutneys, eggs and veg in his barn, but the draw for everyone that makes it up to the farm are his ciders and cheeses. The apple-juice has won CAMRA awards, the cheese is uncompromisingly unpasturised. The blues and extra-strong cheddars he sells are mouth-poppingly flavoursome, yet still creamy and forgiving. A big fat kiss rather than a smack in the chops. Deming uses the blue in a glorious cheese, kale and walnut sauce for pasta that is one of the most delicious things I've shoved in my feed-hole this year.
The ciders are served straight from the barrel, and here's where things get interesting. Sweet, medium and dry, they all have the song of the fruit at their heart, without a hint of vinegar or sharpness. The dry is astringent, but you never feel that the lining is being stripped from your tongue. Roger will happily sell you anything from a half litre to a five gallon tub.
It's about as un-shoplike an experience as you can imagine. We wandered around before Roger cheerily shoved half-pint pots of warm cider at us, and the samples of cheese he brought out were big enough to make up an average size board at any restaurant in the area. You're free to hang around for as long as you want. Grab a drink, enjoy the view. Roger is tucked at the back of the barn in the grandly-titled “lounge bar,” shooting the breeze with his mates and anyone that fancies a chin-wag. There is no pressure to sell at all, but he knows that once you've tasted, you'll want to buy. Compare that to the hard-sell and measly sample-giving from the tourist-traps in Cheddar itself, and it all becomes very clear. At Wilkins Farm, you get the real Somerset–no frills, no fuss, just great grub.
p> Yes, it's a pain to get to. Yes, it's essentially four barrels in a well-used and working barn. But the cider and cheese are utterly glorious, and you can fill your boots (and your car boot) for a fraction of what they charge at the Gorge. If you're in the area, and you want the real deal in local produce, this is the place to come.
Just fire up the satnav, or you'll never find the place.
If you can't make it up to Mudgley, Roger will cheerfully send you his cider and cheese: pop over to wilkinscider.com, or give him a ring on 01934 712385.